Stage Dooring. This is a serious point of contention for many people, performers and audience members alike. There are fans that appear at the stage door after every performance they see regardless of whether it is their first time there or their fiftieth. In the same breath, there are fans who never go to the stage door and are perfectly content seeing a show and heading home to soak it in without seeing the actors afterward.
The opportunity to get up close and personal with actors after a performance is something unique to Broadway and theatre in general. Matt Deangelis of Hair and American Idiot put it very simply, “You can’t go see a movie and meet Tom Hanks. [Stage dooring] creates a level of closeness with the audience.” And most actors find that appealing! At least, it appears they do from the respond we got to the poll we put out last week.
This all actually started because of a post on another theatre website’s forum. There was a fan very angrily complaining about the fact that a certain actor, who shall remain nameless here, did not come out of the stage door following the performance she saw. Now, everyone else made it a point to let her know he usually does come out, many people have had the experience of meeting and talking to him, so perhaps he was just having a bad day? Did not sound acceptable to this fan, she continued to say how it was rude and distasteful to her. This got me thinking—what does everyone else think? I polled my followers and got responses from a ton of you as well as some awesome Broadway performers.
Most of the responses I received from actors were positive. Like Anthony Lee Medina of Spring Awakening for example, “Before touring I stage doored every show I went to. It was a ritual that I loved! Seeing these actors out of costume being completely normal people and just being so thankful that people are waiting to see them.” Many others expressed similar sentiments saying things like, “We have to remember that we were once the people at the stage door or the people in a small town listening to soundtracks and collecting playbills,” which came from Kate Pazakis of South Pacific.
However, I think some of the most telling responses were the stories about negative experiences at the stage door. Wait, before you get any ideas, these are NOT fans having negative experiences, these are ACTORS. Josh Lamon of Hair could not say enough good things about the experience of meeting fans at the stage door, but he did add, “, I think the most important thing is to be respectful.” Why? Well, because of stories like this one from a cast-mate of his:
“I have had a few issues with people being not incredibly nice at the stage door… which sometimes made it hard for me. There was this one kid who used to stage door Hair a lot and had made a habit of insulting me every time we spoke. For example, ‘did they airbrush your stomach on that billboard?? Cause you looked WAAAAY skinnier than you do now.’ Things like that. Which made it hard for me to ever want to stop and talk to him since I knew something like that was coming.”
That came from Cailan Rose. Have you seen that girl? She’s tiny! Why anyone would tell any actor that they didn’t look as good in person (hello, all live theatre is in person!) is beyond me, but especially that girl. But that’s not the only story. While Brynn Williams of Bye Bye Birdie first said, “If fans are willing to stand outside in the New York weather (blistering heat, freezing snow, pouring rain. etc) for over an hour waiting, then the least I can do is sign some programs and take a few pictures. I love talking to people who were in the audience, especially little kids, but I do feel it’s part of the job.” She also added a bonus story that had me absolutely floored with anger.
“In-between shows at the stage door of Bye Bye Birdie, I once had a lady DEMAND that I go inside and bring John Stamos out to sign. I was making my way down the line, I reached out for her program and she snatched it away and said “Oh please, I don’t want YOUR autograph. But if you wanna do something, go inside and make Uncle Jesse come outside. And run, I’ve been standing here for over an hour!”… John wasn’t feeling well that day and the lady should’ve been happy that he was performing at all!”
Anthony Lee Medina had a similar (though admittedly not as horrifying) story: “Personally, I really enjoy coming out and saying hello to fans! I mean that honestly! It reminds me that what I do is appreciated. The only thing I can say to those who stage door is try to know the actors real name and don’t rip a pen out of their hand because someone you like more is coming out. It makes us feel cheap. I can’t even begin to count how many times I was mid signing a playbill at Spring Awakening and then Jake Epstein (Love Ya Jakey!) walked out and I suddenly became unimportant to the fan.”
Speaking as a theatre fan as well as a human being, these stories make me sad and I would urge anyone who does “stage door” to be respectful! I think Andrew Keenan-Bolger of Newsies put it best, “I don’t think it should be taken for granted that actors sign at the stage door following a performance but I do think it’s courteous. An actor’s life is often very busy outside of their show. We’re often running to coachings or auditions in between shows or have to get home to prepare sides or practice for readings and concerts. That being said, I think it’s important to be cognizant of a little thing called gratitude. Especially being a part of a show like NEWSIES I’m able to recognize that we would have never made it to Broadway with out our fans demanding that this be given another life. We’ve only had a couple of performances but I couldn’t imagine anyone not wanting to greet the audience that has given us so much passion and support.”
The fans had a lot of interesting things to say which for most people could be summed up as: actors do not have a responsibility to stage door, but fans really love it when they do. Well, that is pretty much a given. I think the most shocking answers were the people who said they did think it was part of the job for performers. Morgan James of Godspell said “It’s not actually in my job description, but it IS still my job.” It may not be in her job description, but it actually is in the contract for some bigger name performers. We won’t mention who, but it’s not always done out of common courtesy to the audience (but who knows, maybe those performers end up loving it?).
But back to the fans! There were a few who not only said they felt it was a performer’s responsibility to come out of the stage door, sign autographs and take photos they said that they liked them more if they did than if they didn’t. I find this a hard pill to swallow. As a self-proclaimed theatre person, I will go on record as saying I think this is the wrong attitude to take. I think Anthony Lee Medina said it best when describing a time he might not stage door, even though he most often does, “The only time I felt I didn’t want to sign stuff was when I was sick or having a bad day or felt I personally didn’t have a good show. I think that’s very hard for “stage doorers” to comprehend. But when it comes down to it after work don’t you just sometimes have days where you just want to crawl in bed and not talk to anyone?”
I think we can all relate to that.
Casting Director Daryl Eisenberg gives us a completely different perspective, “If it would in any way interfere with their ability to perform (they’re sick, the weather conditions are horrible, hugging slimy/germ-infested kids , etc) – I would prefer they NOT stage door so they CAN fulfill their actor responsibilities – giving a 100% performance on stage at every performance. However – do I think stage dooring is a good idea? Absolutely. It fosters good will with your audience, brings a level of personal experience to the audience (which creates more loyal/excited theatergoers for years to come), and helps generate a fan-base. Actors with huge fanbases are SO useful to me when I’m casting. Having a built-in ticket-buying audience can make an actor VERY attractive.” And she summed it up well adding, “So obligation – no way. A smart thing for an actor to do? Heck yes.”
Anyway, BroadwaySpotted has babbled far too much on this controversial topic. I will leave you with a few quotes from other actors below and ask you: What do you think? Comment below!
“The people in the audience have paid so much money to see a Broadway show, they’ve often traveled in from out of town, and if it makes their experience more special, then I’m honored to meet them. You can see how much it means to people and it only adds 10 minutes or less to my “work day,” so I think its totally worth it. Personally, I love meeting the folks at the stage door. It keeps me in touch with the joy that theatre can bring to people. That makes it all worthwhile.” Jared Gertner of Book of Mormon
“Responsibility? No. They have a responsibility to perform every show at 100%, not to visit after. But people who see theater are often moved or taken on a journey and they want to voice their enthusiasm for what they just saw/experienced, and it makes them happy to share their joy with us and THAT makes us happy! I love seeing people at the stage door.” Ellyn Marsh Priscilla Queen of the Desert