Broadway has had quite a few star-studded productions this year: Emma Stone’s in Cabaret joining familiar face Alan Cumming. Bradley Cooper is leaving his mark on the stage (and box office) as are Hugh Jackman (The River), Jake Gyllenhaal (Constellations), Michael Cera (This Is Our Youth), James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne (YCTIWY), Rupert Grint (and nearly everyone else in the It’s Only a Play Cast), just to name a few.
And if you ever get a look at the stage doors of these theaters shortly after a performance ends, they’re packed with fans who want to catch of candid glimpse of the stars off the stage. Some of these folks were part of the audience who stuck around to get a playbill signed or a selfie with the star. Some passed on the ticket and just want to take advantage of the celebrity’s almost-certain signing time to get their own memorabilia signed (and sell it online) or get star-struck.
I’ve been part of both crowds to be honest. I’ve never toted memorabilia around with me (I’m more a “can I take a quick selfie?” type of girl), but I’ve worked my way to a stage door or two in my time, just for the thrill of seeing a favorite celebrity. I’ve stood across the street from the stage door (you know, in a total non-creeper way) when Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus was playing just around the corner from my London hotel. I saw The Boy From Oz twice, then stage-doored two more times, trying to relish the experience of having Hugh Jackman within arm’s reach as much as possible so I could then brag to all my middle school friends with zero humility. I’ve tried to get David Tennant to sign my Converse sneakers to no avail, and to make things worse, I got my rejection on video.
There’s certainly something about seeing film actors live, acting on stage in front of you– an effect that I feel is essential when discussing the difference between film and theatre but that I haven’t been able to pin down exactly (we’ll save that for another post). And the effect is felt even more so when you see a film actor in person out of character, walking the dog or getting groceries. Stage dooring is the middle ground between the two: the actor is not in character, but they’re still in working mode. Greeting fans, after all, is part of the job, though not everyone does it.
When there’s a huge name in the production, stage dooring can feel a bit like being in a cattle farm. Those flimsy metal barricades fill up with fans even before the performance lets out its audience, leaving folks who have actually paid for theater seats with little chance of getting an encounter with the celebrity. People get mean. More than the sight of the actual actor, what has signaled me to their arrival is the movement of a big crowd of anxious people against my body, arms flying over my head with objects for autographed, shouting, flashes of cameras, and the prodding and shoving of folks hoping to get closer. Often, you’re waiting with these lovely people for up to twenty minutes for the actors to come out, and it ain’t fun in winter months. Security puts up a tough act before the celebrity arrives, but do little work afterwards. One security guard outside Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus lined up the fans in rows of two so that Hiddleston could walk through the rows and sign autographs speedily and efficiently. But once Hiddleston came out of that stage door, that set-up failed to work. Sometimes, the culture of the production is super low-key, and none of this stuff goes on. There are no barricades, no black formidable vans, no swarming fans. The actors just come out, chat with whomever pulls them aside, and goes on their merry way. I’ll never forget Michael Gambon coming out of a theater, signing a few autographs, and walking down a London street, unheeded by anyone.
I once met a professional stage doorer, one person in a network of stage doorers. He and his fellow stage doorers were staked out at the stage doors of all the London theaters where celebrities were playing. They had close approximations of when the shows would let out, and they’d phone each other with updates so that each could get as many objects of paraphernalia signed as possible. I met another guy whose mission was to get selfies with as many celebs as possible, and then return the following day to get the photographs signed. He told me that he only wanted his favorite celebs, but when he told me whose photos he’d gotten, it seemed like every Hollywood actor I had ever heard of.
I can take the overall awful physical experience of stage-dooring for a celeb that I’m really excited to see. But I never feel satisfied by my stage-dooring. Sometimes my photo comes out looking terrible. Sometimes I feel like an annoyance or an idiot for something I said. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel as special as I, perhaps naively, wanted. And then I start to reduce my whole night to the experience at the stage door. Never mind the awesome show I just saw, or the performances that were given. Everything boils down to that ridiculously fleeting moment of rejection or inadequacy or dis-satisfaction. Our whole experience of the show is cast aside because we begin to fetishize the star right when the show ends. There’s no time to process the play, to react to what we’ve seen, and there’s a huge loss in that. Instead of leaving the theater trying to conserve my memory of the play, I’m looking to beat the crowd, to find a good spot by the door, to practice what I’m going to say. When I don’t stage door a celeb, I remember the play a whole lot better. I end my night with satisfaction instead of disappointment and rumination.
The last time I stage doored, it took a lot of conscious thought and willpower to overlook the last twenty minutes of the night and focus on what I should focus on, which is the value and effect of the production. I’m not saying I won’t ever stage door again. (I still need to get my Converse signed) But I’ll try be working on making the most of my theater experience as possible.