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Is Stage Dooring Really Worth It?

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.

 

7 Things You Should Know About The Bling Ring

 

1) You will hear Sleigh Bells’ “Crown on the Ground” everywhere you go. Everything you do that is remotely different from the thing you just finished doing will be amplified by the electropop awesomeness that is this song. I’m talking about things like putting toothpaste on a toothbrush. Walking down a random hallway. Removing the staple from a stack of papers. EVERYTHING.

 

2) Emma Watson is pretty cool. In fact, she’s the coolest part of this movie. To be honest, I hadn’t been convinced that Emma Watson could be NotHermione before I saw this movie. I hope she’s found a niche in darkly comic, self-aggrandizing roles that are light years away from her previous everygirl roles. For more on this phenomenon, read the Daily Mail’s review-slash-love-letter to Emma Watson. Also this.

 

3) You will find out a bunch of things about teenagers that you already knew. Like that they take lots of pictures on their phones. And idolize celebrities. And stupidly publicize everything on Facebook. You will also learn a bunch of things about pretty, rich white kids that you already knew. Like that their parents are oblivious or willfully ignorant to the fact that their kids lead jewel-stealing, crack-snorting, gun-toting double lives. You will also learn something about celebrities that you already knew. Namely, that they are stupid.

 

4) Perhaps this movie is less about our materialistic culture and more about a culture that glorifies crime with no consequences. Half of the teens in the bling ring group attend an alternative high school for kids who couldn’t finish normal high school AKA deliquents. But heaven forbid we actually tell these kids that they did something wrong or give them concrete consequences for their actions! The other half of the group are home-schooled by a new-age, The Secret– toting mom who gives out Adderol like vitamins. She actually knows her girls are coming home at the crack of dawn from wild parties but never acts upon these instincts. Later in the film, one of the alt. high school girls crashes her car while intoxicated. She later brushes off her arrest, saying something like now she’s got to pick up trash for like ever, or something. The fact that these kids don’t get caught after multiple burglarlies only serves to make them more confident and more entitled. Couldn’t we also say this of famous celebrity offenders who only serve mere hours of their prison sentences and get released as newly-reformed citizens?

 

5) So #4 came about with some heavy thinking. Because there wasn’t really much else to think about. Too much of The Bling Ring feels just as superficial as its anti-heroines. The girls don’t seem to have much motivation… or personality for that matter… besides to just say they’ve got a piece of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan. They have NOTHING at stake.

Part of what makes Emma Watson’s performance so memorable is that she seems to understand the shallowness of her character the best out of all the cast. Everyone else seems to be in a different movie, a serious deep movie except it doesn’t get much deeper.

 

6) What’s going on with the dude at the center of the bling ring? His characteristically effeminate tendencies and platonic relationship with the rest of the girls make him the hardest character to grip. Why does he continue to get mixed up in the burglaries? What does his blurred, undefinable sexuality say about his follower role in the group? I miss grad school.

 

7) Paris Hilton’s house is exactly what you think Paris Hilton’s house would look like.

 

 

TONY Awards Dress Rehearsal Recap and a Story About Arthur Darvill

Three days after the TONY Awards and I’m still recovering from all the happiness and the love and the theater and the happiness and the love… More so because of my chance to play audience member to the dress rehearsal! 16 Handles, which is only the best froyo to grace planet Earth with its presence, held a contest for three winners to win a pair of tickets each to the dress rehearsal if they could write a short entry on why they should win. I didn’t actually save a copy, but my entry went something like this:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE! I LOVE YOU 16 HANDLES! I’D DO ANYTHING! ME BROADWAY WANT!

Nah, guys, for real, it was much more eloquent than that. I made some witty Broadway puns, compared yogurt toppings to the Kinky Boots costume department, said they’d be my fairy godmother taking me to the ball… stuff like that. Plus, I mentioned LMezz and how wonderful y’all are.

Winners were announced on Thursday. I got the e-mail while at work and I was smiling like a crazy lady all day long. Then I made my sister and Norma fight to the death for the second ticket and after a brutally bloody battle (hair was ripped, skin was scratched, shoes were thrown) Norma won!

I was under the assumption that seats were first come, first serve, so of course I got to Radio City Music Hall about two hours early to find that there were only about fifteen people in line! SCORE! ORCHESTRA SEATS! Well, no, actually– seats were actually assigned. Sticking to our namesake, we were seated in the first mezz. And even though I got stuck in a useless line for two hours alone listening to other people brag about ‘hanging out’ with Hugh Jackman and Idina Menzel (psshhttt yeaahhh) I got to see a few cast members arrive at the theater and unload their sets and costumes.

I also got to enter the theater early and catch a quick pre-dress run of the opening number. And can we just take a minute to talk about how miraculous beautiful that opening number was?! It was big, it was hilarious, it was NPH at his very best. It was well-choreographed. It mixed Broadway-insider jokes with a healthy dose of, well, Mike Tyson. It had magic! (If someone can explain to me how that trick was done, I’ll love them forever.) But most of all, it was inspiring. It got to the heart of why Broadway and any celebration of the performing arts is vital to our culture. It gave hope to current and future struggling performers that their work can pay off.

