It seems as if this is a ritual for me by now – my real account of a stage door experience, including my own feelings and conclusions, always take much longer to commit to the blog than the ironic commentary via a fake review. It appears that after all these years, I still am not fully reconciled with outing myself as a fan by way of attending the stage door. Part of the problem is that I find it hard to tell what exactly I am feeling when I look at the SDs in retrospect. But maybe that *is* the dominant feeling, confusion – because that has been my reaction every time I have been to *see* RA somewhere, whether it is on stage or at a premiere, and no matter whether it was Berlin 2013, London 2014, Leeds 2015, or New York 2016. So maybe I will just tell it as it was – and see whether I come to a conclusion of my confusion. [Reminder: Please don’t take any criticism contained herein as a personal accusation. Just my own thoughts on what I saw.]
Stage Door 1 – Thursday, November 3rd
At my first LLL SD I actually came as an impostor. Because I did not have a ticket for the show that evening. I had flown into NYC the day before to attend a conference the company I work for organises every autumn in New York. Thursday was the day of the company event, and I had not bought a ticket for that night’s performance because I wasn’t sure whether I’d get out of work in time for it. As it happened, the conference was over by 6pm and I went with my bosses and a few attendees for drinks. I usually don’t drink alcohol, but this time I did and was subsequently a bit drunk. That was why I made the sudden, unpondered decision to actually race it over from a pub in 23rd St all the way to 46th because I realised I could just go to the SD and meet Linda60 there (with whom I was staying in the hotel). So, still dressed in my business outfit and branded by my conference badge, I legged it and got there well in time before the end of the show.
I was the first person to arrive outside the theatre and took the opportunity to take a few pictures, after all I was still lugging my camera bag with me. I waited at the seating area opposite the entrance to the theatre; no one was standing by the barrier yet. But I was soon joined by another woman who quickly outed herself as a fan. She told me her name was Rebecca and she had seen the play multiple times. When she eventually took position at the barriers around the time the play was supposed to end, I followed her lead and stood beside her, right opposite the doors. Since I had come unprepared, I offered her to hold one of the Playbills and get Armitage to sign it.
It took about 20 minutes until RA exited the theatre that night. By that time the line had filled out, but I was actually quite surprised to see only between 15 and 20 people at the SD. Upon exiting, Armitage immediately launched into SD mode, went down the line and signed everything that was offered to him. It all looked very much like I had seen in all the photos and videos by fans who had been there before me – Armitage smiling and signing, politely thanking fans for the compliments, swiftly moving down the line of fans, occasional stops for a quick selfie. As he reached me, all I could really say was “thank you” – after all I hadn’t even seen the play yet. Stage door hijacker! Even though I was really calm for a change – thanks to a couple of pints of Guinness and the un-pre-pondered decision to do the SD even without having seen the play, I suppose – I didn’t really register what he said, what he wore, and what happened around me. It was over way too fast. The whole SD literally took less than 60 seconds! I wasn’t disappointed, though, because I was distracted by all my fan friends who were assembling around me and with whom I then went for a drink in the Irish pub across the street. But I was totally on a high because reasons. And really pleased because I had done Rebecca a favour by getting the playbill signed for her.
- Saw RA unexpectedly
- Helped out a fellow fan
- Post-SD meet-up
Stage Door 2 – Friday, November 4th
I was better prepared on Friday night – and in high spirits, after having just watched the play for the first time. I had really enjoyed it, although I had feared the worst after what I had heard about the play in advance. This time I had my copy of the boo ready for RA to sign. It was sheer luck that I got to stand at the top of the queue because I didn’t really race out of the theatre to get there. When I left through the doors, they had not closed the barrier directly opposite the door, so I exited there because some of my fan friends were standing close by. It then just turned out to be the top of the queue, although I hadn’t even aimed for that.
