Q&A with John Schwab of Curtain Call

By   Jantien Abma 4 min read

We spoke to John Schwab of Curtain Call, a brand that brings London’s thriving theatre industry together. John, an actor and writer, started Curtain Call with Matt Humphrey, a photographer specialising in theatre. Their first photography book, Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre has satiated the curiousity of thousands of theatre enthusiasts and is now up for a British Book Production and Design award. They are also exhibiting West End photos at the Leica Store City this month. Check it out if you’re passing by The Royal Exchange.

1. Curtain Call Online is a platform for London’s theatre professionals and enthusiasts to access industry information, build up a network, and talk about theatre with like-minded individuals. Was a behind-the-scenes photography book part of the initial plan? If so, what role does the book have in your brand?

The book was the progenitor of the entire Curtain Call project.  In the earliest days, we planned the website to be a supporting site for the book, where readers could access further photos and interviews as an enhanced experience.  However, when we went to dozens of productions, spending hundreds of hours amongst thousands of actors, creatives, production crew members and musicians, the idea came to us that there had to be a way to connect all of these professionals in one space. We looked around and found that there wasn’t one website that brought the thriving theatre community together on a networking platform.

2. What was the process of self-publishing your book like? Did you encounter anything unexpected?

To be honest, it was all unexpected, as neither of us had ever published a book before. In a project of this magnitude it was easy to completely underestimate the considerable and comprehensive amount of work involved, from all angles. I would encourage anyone who has an idea for a book but cannot find a publisher to seriously consider the option of self-publishing. We had a very clear idea of what we wanted to produce, in terms of quality and content, and it was an amazing, if somewhat daunting, process to bring this to light. We had absolute control over every single decision, from design to paper weight to the printer.  It was both invigorating and exhausting, but in the end totally worth the blood, sweat and tears to have that control.

3. What were your main sources of motivation and inspiration for publishing the book?

It wasn’t too difficult to find the motivation for our project, as there is a contagious energy associated with any production. It isn’t just the people on the stage that have that energy – it exists from the lighting technician through to the star of the show.  Every time you step backstage there is a palpable sense of “Let’s make something incredible happen!”  This is a hugely collaborative industry, and no one is there to give the audience a bad experience.  This is deftly reflected in Matt’s extraordinary photography.  Each production that we cover has its own unique energy – I believe this is evident in the content of the book. It was also important for us to demonstrate and reflect just how many people are involved in a show – through the interviews and photography.

4. Any long term goals and/or hopes for the Curtain Call brand’s future?

Curtain Call has built a website that is an online social networking and jobs platform for the theatre community – worldwide. Our core ethos as a company is to show that everyone deserves to take a virtual bow – which runs through the structure and content of both the book and the website. We have built up and shared experiences of being backstage that are unique and coveted. The book has been a calling card, a trojan horse, that demonstrates our core company values of quality, access, and inspiration – the website is a continuation of this, and both the book and website offer a true reflection of our collaborative industry.

5. What would you say is the biggest takeaway from your experience of publishing the first edition of Curtain Call? Anything you would do differently?

The experience of publishing our first book and edition of Curtain Call was unlike anything either of us has achieved before through our professional careers as an actor or photographer. Our biggest takeaway would be just how important the deadlines, organisational skills and collaboration are – this meant that it is absolutely crucial to have a great team to put it all together. whitefox completely enabled us to assemble the perfect cherry-picked team for our particular project. There probably are a few things that we would do differently, and the main one would be the timing. In the end we were so up against it, and were still gathering content as the book was being proofed! It is hard to let go of something you have worked on for so long too – which we had to do when it came to sending the book off to be printed. Obviously this is unavoidable, but I suspect that next time we may be slightly less nervous that it will all work out.

6. What can we expect from the second edition?

Hmmm… that would be telling now, wouldn’t it?  We have big plans, but suffice to say that theatre professionals and fans, photography enthusiasts and the arts world in general will find it a welcome addition to the coffee table!