I LOVED "Stick Fly," and was thrilled to have been there on an evening when Alicia Keys (producer and composer of scene transition music for the play) was there and did a talkback with the cast right after the show. It was just great to hear them discuss the evolution of the production and why they wanted to be involved. I chose to see this play, in part, because it starred Dule Hill, of whom I've been a fan since "The West Wing." So I knew I wanted to go to the stage door afterwards so that I could meet him, at least.
My first hint that this stage door might be a challenge was when I emerged from the theater into a pack of paparazzi waiting for Alicia Keys. Clearly I was going to have to brave the Alicia Keys fan-contingent before I could get to the actual actors from the show. Sure enough, half of the crowd had not even seen the play, but knew Alicia would be there and had come to do one or more of several things I heard mentioned; e.g., get a photo, touch her, get an autograph, convince her to kiss them, propose to her, change her life by telling her the vaguely stalker-ish level of adoration they have for her and her music, or just bask in her presence on the sidewalk. I had the great misfortune of being wedged next to a not-so-petite fan who carried on a very loud and uncomfortably revealing, mostly one-sided conversation with her friend in my ear for 45 minutes about her obsession with Ms. Keys, sprinkled with apparently rhetorical questions like "what's this show about anyway??"...a particular form of torture for me! But this was an incredible play, and I wanted to tell those actors how much I appreciated their hard work, so I was going to have to tough it out.
And emerge Alicia Keys finally did. She is quite beautiful in person and incredibly sweet, composed and gracious. She signed Playbills, took photos with fans and smiled serenely throughout. I was really impressed (and yes, somehow she did sign my Playbill). Once she left, the majority of the crowd dispersed; leaving us lowly play-goers to our sad, little quest to talk to the folks that had actually been in the play! Each one of the actors was appreciative and patient; taking photos and chatting with fans, and it was worth every minute of uncomfortableness...:)
You know, going to the stage door after the show can make for a very pleasant and social 45 minutes or so, as you wait for the actors to emerge. My experiences, for the most part, have brought me some really interesting conversations with fellow stage door "waiters." Some folks that wait have never come to a stage door before; they've come to the show to see their very favorite actor and would love to at least see the actor up close and maybe, just maybe, get a photo or an autograph. Others are pros at the stage door experience and can give you tips or tell you great stories about the times they met this star or that star and what that actor was like. It also doesn't hurt to be gracious and pleasant to the person beside you; they may make room for you up closer, lend you their felt tip marker, pass your Playbill forward for the actor to sign, or take a photo for you of you with the actor if you're by yourself.
I've talked to all manner of fans: senior citizens who are theater geeks and spend their retirement going to the theater (unlike me who isn't waiting, and won't be able to afford to retire because I spend so much time going to the theater now :)); musical theater students who are quivering with excitement to just be there and dream of their future; and shrieking teenagers who didn't even see the show but whose life will be complete once they glimpse Daniel Radcliffe :).
I have also been shown great kindness by people who allowed me to press in closer to get that signature on my Playbill. I remember many of them; and though I may never see them again, for that "brief, shining moment" we were comrades armed with markers and Playbills :).
If you had told me that McGruff the Crime Dog would have been largely responsible for one of the more special stage door experiences I've had, I would seriously have questioned your understanding of "stage door." But it just goes to show that sometimes meeting the actor(s) is not the most memorable part of going to the stage door.
After seeing, and loving, Holland Taylor's performance in "Ann" ("an affectionate portrait of Ann Richards") at The Kennedy Center last Tuesday, my bemused, but very game, companion agreed to stroll by the stage door, despite the frigid temps, on our way to the car after the show. As is common at The Kennedy Center, the stage door was deserted but for a security guard, who poked his head out to survey the area. We waited a few minutes and the next time he made an appearance, he told us we'd have to clear the area and go stand farther away with a small group of people we hadn't noticed at first. We obediently moved away and saw several other security officers roaming about, and a black car waiting at the curb. "Aha!"we said to each other; someone of importance must be backstage visiting Holland Taylor! And sure enough, soon an animated group led by Hillary Clinton came out of the stage door and went to the car; a particularly fun bonus, as we hadn't seen her in the theater during the show, so would never have known she was there otherwise.
The other folks took off after seeing her (she's who they wanted to see) and we were allowed back to the stage door area accompanied by Curtis, the stage door security guy who introduced himself, expressed sympathy for the cold and said he wanted to try and get us inside but had to wait for an ok. While we waited (and shivered ) he told us how wonderful Holland Taylor is, how much he admired her and how he was looking forward to bringing his young daughter to the show. He also shared some stories from his career history (he'd been a DC police officer for many years), and that's how we found out that he had been "McGruff, the Crime Dog" for a few years. Curtis was so kind to us and we had a great time talking and passing the time. Finally, just as I'm fairly sure my friend had become a human popsicle and was ready to give up the ghost, Curtis was able to invite us to step just inside the stage door to his desk area and that's how we came to have a private meeting with Holland Taylor when she came out with her group. She was so taken with the idea that we had waited an hour to meet her that, without hesitation, she dropped her bag and came running over to give us each a huge hug, and then wrote a personal note to me on my Playbill.
So this fantastic stage door experience was brought to me care of Curtis, "Ann" and my very accommodating companion....thanks M!!
I truly never thought I would actually pursue an actor down the block as they left the theater without seeing that I was waiting, but it happened.