The view
The view

At the same time, there were several jokes throughout the evening that gave us a grittier insight into the life of someone in the performing arts. The ‘TV Show’ number, the jokes about equity and sketchy insurance plans, it perhaps was meant to take a stab at depleting arts funding and the current instability of the arts field. Which was why it bothered me so much that presenters from long-running shows (like the Newsies boys, Guy/Girl, Mufasa/Simba) went unnamed throughout the evening. I mean, can we at least get a “And now, welcome (Actor’s Name) as Simba!” It’s not that hard. (The Craptacular writes pretty insightfully about this and points out as well that NO ONE would expect a well-known star like Alan Cumming or Scarlet Johanssen to present without a proper introduction.)

And speaking of presenters, apparently, showing up to dress rehearsal is optional. Bigger names, like Tom Hanks, ScarJo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Alan Cumming, Cuba Gooding Jr. (who subsequently flubbed his lines) didn’t show up. But Anna Kendrick did (and subsequently covered for Cuba), Sally Field and Jesse Eisenberg did. So did Zachary Quinto (in a brooding blaze of glory). Every time a presenter was announced, there was this suspenseful atmosphere– would the famous name actually walk out from backstage or would it just be a Theater Wing stand-in? It was actually kind of fun placing bets in the split second before the presenter walked out on whether the name would match the face. And oh the applause when it was actually them! And when Patti Lupone walked out in her sweatpants, and Bernadette Peters came out in flip-flops… it was glorious.

The nominees weren’t there either (unless they had to perform) and stand-ins were also used in their place. Winners were announced (with FOR THIS REHEARSAL ONLY stated before each one) and fake winners accepted awards along with fake speeches. It was pretty interesting to see what speeches the fake winners would actually come up with. Most went with the “You know, when I was a little girl…” or the “Broadway is magical because…” route. Tom Hank’s fake winner broke the cliches with “Please donate to my charity for children in Salzburg who have never seen The Sound of Music.”

All the performances were brilliant. It made me realize how much I’ve missed out on this season. I gotta get on Matilda like right now. It was also fascinating to see how staging works at an awards show and how much a good camera angle can hide while another performance is setting up or a presenter is moving around on stage. But can we just talk about Arthur Darvill and how amazing he is? You poor television broadcast-watchers only got to see half of his Once performance. We got to see the whole caboodle. (You can too here.) And Arthur, what a voice!

And then this happened:

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It’s me in the cropped right hand section. Just take it for granted.

Let me tell you a story about why this photo is so important. Two Easters ago, the Doctor Who cast was filming in New York in Central Park. So if course, I stalked. Now, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are wonderful. I had previously met them when they premiered season five in New York along with head writer and evil torturer Steven Moffat. I even got a photo with Matt Smith. That was nice. But, this time around, I was set on getting a photo with Arthur. Anyone who has watched the Who knows that Rory Williams  is probably the most perfect male character on television and all men should probably be him at some point in their lives. No pressure. And Arthur, while not as intense or keen an actor as Matt Smith or David Tennant, plays Rory with charm and great comedic timing.

So I waited an hour or two at Central Park while the cast filmed. There was a giant crowd of Who fans surrounding the set and the actors would not possibly be able to get pictures or sign autographs with everyone there. But lo! it appeared that Arthur had finished his scenes and was getting ready to leave. So Arthur and a few crew members slipped quickly away while Matt and Karen stayed behind to finish shooting. So I too quietly slipped away. While the other Who fans stayed watching the rest of the shoot. And I had the PERFECT opportunity to get my photo with Arthur. There were no fans around and all I’d need to do is ask nicely and get a quick shot before skipping away like a happy fangirl. But I didn’t. I chickened out. And as Arthur and the crew drove away, this incident became a metaphor for all the times in my life that I let opportunities pass me by. Womp Womp.

So when I exited Radio City Music Hall and I saw Arthur Darvill standing right in front of me taking a picture of Radio City Music Hall, it was like getting a second chance to redeem my life wrongs.

That’s right, folks. My experience with Priscilla Shay at BEA 2013 was so epic I have to break it up into separate posts. Let’s do this:

So I went to Book Expo America for the first time as a member of the general public. This is the second year BEA has opened its doors to the public, saving one day of its four-day book industry fest for its “Power Readers.”

What is a Power Reader, anyway?

According to BEA, power readers are “book lovers, fans, and avid readers.” They are also aspiring authors, bloggers, and book club members. They are the people who use (and abuse) their bookstores, local libraries, and Amazon Prime accounts. The “Power Readers,” nebulous term as it is, are the members of the public who are willing to travel to the Javits Center and pay the affordable but definitive price of admission to scope out what publishing has to offer them in the coming year.

And snag as many books and advance reader copies as their tote bags can carry.

The early bird gets the book worm.

Macmillan offered a tote bag filled with their titles to the first 1,000 Power Readers who checked-in at BEA. The Javits Center opened its doors at seven in the morning, which meant I was there not too long after to win my prize.

