The business of musical theatre is a very passionate one, and it breeds that same passion in its fans. It’s a good thing too as the theatre-goers are the backbone of the theatre industry and without their collective loyalty and dedication (not to mention their money), the West End wouldn’t be the giant that it is today. Not every show that turns up there will be met with universal adoration; in fact, some have fallen on their face long before they have a chance to find their feet. Even those shows which are the definitive of ‘a flop’ have their own little following however. The saying ‘there’s someone for everyone’ transfers to the world of theatre just as well: there really is ‘a show for everyone’ too.
Passion may be what drives the theatre fan, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same for every one of them. For some, that passion is a very general one, shared around the world of theatre. They’ll see a variety of shows and soak up a range of different experiences, waving their glow sticks at We Will Rock You one night and sobbing into a tissue at Phantom the next. For others though, their passion is much more focused.
I’ve written before on how certain people develop an attachment to a particular show. Something in the story or the music speaks to a part of them, allowing them to create a deep connection to it. Everyone has a favourite show; it’s well known that, for me, Phantom is that show. Still, even though I have a preference for the epic-type musical like Phantom and Les Miserables, I’m firmly in that first group of people who like to see a variety of shows. As much as I love Phantom, I certainly couldn’t go and see it every week. I saw Love Never Dies four times in the space of about six months which is a personal record for me – see the same thing too often and it starts to lose its appeal. That’s just me though. For others, the appeal just grows with every visit.
Some people find a show they like and they stick with it, through hell and high water. I’ve encountered fans who see the same show at least once a week, or have collected every piece of merchandise attached to it that they can, or even adapted their entire lifestyle to fit in with it. It’s easy to dismiss them as obsessive fans who are compensating for something missing in their own lives, but I don’t think enough consideration is given to just why some people do develop such a strong connection to a particular show – which is why I was intrigued to learn that a documentary on this very subject was in the works.
Some of you will already be familiar with Repeat Attenders, who chronicle the lives of musical theatre fans. They invite them to share stories of their theatre visits, stage door experiences and the likes of, in a celebration of both theatre and its audience. Now the man behind it, Mark Dooley, is producing a documentary that explores the world of the ‘super-fan’ from not only the West End, but all around the globe. It’s a project that Dooley has been researching for the past few years and filming for it began in 2011. The documentary will look at what drives this passion for musicals, aiming to ‘capture this underworld community of theatre lovers, and find out why they spend their lives dedicated to repeat attending the theatre, with some seeing the same production over 1,000 times.’ It asks the question of whether a musical theatre fan is actually any different to say, a football fan?
I’ve heard a little about some of the fans who were interviewed for it and their stories are actually quite fascinating. When you learn about their lives and why a particular show holds such meaning for them, it will hopefully allow people to understand this ‘obsession’ a little better and instead of writing them all off as ‘weirdos’ and ‘losers’, help people realise that there are often complex reasons behind it all.
Repeat Attenders has been a staunch supporter of The Make A Difference Trust and has pledged all profits from the film to the charity – yet another reason to watch. You can follow Repeat Attenders on Twitter and Facebook to make sure you’re one of the first to hear all the latest news about the project.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Wednesday 22nd February 2012