Carla van der Sluijs,
Just as the theatre is a gateway to another world, the stage door is its outlet. Occasionally found down gloomy side streets and back alleys, it is a place where audience members scuttle after the show in hope of glimpsing their favourite performers and catching an autograph or a selfie with them.
Though it seems perfectly harmless on paper, there are some issues with this practice, mainly emerging from what audience members expect as part of the ‘stage door experience.’ For one thing, the increasing popularity of going to stage door gives way to the idea that actors have an obligation to stop. Some audience members see taking photographs with the actors afterwards to be as much a part of the theatrical experience as buying an ice cream at the interval. This creates the misconception that it is part of an actor’s job to keep the punters entertained not only in the auditorium but also on the street afterwards, meaning that audience members can sometimes be rude and demanding. Some actors even have to suffer online abuse if they don not have time to stop for photographs. Particularly with the popularity of ‘celebrity castings’ in musical theatre, I have known audience members to be more excited about going to stage door afterwards than actually seeing the show. Celebrity castings already create many problems for regular actors trying to get into the business, and if theatre managers are desperate to get bums on seats then more and more celebrities will clinch theatrical roles to please the autograph hunters. Audience behaviour at stage door can also be somewhat eye-opening. Pushing others out of the way, shoving programmes in actors’ faces, requesting a never-ending stream of photos: the list is endless.
The bottom line of problems at stage door is the mistaken idea that actors stopping for photos and autographs is ‘all part of the service.’ It is really not. Performers who leave stage door are emphatic that good experiences far outnumber the bad ones and the practice should not by any means be banned. However, as it becomes increasing popular, it needs monitoring. The message has got through to You Tube recently with performers such as Carrie Hope Fletcher (currently in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) sharing their honest opinions on how tough stage door can be (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2NlpKRzolg). Theatres could do more to ascertain that this is not a guaranteed ‘meet and greet’ venue. It could be communicated through a programme note, or possibly through a message on the ticket itself given that, in online outrages, audience members will often refer to the expense of West End tickets as the reason performers should accommodate them.
At its best, stage door is a fun and friendly environment. Signed programmes become treasured memories of a wonderful day out, plus it is nice to tell an actor to their face how much you enjoyed their work. If kept positive, the experience can be enjoyed by performers and audience members alike, with everyone leaving in time to catch the last train home!
Carla van der Sluijs