Mimi video’ed the procedure for your pleasure 😉
Like the previous night there were between 15 and 20 people there – a manageable number of fans, which to me seemed to ensure that everybody was going to get what they wanted, a signature, a selfie, a chance to say a few words to RA. Waiting for him to appear, I was quite distracted by the whole scenario. Many people I knew were there, and we were all burning to discuss the play. When RA eventually turned up, he headed straight over to me to start signing. And this is where my memory gets hazy, despite video evidence of the whole thing *cringe*. I think I said something like “That was brilliant, I really enjoyed the play”, but I don’t think he replied anything, just signed my book, for which I thanked him. I don’t know what it is with me, but I didn’t even look up at him or anything – for some weird reason I just feel too shy to do that. Don’t look at the sun… No wonder I didn’t get a reply. There was a funny little exchange between RA and Kathy Jones further down the line, which she may want to tell you about herself. I missed it because I didn’t even stay at the barrier to observe the rest of the SD procedure. I can see from Mimi’s video that I was grinning like a pig that has just found the biggest truffle ever, but I don’t think there were any coherent thoughts in my mind for about 5 minutes after that. In any case, Armitage quickly finished going through the line, towards his waiting car, and whizzed off.
- great spot at SD
- got my copy of LLL book signed
- post-SD chats
Stage Door 3 – Saturday, November 5th
This time, I only made it out of the play rather late even though I hadn’t lingered in the theatre. But the line behind the barriers was already completely packed. Saturday night
fever, I suppose. It was much busier than after the previous two shows. Fans were standing three, four deep at the barrier, and I immediately decided that I was not going to add myself to the throng. After all I had already had a couple of “encounters” (if you can call the blurry split second of RA passing by that) and I was hoping for another occasion when I returned for the play Sunday and Tuesday. So I stood back and watched from afar, together with Obscura. I felt actually relieved because I did not like the idea of standing in the big crowd and having to wrestle my way to the front of the barrier.
We have video footage of that night, courtesy of Judiang:
Because of the larger number of people attending, the SD was much more energetic in terms of fan activity. I reckon there were 50, 60 people there. Even before RA came outside, it was difficult to find a space near the front. I watched the spectacle from behind the whole assembly of fans, a buzzing kind of throng over which you could hardly see RA’s head. Even though he is a head taller than most of the ladies. He had his head bent down to sign and to pose and to listen to the thank yous that were thrown his way. While previous SDs had been fairly calm and quiet
save for the occasional elated giggle of a happy fan, this time there was much movement as latecomers pushed their way to the front and others, who had been at the top of the SD line left their spot to rejoin the line further down again. Armitage spent a little longer interacting with a group of Asian fans, and it was nice to see that because they had come such a long way to pay their attention to their favourite actor. However, that evening, the whole SD looked a bit unpleasant to me. I don’t really suffer from claustrophobia, but the set-up with a heaving throng of people just didn’t appeal to me. I deliberately and willingly stayed out of the way of it even though I would’ve liked another opportunity to express my admiration to RA, just like any other fan.
- longer SD
- opportunity to observe from a distance
- big meet-up post-SD
Those three nights were the only SD opportunities where Armitage actually came out to meet his fans. I had two further tickets for the play for Sunday and Tuesday. Both times he did not do the stage door – Tuesday was election night, and Sunday was a matinee, on the day of the New York Marathon. He had been doing the Sunday matinees prior to that, so I was disappointed that he did not this time, but well, I accept that it is his call to make. The man has a life and a mind of his own, just like we all do. And he has good days, bad days, and sometimes maybe just doesn’t feel up for it. Fair enough. The disappointment then, that inevitably comes with it, is a reflection of individual fangirl expectations, and guilty as charged – I somehow had hoped for the luck of the same uninterrupted run of SDs that he did in London. Not here.
What about that confusion then? What is it about the SD experience that is so difficult to put into perspective? Standing back one night, gave me the opportunity to observe the scenario. And if I am brutally honest with you, I am not really sure that I liked all that I saw. Don’t get me wrong – I am a fan, and I like to be part of the fandom, and I like fangirling. I don’t have a problem with the SD as a form of expressing one’s admiration of an actor. I think it is the most honest and immediate way of showing the celebrity in question that we are interested, appreciative and impressed. (And I trust that Armitage’s continuing willingness to meet his fans at the stage door means that he understands that and wants to facilitate that.) However, the parameters of the SD on that particular night were just not what I consider ideal
for my own participation, and I perceived much of it as intrusive and inconsiderate. I don’t know whose fault it was, whether it is due to the logistics (too short a barrier line; RA too fast; number of fans too large) or whether my criticism is subjective because I felt excluded.
