Lovely little interview with Richard Armitage from Broadway World gave us a lot of little nuggets regarding performing the play and some other thoughtful topics. But the Stage Door question/answer has raised a few eyebrows.
I understand from the fan-side why the idea of doing stage door being something you “learn to deal with” or that it is done to attract audiences to buy tickets might sting. But I have to admit, the phrase resonated truthfully with me. So I’ll give my own take from my own perspective here.
Regarding Stage Doors – Just my own experience of them from the non-fan side:
This is one of those fan things that I can, strangely, say I’ve had some experience with from the other side. . . in my own very small pond and in my own very small way.
For the last 10 years or so, I’ve worked in theater venues that actively encourage “green rooming” or “stage dooring”. Whether this happens in the lobby of a theater, at the backstage door, at the gate of the park, or on the sidewalk outside the theater, it doesn’t matter. More and more audiences are staying after, hopeful of greeting the actors and director. And in the world of fringe and indie theater, where things are far less structured, being able to greet and talk to the performers immediately after a performance is part of the attraction for repeat audiences and fans.
And believe me, we have them. At all levels. I have fans that come to every one of my shows, some multiple times, going back 10 years. Fringe performers have followers, some of whom will drive several hours to catch a one hour performance of one of their faves. My husband has fans that have seen his shows for 15 years. My local actor friends get stopped in the movie theater to talk about their latest Shakespeare roles or at the Starbucks, asked about what musical they’re doing next. Last night, my husband and I were walking past a bar and a guy having a cigarette stopped him and said, “Hey, man. . . I know you! You’re Jaguar Bennett! When’s your next show?” (Our friend, visiting from LA, was a little gobsmacked).
I’m not saying we’re superstars or anything of the sort. We’re what I call “World famous in a 10 mile radius.” But everywhere we go, everywhere we put on a show, we are now required to greet groups of enthusiastic audience members after a show. It’s expected by audiences more now than it was 15 years ago, and theaters want to accommodate as much as possible for public relations and audience development reasons. Performers and directors often get on board because they want to keep their audiences engaged and growing and, ideally, we want to keep fans happy.
Now, there are as many ways that actors deal with stage dooring as there are actors. But in general, there are three groups:
- The Soak in the Glory types – these types love the additional attention of stage dooring. They want the love they experience from the stage to last a little longer and so they are usually happy to go out and greet people for a bit. Until they’re over it and want a drink, asap.
- The Hide in the Backstage Shadows types – these types resist coming out for even a short time and will avoid it if they possibly can. They usually find dropping out of character and back into themselves a bit jarring and need more space and time to themselves after a performance.
- The Professional Business types – These are more likely to be #2s who have learned to keep their stage armor on a little longer and go out to accept people’s compliments and thank them for coming, but then head backstage or out the door as soon as civility will allow.
My husband is a #1 with a dash of #3. He really loves to be told he’s an undiscovered genius (lack of ego is not his problem!). He also really likes to hear people’s feedback on his shows and on his writing. But I’ve also regularly watched very enthusiastic fans corner him and trap him into conversation about precisely HOW MUCH they appreciate his work. Fans routinely want to take him to a bar RIGHT THEN to buy him a drink and talk philosophy and politics. Some just want to buy him a drink (don’t ask me why a middle-aged bald man in a suit with a microphone gets some women kinda hot). However, his plans at the bar usually involve dropping his stage persona and just relaxing.
My actor friend Haley is a pretty extreme #2. She finds greeting people after a show painful – physically painful – because of the emotional nature of her acting and how she has to have time to readjust to the world afterward.
I tend to be a #3, in all honesty. I know that it is very important to the people who come to see my work regularly that they be able to express how much they appreciate it. But just watching a run of a show (much less performing it) is a little nerve-wracking and I often just want to clear out and get a little space.
But I smile and say “Thank you so much. I’m so appreciative of your support! I’m so glad you enjoyed it!” and all of the other responses I’ve rehearsed in my head because I’m often thinking about the things that have to be fixed or the notes that have to be given before the next show.
Keeping audiences engaged around the theater is a priority. Everyone who depends upon audiences – especially passionate audiences – wants them to come to the show and to be engaged. And if this is how audiences and fans want to be engaged, well then. . . we’ll try to get it done. We try. We absolutely do.
But here’s the thing for every actor and director I’ve ever known (especially the introverted sorts): When we’re not doing the show, we’re just “us”. Ourselves. Our little, insecure, slightly dippy, distracted and absent-minded selves. We may have a business-like front put up, but our obligations to perform at this point are done. We shrink back to our mortal selves and, frankly, they’re kind of small and unimpressive. At least that’s how they feel to US.
Our mortal selves are not always very gracious or elegant or witty or even 100% engaged towards others. We’re also not very good at taking compliments, because it seems discordant that this person right in front of me thinks I’m so great, but it just feels like stupid me right here. It can be very flattering but also very discomfiting.
And please don’t get me wrong, we love that they come! We love that they praise our work, and are flattered by our attention, and tell other people about us. We really know that without their continued support and enthusiasm, we wouldn’t have a base. But *this* moment, right after a performance when so much energy has been spent connecting with dozens to hundreds of people at once, touching base with another group of people when we’ve shrunk down to size and don’t have our public armor on, it is just one step beyond our comfort level.
But we love our fans and audiences so we learn to “deal with it”. We do it as often as we feel we’re up for it because we DO love and value them and all of their excitement. Stage Dooring is just not always going to be the #1 way we love our audiences and our fans in return.
The #1 way I love my audiences and fans is when I can see them responding to the work in the moment. When I hear them gasp in the theater, when I see them chatting with EACH OTHER about the show at intermission or as they’re leaving, when I watch an audience take in a short film my friends made in rapt silence. I love it when I get e-mails from admirers. So does my husband. I’ve gotten cards at Christmastime and I’ve saved every one of them.
If local theater fans want to see me and talk to me after the show, I’ll get up for it as best as I can. It won’t always be the greatest experience for them or me, but I hope the really great experience is of the work I do.
And please know, that none of this is intended to tell fans how they should feel from their side. I know how complicated being a fan can be. I just want to say that, in my own personal experience, navigating that relationship from both sides is kind of weird. And stage doors aren’t always a fave experience of actors, even if it can be exciting for some fans.
But every theater artist I’ve ever known has appreciated every person who supported their work by showing up in whatever form possible. Even if we never know who they are on an individual level, we do appreciate every audience member that makes up the group and respect the effort to be there.
We just sometimes suck at it face-to-face!
Stage Door, Old Vic – from Michaela Servetus at Me + Richard
Stage Door at Love Love Love – from depplyloveu on twitter