In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the scenes at theatre stage doors and how crazy they can be sometimes. It got me to thinking about the whole stage door concept.
A stage door, of course, primarily exists to allow the cast and crew to enter and exit the theatre. As with many things in life however, it has grown beyond the singular purpose it was intended for. Now, a stage door is more for the fans than anyone else; it’s a place for them to gather after the show in able to meet the actors face-to-face. Nothing wrong with that though right? You see a show, you pop round to the stage door, get your programme signed, snap a quick photo, tell them how much you enjoyed the show and Bobs Your Uncle, you’re on your way – except that’s not the way it tends to go down now.
The experience of the stage door has further evolved beyond the simple meet-and-greet approach. While there is still that group of people who just want to compliment the cast on their performance, others have emerged and these groups of people want a lot more than that. There are the fans who return to the stage door night after night, unsatisfied with just that one, singular encounter. There are the fans who, rather than saying a quick “Hello and well done”, want an extended conversation. There are the fans who come bearing multitudes of gifts and, perhaps the worst of all, are the fans who will do whatever it takes to get that face-to-face encounter, to the detriment of any and all around them. I’ve had experience with this last group, who are relentless in their desperation. I took my then six year old daughter to The Adelphi Theatre stage door once as she begged to meet Ramin Karimloo, who was leading the musical as The Phantom. When he came out, she was barged out of the way by a middle-aged woman who pushed her way to the front and shoved a pen and paper under his nose for him to sign his name. Awful.
Most of the fans are harmless and it’s not my intention to persecute anyone for visiting the stage door, but I do think certain groups should perhaps reconsider their behaviour there. If you’ve met the cast – or a particular performer you admired – and gotten a photo and/or autograph from them, do you really need to go back the next week? And the next? And the next? You don’t need a huge pile of photos/autographs unless you plan to sell them on eBay, which is wrong, so you shouldn’t be doing it anyway. If you want to talk to someone in the cast, I’m sure they’ll always be happy to hear you enjoyed their performance, but keeping them there for a quarter of an hour or more with an endless babble of chat is a no-no. For one thing, there are other fans there who have also been waiting to see them and, when it’s late at night and the cast have just finished a 2 ½ hour-long show, they’re going to be pretty tired and probably just want to go home. If you’re bringing a gift, it is a lovely thought which I am sure will be appreciated – just so long as the motive behind it is self-less. Gifts do not equal automatic friendship. I know many just want to do something nice for someone they admire and that is commendable, but there are some who will try to buy their way into an actor’s inner circle by showering them with presents. It won’t work and the money would be better off spent elsewhere. Stage doors and social networking sites like Twitter aid this fabricated illusion of friendship, but remember; a tweet, an interview, a 2-minute SD conversation…these things don’t mean you really know the person, however well you might think you do.
Look, I realise most fans are harmless and I’m not intending to persecute anyone for visiting a stage door, but I do think fans should just be aware of the reality of meeting performers. Everyone likes to know they’re doing a good job and most performers will be pleased to meet fans at the stage door after a show – to an extent.
Some of the stage door scenes are just insane, particularly when a celebrity name is in the cast. I’ve passed by The Queen’s Theatre during Alfie Boe’s Valjean run and seen the crowds waiting for him out there. I’ve also seen footage of the swarm of fans outside of The Wyndham’s Theatre when Much Ado About Nothing, featuring David Tennant and Catherine Tate, was playing. Both theatres had to erect barriers to keep people back and when the stars came out, it was just a madhouse of screaming girls, camera flashes and crazed fans jostling for position, being overwhelmingly demanding in their determination for attention. It doesn’t just happen over here though. On Broadway, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying’s Daniel Radcliffe is mobbed at the stage door on a nightly basis, for example. Barriers were set up on both sides of the street, with one for ticket holders and the other for non-ticket holders (people going to the stage door when they haven’t seen the show is something I don’t like!) and fans are packed in like sardines as they attempt to get within close proximity to the Harry Potter star. They are advised not to go unless they really, really, really want to see him because of the intensity of it all – fans have reported being squashed up against the railings, barely able to breathe. In an attempt to get to the front of the crowd, some ticket holders are even leaving in the midst of the show to go to the stage door, something I find very distasteful and completely disrespectful to the cast, crew and creatives of HTSIBWRT.
Theatre-goers in the West End and Broadway forget how lucky they are sometimes. Many countries just don’t allow audience members to go to the stage door. In Germany, for instance, the only way to meet the cast after a show is through a system where a select number of the audience are chosen and taken into the theatre lobby for a quick autograph, etc. In that sense, the stage door is a privilege that perhaps UK/USA theatre-goers should appreciate and not take for granted as much as they currently do. Without the fans however, our Theatreland wouldn’t be what it is. A big majority of any show/actor’s success can be credited to the fans who are paying to see them, so from that perspective, fans can lay claim to their time. A show’s cast does have that obligation to give something back to the fans who are supporting them and, beyond it being a duty, they should want to as well. Most do – so just take care not to change their minds.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
14th December 2011