Stage Door Tips
Some lessons I’ve learned from my experiences at various stage doors:
The time commitment
To be safe, I would allow a minimum of an hour at the stage door; longer if the crowd is large and/or the actors are relatively famous and/or Broadway-beloved (e.g. Sutton Foster, Jonathan Groff). Of course it might be a shorter wait if it's not a show involving elaborate costumes/make up. Remember that the time will pass more slowly for you than for the actor, who's trying to get out of hair/make up/costume, greet guests, or who may have some show-related issue to handle. During previews, for example, the cast may have post-show meetings with the creative team, as the show is still evolving.
And sometimes there will be post-show talkbacks or special meet and greets with groups that will delay or prevent the actor from signing. Bottom line: waiting at stage doors requires a lot of patience.
This is an important consideration for both children, and friends who are accompanying you but are not terribly interested in meeting the actors. You can be assured that, for the most part, it will take the leads (especially well-known actors) longer to exit (if at all) due to guests that they may be hosting backstage after the performance. Generally, the ensemble members will come out first, and then featured actors. This is not a rule, just the likelihood! If you are with someone who is not as interested in the process, it's always nice to be sensitive to those around you who might want their space, or perhaps they can offer to take photos for people. Good will at the stage door will make the time pass more pleasantly, and reap benefits; if you're nice to the person next to you, they may be the one to scoot over just enough to let you up front!
The time of day may matter
If you really, really, really want to meet your favorite actor at the stage door after the show, be aware that it is not uncommon for the actors to not come out to sign after the matinees on two-show days. This is very common where the show is very intense and draining for the cast, or where there is elaborate costuming and make up involved. So, if meeting the cast is important to you, you may want to consider avoiding the matinee performances on two-show days (usually Wednesday and Saturday; sometimes Sunday as well).
If the actors do not come out, the stage door security manager may know if a particular actor is willing to sign your Playbill if the stage door security person takes it backstage for you. I've had that happen personally, and have been told of it happening by others.
Your friend (or foe) the Stage Door Manager
Most important to keep in mind is that, at stage doors for popular shows, especially shows that include big name stars in the cast, the stage door security/manager will control your fate. He/she can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. It is their job to keep the actors (and you) safe, and keep the sidewalks clear for pedestrians. They may be strict about keeping the crowd behind the barricades and not permitting any spillover. They also often know what the actors will/won't do and will let the crowd know in advance. For example, an actor may only be willing to sign one item per person, or only items from the show (tickets, Playbills, posters, etc.) and not from the actor's other projects, or may not be willing to take photos or require that cameras have the flash turned off. Frequently, the crowd will be admonished to not push against the barricades and told that the actor will leave immediately if the crowd pushes and shoves. This is not an empty threat...I've seen actors get right into their cars if the crowd was unruly. Finally, the stage door security will usually let you know who will or won't come out and will give you the heads up when the last actor has left. When they put away the barricades, the stage door is "closed."
To Photo or Not to Photo
As a personal note, I generally don't try to get photos with the actors unless it's not terribly crowded. I prefer to take those few seconds to make eye contact, say thank you, enjoy the moment. But if it's important to you, the actors are, as a rule, very generous about it. At shows where there are big names and the crowds are large, it has become more common for the stage door managers to announce the photo policy for the actors in advance. They may say that a particular actor will not pose for selfies, for example, but that you can take photos as they sign.
Be nice to the folks waiting with you, whether you know them or not; you might have a fascinating conversation with a stranger that will help pass the time waiting. Also, I know it's frustrating when someone who didn't see the show has snagged a front row spot, but stage doors are public spaces, and any fan can stake out space. Keep in mind that some of those people that got there before you may have seen the show at another performance and couldn't wait the first time, or missed some of the actors. On the other hand, if you didn't see the show, and you make a point of publicly announcing that to those around you, be prepared for some animosity if you've taken prime waiting space.
Be patient! Actors must take off make-up, get out of costume, greet and visit with backstage guests, rest a bit-it can take a long time. I know of wait times of over 2 hours.
Be polite and respectful of the stage door manager; often he/she controls your fate.
Be observant of all those exiting through the stage door! Often there are other well-known people visiting the actors backstage, and they will pass by you as they exit the stage door; it makes for a good bonus story and they may even sign for you.
Bring a writing utensil (preferably a felt tip; it will show up better) for them to use to sign your program; be generous with it-those who didn’t know to do this will talk about your kindness long afterwards.
Make sure your camera is out and working before the actor emerges; your neighbors will often take the photo for you, but show them how to work the camera first so that it doesn't delay the actor too much.
Be alert if an actor is not talking, or is whispering. They may be on vocal rest and protecting their voice. Tailor your comments to the type that don't require a response.
Say “thank you” to the actor; and perhaps tell them something about the show you just saw that you liked. I like to avoid putting too much emphasis on non-theater related roles they've had (e.g., that television show). Instead, if I've seen the actor in less common performances (such as a cabaret evening), I'll mention it, and the actor often seems really appreciative that someone has gone out of their way to catch other work they've done.
Don’t raise your voice unless you are cheering an actor who has emerged-these are close quarters sometimes and it is incredibly disruptive if you are screaming or yelling in your neighbor's ear.
Do not repeatedly scream out the actor’s name...they know you’re there and will get to you if they can.
Don’t bring a stack of things for the actor to sign; let everyone who waited get a chance for an autograph; and if it looks as if you're a probable sell-the-autograph-on-eBay type, they may not sign for you at all (I've seen it happen).
Don’t get physical with those around you-it gets crowded, it can be claustrophobic, so be prepared to at least try to calmly maneuver in a crowd.
Don’t only mention the other project you loved them in (TV show, film) and not thank them for this performance; they’re doing something different for you-acknowledge it. If you didn't see this show, I wouldn't recommend mentioning that, unless you have a ticket for an upcoming performance.
Don’t forget that they may have just given an emotional performance that leaves them exhausted-be truly appreciative that they are taking the time to meet you-just as they appreciate you coming to their show.
Don’t be too tough on an actor who doesn’t come out afterwards; their family may be visiting them backstage; there may be something they had to do; they may be feeling ill, they may be very crowd-averse.