01 August, 2017

Stage-door-ing: A Guide

Dear Al,

Any tips or things to keep in mind when a fan wants to meet a performer they admire at the stage door? I've heard both wonderful and horrible stories and I want to be the best kind of "fan" I can be! 

Thank you,

Jessica

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What a FAN-TASTIC question! So thoughtful and something very few people every discuss at length. I am so happy to provide a little insight into what it feels like on both sides of the stage door experience!

When you are a professional actor, singer, artist, speaker, performer, noted person of any kind, you often meet strangers that have been influenced and affected by your work. There are many kinds of “stage door” experiences, some beyond beautiful, some verging on the inappropriate, and some downright upsetting.

It should be noted that most are wonderful, but just in case you are ever in fear of crossing a line, it might be helpful to lay out some helpful hints about what it feels like to be on the other side of the exchange, and hopefully encourage more positive and meaningful encounters, and lessen the chance of a cringe-able moment for all. :)


I want to begin with a recognition: it is, without a doubt, a privilege beyond imagining to be any kind of human "of note." If a fellow human feels the desire for an autograph, a photograph, or any moment of time with me, I continue to be honored, and, frankly, slightly in shock. Why? Because I don't feel particularly remarkable. Especially when I sit at home pretending that "putting on my bathrobe" is "getting dressed," watching crime drama with my cat, on my sofa in Queens. But hey: I recognize and respect that being a public performer comes with certain visibility, perceptions, honors, and also, sacrifices. It is all part of the gig.

Ruthie Henshall, West End star and creme-de-la-creme of singing actors, taught me at the very beginning of my career that being generous with people at stage door is "Act 3" of our job—and I believe that. That, if a fan is brave enough to come up and thank you for your work (and perhaps even express what you mean to them); that, despite a long day of life-giving, energy-draining performance, those audience members have earned that extra 5-10 minutes post-show. Everyone has earned it. It is courteous, generous and rewarding from, and for, both parties.


Some of my most beautiful encounters in the theatre have been experienced after a performance with extraordinarily generous people, sometimes young hopefuls that remind me of my younger self, and others simply filled with emotion, gratitude and lifelong memories.

When I was a young theatre-goer, I came to see my first Broadway shows at 14—it was the 1998 Broadway season and my eyes were full of stars and my ears full of show-tunes. Audra MacDonald, Rebecca Luker, Douglas Sills, Judy Kaye, Donna Murphy, Patti Cohenour, Marin Mazzie— they were my idols and role models and dare I even say it? In a certain way, my saviors. I was spending every single day with "them" as their voices and vulnerabilities blazed through my stereo system in metro-Detroit.

I respected, adored, and felt grateful to them, but I was also quite shy, and could never in a million years have built up the courage to thank them in person for the gifts they had given me. I would have melted down in a puddle of “I-don’t-deserve-to-breathe-the-same-oxygen-as-this-human” incomprehensibility; rendered incapable of articulating what they meant to me, what they had given me, let alone kept it vaguely together long enough to avoid asphyxiating on my own tongue.

All of this is to say: I think about 14-year-old Al whenever I meet someone at stage door, because they could be feeling just like I did.

Perhaps you, dearest readers, can’t entirely imagine how ordinary I feel when I come out of a stage door. Often times I'm thinking “Did I fully remove my makeup / I have to find some food / check on my cat’s Instagram / call my pharmacist / I wonder if my mother made her connecting flight in Atlanta yadda yadda yadda” …BUT I DO. I’m an "all-grown up" version of that 14-year-old girl  who might never be able to believe this is her life.

So I recognize now, that Rebecca Luker likely felt the same way about herself. (Just, ya know, without wondering about her cat’s Instagram...) All of my idols were (and still are) just people: normal, talented people going to work; and when they had the wherewithal, they were happy to greet fans at stage door because they couldn’t believe this was their life…

I don’t know when we become like our role models, but oh dear reader, we do. I still can't believe people even vaguely know who I am. In fact, this week at Yankee Stadium while supporting my Detroit Tigers, a sweet fan and her Dad came up to me and said Hi, we got a picture, and I followed up by asking her how the heck she knew who I was. (I'm clearly... a total Pro.)
Hopefully, as we grow, we can open ourselves to the realization that none of us are gods; that even our idols are people, and that we can respect the fact that authenticity is all that is required to make a meaningful connection with a person you admire.

I have had stage door experiences that have been touching, meaningful, and moving—I will hold them in my heart for the rest of my life. And, I've also had some stage door experiences that have been really challenging.