Some of it was the perceived atmosphere of “every woman for herself” as it was clear that RA was not going to be able to grace everyone with his attention, his signature and a selfie. There wasn’t exactly a stampede, but I think it was an occasion where you had to be pretty stable on your feet and hold your ground. I do not remember perceiving the experience quite like this at the SD in London where there were regularly even *more* people in the line than on this particular night in NYC. While RA acted/reacted much the same in NYC and in London, I can only surmise that it was the set-up that was better suited in London. There was a longer space for fans to form a line in, the security guard accompanied Armitage along the line of fans – even without the need of a barrier, and more fans were able to briefly interact with RA. Ultimately, I found the Saturday night SD frustrating to watch – on behalf of those who did not get their moment, on behalf of the celebrity who might *want to* fulfil his fan’s expectations but has his own life/rules/commitments, on behalf of my own crushed expectation.
I continue to have a massive problem myself with photography at the SD – something I simply can’t bring myself to do. How utterly weird is that for a photographer? Granted, I am not and never will be a press photographer. And neither is this to imply that shooting at the SD is paparazzi behaviour. It is a public event in a public space, semi-organised but with professional security in place, and thus implies the consent (by the celebrity) to capture the moment “on film”, much like a premiere or a red carpet. Not sure whether my profession makes me more sensitive to the obvious issue of “photographing vs experiencing”? Ultimately that is why I choose not to shoot: I would rather be *in* the moment, than see the moment filtered through the screen of my smartphone/viewfinder of my camera. And since being photographed makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable myself (a symptom of vanity, no doubt), I tend to feel bad for the sake of the people who are being photographed in situations where they are uncomposed, unposed. But when I get back home, I kick myself for not taking pictures. Confusing. Schizo! There, I can’t be helped.
However, I refuse to taint the SD with negative memories. When I look at my highlights list, I can say that the constant joy of it all was meeting fellow fans at the SD. Genuinely! And so the conclusion really is, that the SD is a great place to meet and have fun with fellow fans. Discussing the play we had just seen, meeting new people just because we were all in the same boat, united by our shared interest in Armitage, comparing the size of our Armitage memoRAbilia collection at home – never was it easier to start chatting to strangers. I remember most fondly the 20 minutes *before* Armitage came out, when there is the loud buzz of excited chatter and this high tension of expectation. Is he going to come out? Will he sign? Will I get a selfie with him? How much time is going to spend with us? Is he going to prove his sensational taste in male leg-wear again? – Then there is the short duration of the actual SD encounter between Armitage and his fans, during which you can almost tangibly feel the massive joy and happiness on the side of the fans, sort of like a cloud of warmth. The heart beats of the assembled fans collectively sped up and beating in unison? 😉 What a show of love! Oh, to be the recipient of that! There is the touching, sudden hush once he appears, as everyone is now distracted by his appearance outside. – And afterwards there is the happy sound of giggles and laughter, fans feeling elated because they got a signature or selfie or even just a glimpse of the man, and people lingering long after Armitage has gone, just because they are communicating, chatting, talking, comparing notes on the play and the SD, making plans for meet-ups etc. All *that* raised my spirits every time, put a huge smile on my face and made my day. It is what I took home with me from the SD – a lovely end to every day I was there. And based on the fact that we even had SD fun on the days when Armitage did *not* come out to meet and greet (picture evidence withheld), I can safely say that the SD does not even depend on Armitage’s cooperation. It is what *you* make it, yourself.
So, overall I come away with a good feeling. Much of that is due to Armitage – he really does the best *he* can, and to me it looks evident that he is doing this as a service to fans. He could probably increase the buzz exponentially by taking a little bit more time – and reap the rewards in enthusiastic fan activity all over the internet and at the box office, but I’m glad he is doing it at all. He deserves a medal.
Your cue, Kathy!