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BWW Feature: Do You Miss Stage Door?

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Fiona Scott explores the pros and cons of stage door

BWW Feature: Do You Miss Stage Door?
A large crowd gathered outside
the Music Box and
Imperial Theatres on Broadway

The current UK Government guidelines recommend that as theatres reopen, audience members should not be encouraged to hang around the stage door. In the run-up to lockdown, West End shows like Dear Evan Hansen suspended stage door practices.

Usually, fans who've just seen the show can head there to try to grab autographs, photos and chat with the cast members. As we emerge out of lockdown into a "new normal", is leaving the increasingly popular tradition behind in pre-Covid days a good thing?

While I rarely "stage door" these days, I have some fond formative memories meeting certain theatre stars during my teenage years. The first time I went to the stage door after a show was on a family holiday to New York in 2010.

We had just seen Wicked (my second of what would become many viewings), and on our way back to the hotel, I spotted the stage door for the Gershwin Theatre. My dad agreed to wait with me, and I loved getting to say thank you to Dee Roscioli, the resident green girl at the time, for her performance, amongst others.

This experience began a journey of collecting signatures and photos of various Elphabas and Eponines etc. during subsequent trips to the West End. I'd definitely say I prefer an off-peak stage door. Lingering after a matinee or a weeknight show with a few others is far more pleasant than trying to hold your place in a crowd on a Saturday night or during the school holidays.

The most unpleasant stage door experience I had was when Guys and Dolls was playing at The Phoenix Theatre in 2016. My disabled friend and I were hoping to get a quick word and photo with Oliver Tompsett and maybe Rebel Wilson, but we realised most of the crowd were there to see Wilson. We were knocked out the way by pushy parents desperate for a photo of their children with the Pitch Perfect film star. The same groups of families kept blocking the way for the cast and crew trying to exit their place of work and took offence every time they were asked to move. It wasn't fun.

BWW Feature: Do You Miss Stage Door?
Carrie Hope Fletcher, due to star in
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cinderella,
has shared her thoughts on stage door

I have one embarrassing post-stage door interaction that I'll never forget. After going to see The Phantom of the Opera, on a relatively quiet weeknight, I enjoyed getting to meet the principals and taking photos with them. The Phantom in question (I won't say who, just in case I end up interviewing him one day!) must have then ducked into an alleyway to take a phone call after stopping to talk to the few of us at the stage door.

When I was walking towards the Tube a few minutes later, I suddenly found this musical theatre star standing right next to me at the level crossing. In delight (and surprise) I said "Hello!", much to their bewilderment, and then stupidly blurted out "I'm not following you, I promise!" - assuming he'd remember me from the stage door up the road. It was no surprise when the man I'd just seen as the Angel of Music took off very quickly into the night. Cringe!

Nowadays, I'll usually only hang around a quiet stage door if I did an interview with one of the performers to say hello - you've got to keep it professional. I did take the opportunity to meet Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel after Waitress earlier this year though. While that was a "busy" stage door, even for a Monday night, I was impressed with the system in place. We were asked to line up against a wall, and that allowed the cast to move quickly along the queue of fans wanting an autograph.

Bareilles shared on her social media channels at the beginning of her run that she wouldn't stop for photos. As an alternative, she said if people wanted to film a video on their smartphone as she walked past, she would briefly pose and a screenshot could be taken from that video.

Stage door can become draining for some performers if people aren't considerate, particularly if their fanbase comes from both the theatre and YouTube world - as meet-and-greets are common in the latter fandom. Carrie Hope Fletcher has shared multiple online videos about her stage door experiences as a performer. Most recently, she shared in a video with partner Oliver Ormson, "I love stage door. I think stage door is amazing if everyone's nice about it." Colleen Ballinger, meanwhile, took to her channel after receiving unwarranted backlash for not coming to the stage door during her stint in Waitress on Broadway.

BWW Feature: Do You Miss Stage Door?
Tim Howar in The Phantom of the Opera
- a popular show for stage door

I asked BroadwayWorld UK's Twitter followers how they felt about no stage door for the foreseeable future and if they had any particular memories. Erin (@erinjm79) shared several stories of meeting different stars at Broadway stage doors, and their different approaches: "[Many] signed for everyone but didn't take photos... [I've] never had a bad experience, just sad to have missed out on some pics. Part of the thrill of seeing one of your favourite celebs on stage is the possibility of having a moment with them at the stage door."

Joe (@JosephIlett19) tweeted: "I love a good stage door, so hope it'll eventually return when safe to do so. The cast of Phantom in London are among the loveliest people I've ever met." Kristina (@kristina_m0509) agrees: "I love the stage door. Nothing better than being able to meet your idols. My favourite was Tim Howar at Phantom".

Sheila (@SCBierton) is more hesitant about the return of stage door: "[I] love it but doubt it will be back for a while yet." And Christiane (@AstroChristiane) said: "It's a great opportunity to say thanks after a show. I hope socially distanced stage door may be permitted if it's not too risky."

It will be a shame if the stage door tradition dies. There are so many stories of current stars having a key moment with one of their idols when they were young. Jonathan Groff notably used to "stage door" to meet Sutton Foster when she was in Thoroughly Modern Millie and has since starred alongside her in A New Brain.

I think if and when we are allowed to hang around stage doors again, we should all be a bit more respectful of each other's time and space when the area around stage door is busy. There should be more streamlining of the process, like Bareilles's method at the Adelphi Theatre. It just makes the whole experience less stressful for everyone.

Remember: getting an autograph and a selfie is not included in the ticket price. This should always be considered a bonus, not a competition. The stage door is first and foremost the entrance and exit for those working at the theatre - not a place to compete for a personal meet-and-greet with your favourite theatre star.

Do you miss the stage door? How do you think we can do "stage door" better when theatre fully returns? Let us known on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

Photo credit: Fiona Scott

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