Know this: what lies within the confines of our inner-most selves is not only where an artist's best and most authentic work comes from, but it is also ours, to both defend and share at our own pace, and at a level of comfort that feels appropriate for us. We also have the right to change our minds, to retreat if we sense danger, to be discerning. And, we have the right to not engage for any reasons we deem fit, particularly if the work on stage is at risk (such as in terms of rest, energy, germs, etc). You have purchased a ticket to the performance, and that price tag does not include meeting the cast outside stage door. It is not a requirement, and should not be perceived of negatively if the actors wish to decline their participation.

We have rights—just like everyone else on earth, for again, we are also human beings trying to figure it all out too. I truly mean this: no matter how remarkable you may deem someone to be, at essence we are all souls striving to grow, to heal, learn, and be better versions of who we are every moment.

Social media (and the media at large) has in many ways warped our sense of what it means to "share." Even the words "friend" and "follower" have become warped by this phenomenon. In my own, introverted and very privately held life, I define a friend as: one who has borne witness to, and held, my inner life. I will not allow that definition to be exploded by Facebook. But it would be irresponsible to ignore the very blurry lines surrounding the word "friend" in our society. A “follower” on the other hand, feels slightly clearer—I do not follow your comings and goings, but you choose to follow mine. That feels appropriate, and like the boundaries are clear. Above all, remember this: never confuse friendLY, for freindSHIP.

Still. Confusing.


Dearest theatre goers, television watchers and fans of all kinds: those you admire are human beings too. We have limitations, emotions, off-days and downright bad days. We have previously arranged appointments, we have beloved family and friends visiting. We get sick. Sometimes very sick, and have to disappoint people, which is, believe me, heart-wrenching.


But above all, we too have very real vulnerabilities and basic rights to any privacy we deem to be appropriate for ourselves. Those boundaries are self-set and deeply personal; and everyone, no matter who they are or what they do, has a right to maintain those boundaries and be respected for it.


SOME TIPS:
     - Come prepared!
     - Bring a pen!(Preferably a Sharpie or other permanent marker)
     - Have the playbill/ poster/CD/autograph book facing the performer, not facing you. It will expedite the process. 
     - Have the camera open, prepped, and the photographer ready-to-go.
     - Have a special request? Just ask! But also be prepared for a “no” if the performer  is unable or unwilling to accommodate your request, and be gracious about it.
     -  Keep your comments authentic, but be brief. Remember that there are other patrons, and that we have to get home (to our famous cats
     -  Remember that friendLY is not friendSHIP: these performers are strangers, and not your actual friends (however friendLY they may be!)
     -  Meeting the cast at stage door post show is not included in the price of admission. Be compassionate and gracious if performers decline to engage.


The last thing I want to do is frighten anyone away from sharing their joy, from expressing their gratitude and laughter, getting a fun photo or above all, those sacred, deeply felt moments that can only be shared in a theatre.

I simply urge you to be discerning, and recognize what you are asking of strangers. Above all, to remember that performers are people too.

The first stage door I walked through as a working actor: London's Palace Theatre

15 comments:

  1. What's great about this is that it has no examples. It is a pure description of expectation and inner monologues.

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  2. Bravo @alsilbs����Dare I also add, if u are able, make your praise specific.It seems to mean more to actors than the generic "You were great!"

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  3. Thanks for sharing this!!!

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  4. I love that all the stage door pictures are (I think) West End theatres!

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  5. FriendLY is not friendSHIP. This post is ��. Following @alsilbs now & buying her book.

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    1. Well this is lovely. TY Ryan!

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    2. My pleasure. Totally took me back to my stage door days (circa Rent, 2001)... I can only hope I was as polite as you outline.

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  6. Jim JosephAugust 05, 2017

    Beautifully put :)

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  7. This is suuuch a great read!!

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  8. Thank you @alsilbs This is amazing and more people need to read it so they do not ruin it for others! #stagedoor #etiquette #respect ������������

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  9. Jacquelyn Middleton‏ @JaxMiddletonAugust 05, 2017

    Amen! Wish all fans would read this & follow it. Granted, their bad behaviour is great fodder for my new novel.

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  10. I think this is the absolute nail on the head of stage dooring. A brilliant blog that I urge you to read if you SD. ❤️��

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  11. My father used to urge me to visit actors backstage, as he said they usually enjoyed the recognition. I've never had a problem doing that, both on Broadway and the West End, and have some wonderful memories as a result.

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    1. I'm glad you had that experience! With respect, it is a much different world than when your father offered that advice! As I state in the post.:)

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    2. It sure is - haven't done it for a while now. A favourite memory was meeting Robert Morse on Broadway after a performance of Tru - a one man show about Truman Capote. He was exhausted. I told him that he would win a Tony for it, and and three weeks later in London, I saw him accepting the Tony!

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