Stage Door Behavior: The Plays

Stars don't have to sign at the stage door, but many do. Here is a look at what is happening at the plays currently running.

By: Sep. 18, 2023
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Stage Door Behavior: The Plays

In May, I promised a series of stage door behavior stories. And then there were a lot of more timely stories to report on and, unfortunately, the next installment in the series got pushed. Now I can finally do the second installment, one on plays.

Obviously, the plays have changed since I started doing leg work for this story in April. And it is silly to talk about the stage door behavior of actors who are no longer part of the scene. But, before moving on to current stage door behavior, I need to make an exception for three ladies who have left Broadway. I wrote about this in the first installment, but I’ve seriously never seen anyone take the stage door, and her fans in general, as seriously as Jessica Chastain. During The Heiress, I saw her rushing to make half hour but stopping when someone yelled after her on the street. And the love and care she took with every single person at the stage door for A Doll’s House was really remarkable, especially given the draining nature of the show. We should all welcome her back always for that as well as her onstage performances. Rachel Brosnahan took over an hour to come out both times I was at The Sign in Sidney Brustein's Window, which is longer than anyone else. But she did stay and have a conversation with every single fan who waited—I told a producer they should sell tickets based on the fact that she’d dissect The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel episodes with audience members, because I heard her do that several times. Last but not least, D'Arcy Carden. Carden was in a comedy, The Thanksgiving Play, so it was easier to come off stage upbeat. The entire cast was so playful and talkative at the stage door that if this piece was done in May, I would have provided quotes from each of them. However, Carden really deserves a special shout out.

Carden has a very committed fanbase, many of whom are from A League of Their Own and call themselves the “Peaches” (as in the team) or the “Fruits” (a more inclusive name). Several of these fans connected online and then in person at the Hayes. There were people who saw The Thanksgiving Play a dozen times for her. It impressed me that many of them were so into the play they communicated with playwright Larissa FastHorse and recognized director Rachael Chavkin. But back to Carden. She averaged 45 minutes out there, sometimes standing outside for over an hour.

Stage Door Behavior: The Plays
One of these arms is Carden's. ​​​​(Photo by Court.)

That isn’t longer than Chastain, but the thing is—no one was asking Jessica Chastain to put on Shrek ears. Carden generally had a smaller crowd, but she heard a lot more personal stories than Chastain. More people felt Carden was one of them; more people felt she had a monumental impact on their lives (at least judging from the stories I heard at the stage doors). With the exception of a few nights, Carden took every photo, made every birthday recording, Facetimed with family members when that was asked of her, and put on each accessory her fans requested. I went before nomination season and after, same behavior. The Carden fans were a community—they made and distributed friendship bracelets that eventually piled about a dozen deep. They traveled from all around the world. They made fan art. They gave her socks.

“My sister has a shrine to you,” one fan from London told Carden.

“Wow, that’s so nice,” she said earnestly, before adding with a laugh: “I hope I look good in the pictures!”

And all three of these ladies, saw everyone, not just the people closest to the barricade. I’ve long had a problem with only signing for the people at the barricade, or those close enough to get a Playbill over the barricade, because it encourages people to leave before the bows or not see the show. That said, I realize it takes a long time not to do that. Obviously, not everyone is going to be the person to invest that time. Let’s look at the folks currently in plays.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child attracts a lot of kids, making the stage door a particularly sweet affair. The full cast didn't sign on either night I was there, but I think combined they all came out, meaning if you fail to get your favorite cast member on one night, you can try again.  

The Shark is Broken is a three-person play and Colin Donnell and Ian Shaw both sign and take pictures with everyone. The two nights I was there, Shaw came out first, but they were both out in quick succession. Right after they left, the security guard announced that Alex Brightman doesn’t sign or take photos, but you could take photos of him as he stood there, and that he’d “give a speech.” When he came out, he faced one side of the line (the Golden audience has to line up on two sides of an alley entrance) and said he wasn’t signing but he appreciated them coming and they should enjoy the rest of their night. Then he turned and did the same thing to the other side. (I wouldn't characterize this as a speech myself, but reasonable minds can differ.) No one questioned Brightman directly on his choice not to sign—and, remember, it is his choice, signing is not a job requirement—but when asked, security said it was related to Covid concerns. 

The nights I was at The Cottage, the departure order varied, but each night the entire cast was out rather quickly and all signed and took photos for about 30-40 people. They each asked people some version of: "Did you have a good time?" The maximum amount of time it took any cast member was 10 minutes, proving that it does not have to be a long-term commitment for people to sign, even if you’re a television star and people will therefore necessarily want those photos. Someone called Eric McCormack “Will” but he took it in stride. Someone asked Cooper about her pregnancy rituals. My favorite moment was a man having Laura Bell Bundy sign a Hairspray Playbill and telling her it was his first Broadway show, to which Bundy replied: “Mine too!”

Purlie Victorious still hasn’t opened yet, but fans are out there each night. This stage door featured something I hadn’t seen before—a director signing. One night, Kenny Leon came out (before any cast member), introduced himself, put on a mask, thanked people for attending (and somewhat oddly for attending Topdog/Underdog as well), and proceeded to sign. It was about 10 minutes after the curtain call that the first cast member came out; they all signed and took pictures. They told everyone to spread the word about the show. They were masked, but sometimes took the mask off for photos.  I was particularly touched by Vanessa Bell Calloway telling everyone she appreciated the audience’s effort in getting there, because she knew it was an investment of time and money. When someone thanked her for being so nice, she replied: “That’s the least I could do—you committed to coming here.” There were two young girls, ages 8 and 10, on the line with their mom. Even though it doesn’t seem like they are the target audience, they wanted to come for Leslie Odom, Jr. (who was the last cast member to come out at about the 30-minute mark). They ended up liking Kara Young slightly better and their mother insisted on them reporting it to Young, who was honored. Their mom was so touched by the kindness the cast showed her children, she teared up. One annoying thing I witnessed—someone asked Odom to sing “some Aaron Burr,” a request he politely declined.

And then there is Jaja's African Hair Braiding. I’ve never seen anything quite like the stage door for this show. I tried multiple times, but each night the actors ignored the five to fifteen waiting fans in favor of friends/family. Now, I’ve been to stage doors in early previews before, and usually, there is a lot of greeting friends/family, but then people double back to the fans. In this case, the actors only signed when fans interrupted their conversations. I waited 40 minutes one night alongside fans just hoping the cast members would double back, but they didn’t. This will change—friends/family stop coming in large groups after early previews, so I expect they will be in a different mode in the coming days. I can only tell you what I saw.

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