I went to NYC for the day just to see "Venus in Fur" (which had announced a closing date, but was then extended; making my mad dash to the city to see it a bit unnecessarily dramatic, but oh well...). It was a Wednesday matinee and the show was sold out; but, as is often the case with mid-week matinees, the crowd skewed heavily older; not the demographic that waits at the stage door for the actors. And it's not as much of a certainty that actors will come out to sign on a two-show day (it's tiring for them, and they may have to contend with heavy stage makeup).
That's how it came to be just me standing by my lonesome at the stage door barricade, waiting forlornly with my Playbill and marker at the ready. Frankly, my train wasn't for another couple of hours, and I had nowhere else to be, so I figured why not wait. And wait I did. A number of random folks went in and out. This was only a two actor play, so it was not going to be difficult to spot either of the leads (Hugh Dancy and Nina Arianda), but there was no sign of them for quite a while.
I started feeling a tad self-conscious, so I tried to look nonchalant; as if I was merely waiting for my very late (imaginary) companion to show up and wisk me off to drinks and dinner. And it was because I was trying to so hard to look inconspicuous that, before I knew it, and just as I was about to give up and head for Penn Station, the door flew open and Hugh and Nina shot out and down the block without ever seeing me or me seeing them until they were out and away. I hesitated only a second; they were going the way I needed to go anyway, so I race-walked after them and prayed for a red light at the corner. Fate granted me the red light and my tendency to walk much faster than most people, allowed me to catch up with them at the corner. I worked up my courage, apologized for bothering them (and said I knew they were on their way to dinner, so I'd only take a minute) and asked if they would sign my Playbill, while telling them how much I loved the play. They were so gracious and appreciative and we got to talk a bit about why I liked the show!! And I got the unique experience of a one-on-one interaction with them. Totally worth it!
My lesson learned? Don't over think...I followed my instincts to try and catch them, and it worked out! The possibility certainly existed that they would be annoyed and rude about it; but that has so rarely happened in my experiences with the actors in these situations, that I know the more likely scenario is that they will be grateful for the positive feedback and compliments :).
box. Yes, a box...theatre box that is. One of the most unbelievable close-encounter theatre experiences I've ever had did not take place at the stage door, but it made going to the stage door afterwards a moot point.
I was going to NYC to see some shows that were high priority for me and found I had a slot open for an extra show: enter "Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway." I assumed that it would be too late to get a ticket, but there was one available in a right side box, first row. I'd always wanted to sit in a box and figured it wouldn't be a problem for this cabaret-style show to be so far over to the side, where part of the stage would be cut off from my sight line. So I bought it, just happy to be seeing Hugh Jackman in person.
I will say that it's quite atmospheric to enter your seat by stepping through a heavy velvet curtain...I felt a bit special. And I was thrilled that my chair was the one closest to the stage-side of the box with a great bird's eye view over the audience. And the first act was great; Hugh Jackman has a seemingly endless supply of charisma and interacted quite a bit with audience members in the orchestra. While I had a great view, I was a tad disappointed to be up above the action and not down in the thick of it. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. Cue intermission and cue my usual 15 minutes of people-watching and daydreaming.
As I peered over the audience, I noticed a family directly below me with fairly young children. It crossed my mind that they seemed the wrong age for the show; not that there was anything inappropriate in the material, just not of great interest to pre-schoolers. The other thing that crossed my mind was that in my fantasy, Hugh Jackman would open the second act by bursting into the box in which I was sitting and serenading the audience from up high...you know, an unexpected, flashy entrance in which I would have an unmatched view :). That's what fantasies are for, right????
Intermission ticked on and I caught sight of official looking theatre personnel with earphones clearing the aisle below me, and realized that Hugh must be entering for Act II down that aisle. Not bad, I thought, I'd have an unobstructed view! And just as I was watching that aisle intently~in an instant~the house lights went down, a spotlight hit me and I heard that big, heavy velvet curtain being swept aside. As my mind tried to process all of this I looked to my left to see Hugh Jackman in head-to-toe gold lamé gesturing to me in a come-hither manner from about 2 feet away and singing some song that I will never ever remember as long as I live. If there was ever a time I could have honestly said "I must be dreaming," and meant it, this was it. Meanwhile, he's singing, coming closer, winking and I'm sinking into my chair as the audience roared. And sure enough, he was serenading the audience from just where I'd dreamt he would...clearly, I should have bought a lottery ticket that day as well...
But it gets better. As he sang and moved around the tiny space that was the box seating, he suddenly sat himself down...in my lap. In.My.Lap. And periodically turning around, directing some patter to me and sticking the microphone in my gobsmacked face...while I sputtered, turned every shade of embarrassment in the spectrum and just gaped. He stood up to sing some more...and then...sat back down in my lap. This time, he shifted around to get comfortable and asked (into the microphone) if he was "too heavy" for me....and stuck the microphone back in my face...at that moment I was just trying to figure out where to put my hands...I mean, seriously, where DO you put your hands when Hugh Jackman is sitting in your lap and 800 people are watching??? On his shoulders? On his waist? I settled for the shoulders. Anyway, the only thing that came out of my mouth in answer to his question was "um, no, you're good!" Audience got a kick out of that; I suspect because I sounded completely shell-shocked by the whole thing....because I was indeed shell-shocked , or Hugh-shocked I should say.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours (but was, in reality, probably about 10 minutes), he disappeared from the box as quickly as he'd arrived, leaving me completely unable to concentrate on anything else that happened in the show. Oh, except this: remember the family with the young children that I'd noticed during intermission? Yeah, it was Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and his group.
As I've always said (ok, not "always," just now), if you're going to have the experience of a lifetime, and publicly embarrass yourself at the same time...definitely do it while a world leader is watching. It just adds to the fun!
Stage Door Tales
Every stage door has a story.