My precious.

The Macmillan giveaway was great encouragement to come early, and even though I had to wait in line until 9 for the floor to open, I could squee over my new books. I’m most excited to read the ARC for Havisham: A Novel. Also, since we were early, I got to meet other book lovers, get familiar with the day’s events, and spot Neil Gaiman on his way to his author event scheduled for later that morning.

And lo, the fan girls saw him walk by–and it was good.

Pets are welcome–the inflatable kind, that is.

One of the first things we noticed from our entrance point was a bunch of people with animal balloons. Really cute ones. So we found the source: a children’s picture book series published by AMO Publishing. The series follows a different animal in each book, and in the back of every book there is a helium balloon that can be filled (and refilled) in the shape of the book’s featured animal. I thought it was a brilliant book/toy combination.

We both got balloons in the shape of dogs. Priscilla got a white Pointer and named him Spot. I named mine, a brown and black Dachshund, Spartacus. We both asked the baloon-maker to autograph them. It was our first “signing” of the day.

The dogs on a blog.

So. Many. Celebrities.

It wasn’t my main focus for BEA, but I couldn’t help but notice all the noticeable people that were a part of Power Reader day this year. The news quickly spread that Jim Carrey was signing copies of his new children’s book. I learned from different exhibitors about how crazy it was when he’d been there the day before, with his bodyguards being more prominent than he was. Another comedian, Jim Gaffigan, spoke about his new book and did a signing (with a line that wrapped around the booth). At another point, I saw a sizable group of people surrounding Chris Matthews, who was also doing a signing. While the celebrities who do books can get on the cloying side, it’s great to have Power Readers excited about their projects, which leads to excitement about books in general, which is what all readers want in the first place.

Except for Ann Romney. Go home, and take your cookbook with you.

So that’s it for today. Check back soon, where I pick up the Ellora’s Cavemen, sample some rugelach, and meet more authors!

Other BEA 2013 posts: Part 2 | Part 3

A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney at Soho Rep

No lies, I was staring at that plate of food during the whole play

It’s often easy to ignores the bureaucratic banalities and ethical problems that lie behind artistic genius. We alienate celebrity figures and their works fromany semblance of reality in much the same way that Disney World is alienated from the rest of Florida. In A Public Reading, the central conflict is precisely Disney’s struggle to remove himself from reality– to become an eternal figurehead of escape and happiness.

That’s not to say Disney is  a happy man himself. At least, not when he’s out of his own head. When he humbles himself enough to interact with his brother Roy, his daughter, and his son-in-law, he’s a resentful, proud, and power-hungry man. But when he’s inside his thoughts in true megalomaniac fashion, he’s his own best company. Still,  the play excellently depicts Walt’s (a hauntingly good Larry Pine) relationship with his family, using largely brief fragmented dialogue to display their struggle in genuine communication.

What A Public Reading does best however, is depict a genius who, as time and old age sets in, is seeing his work fall prey to various forces. Walt can’t seem to have anything original or authentic anymore. If you’re a Walter Benjamin nut like me, you might follow my train of thought a bit better– Benjamin was a 1930s critic who claimed that modernity robs art of a certain ‘aura’ that existed when a piece of art could not be reproduced. So let’s say that a piece of art like the Mona Lisa, in the 19th century, had an almost sacred quality. Art devotees could only travel to the Louvre to see it. There were not coffee cups with the Mona Lisa on it. No souvenirs or postcards in the Louvre gift shop with the Mona Lisa on it. No quick Google searches to glance at it.

Now, fast forward to 20th Century France. The Mona Lisa is everywhere and anywhere. And who really actually goes to the Louvre anymore to see it? My own interaction with the real Mona Lisa took about 3 seconds, and it was mostly just to say I had done it.

As Walt Disney gets older, his works are growing increasingly alienated from the wonder and awe he inspired in those of his generation. In many ways, Disney is more concerned in the reproduction of an idea than in its original form. For example, when we first meet Roy (Frank Wood) and Walt they are busy making a nature documentary about lemmings who supposedly suicidally jump off a cliff every year as part of their life cycle. When they discover that lemmings don’t actually do that, however, they launch the lemmings right off the darn cliff themselves. Later on, while building FrontierLand, Roy buys land from a local farmer on the condition that a generations-old tree remains on the property. Walt, however, first relocates the tree, then fills the tree with cement. Then replaces the leaves with fake ones. Good enough, right?  We see this alienation from original ideas in Walt’s private life as well. He is overwhelmingly distressed by the fact that his daughter refuses to name his unborn grandson after him. He is likewise concerned about the reproduction of his legacy in his final cryogenic freezing of his head. (JUST the head! It can get a new body later) A head is the center of ideas, of genius, of impulse. But is it any longer so once placed on a new and ‘improved’ body?

By the end of the play, we’ve realized that not only has Walt alienated himself from any authentic relationship with his family, he has also alienated himself from the authenticity of his work. And what better way to show this complete, authoritarian disconnect from the nature of love, art, and happiness than to set the play in a corporate boardroom? Good times.

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