Saturday, October 20, 2007

Stage door stories

In a lifetime of moviegoing, I've never once had a chance to go into the lobby afterward and meet the actors whose performances I've just watched. Sure, in Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo" Jeff Daniels walks off the screen and into Mia Farrow's life. But really, that's an exception.

I know this isn't something a serious-minded theater fan should say, but it's pretty thrilling to go to the stage door after seeing a Broadway show, meet the performers and get my Playbill signed.

There's something exciting about knowing that the Broadway experience doesn't necessarily end when the final bows are taken. I love the sense of anticipation, standing with a crowd of my fellow theater geeks, er, fans, talking about the show, what we saw the day before and what we're going to see next.

My first stage-door experience was at "A Moon for the Misbegotten" in April. I had my camera and my Sharpie ready for Kevin Spacey, but unfortunately, I hadn't yet perfected the dexterity required to get the autograph and the photograph. Still, it was great meeting him for the five seconds we shared. I asked him to sign my name on the Playbill - so he'd know I wasn't going to peddle it on eBay! I managed to blurt out that this was my first time seeing a show on Broadway and I'd come just to see him. "Well, welcome," he responded, and I was in heaven.

I've had many great stage-door experiences since then, including meeting the entire casts of the musicals "Curtains" and "Spring Awakening." (I keep thinking it would be great someday to see the "Spring Awakening" cast perform "Curtains.") Both are wonderful shows with a talented, gracious group of actors. I was lucky enough to get my picture taken with three 2007 Tony winners - David Hyde Pierce from "Curtains," Christine Ebersole from "Grey Gardens" and John Gallagher Jr. from "Spring Awakening."

I think the "Spring Awakening" crowd was the biggest I've seen, three or four people deep, lots young, enthusiastic fans on repeat visits. One woman brought a poster she'd made for the cast to sign. I was really impressed with the amount of time the cast spent talking to people and posing for pictures. This was after a Wednesday matinee - they still had the evening show to do. Lea Michele even brought her own silver-colored Sharpie that showed up especially well on the Playbill.

I learned a lot between "Curtains" and "Spring Awakening." After David Hyde Pierce signed my Playbill, I started to walk away, then saw him pose for a picture. I ran back, asked if I could have my picture taken with him, and thrust my camera into the hands of the person closest to me. By the time I got to "Spring Awakening" three months later, I was better prepared. I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me, and we agreed to take each other's pictures when John Gallagher Jr. came by.

It's startling sometimes to see the actors in their street clothes, sometimes just minutes removed from the costumes, makeup and emotions of their role. In person, wearing a raincoat and glasses with thick frames, Patti LuPone looks much smaller, hardly resembling the strong-willed stage mother in "Gypsy."

Sometimes, you get to have a few words with them. Other times, there's only a chance to to tell them how much you enjoyed their performance. Still other times, the crush of humanity is so great, all you can do is get the autograph and move on so someone else gets a chance to move to the front of the crowd.

I told David Hyde Pierce that I was seeing my first musical on Broadway, and I'd been to my first play the night before. He asked me what I'd seen and how I'd liked it, and seemed genuinely interested. John Gallagher Jr. beamed when I congratulated him on the Tony. After seeing Gavin Lee as Bert in "Mary Poppins," I told him how much I loved watching him walk upside down across the proscenium arch. He told me how much he loved doing it.

I only had a fleeting chance to tell Angela Lansbury that she was wonderful in "Deuce." Talk about troupers, both she and costar Marian Seldes spent quite a while on a cold New York evening signing autographs and talking to their fans. Miss Seldes signed her tiny, delicate signature with a ballpoint pen, and when someone offered her a Sharpie, she said that she couldn't possibly use such a thick marker. When she found out it was someone's birthday, she smiled, gently caressed the woman's face and thanked her for coming.

And it doesn't even matter if I've never heard of the actors before. I stood outside the stage door after "Mamma Mia!" Yes, it was me and three 10 year olds waiting to get autographs from the show's stars, Carolee Carmello and Carey Anderson. It didn't matter to those young girls that they'd never heard of either performer. They were just excited to get their souvenir programs signed. Kudos to their parents for giving them the total Broadway experience. I hope it was one they'll always remember.

Then later that evening, after seeing "110 in the Shade," I stood outside waiting for a chance to meet Audra McDonald and John Cullum. When I told Mr. Cullum that I'd seen him some 20 years earlier at Syracuse Stage, along with his wife and son, in a production of "Look Homeward, Angel" he was genuinely thrilled.


Mike said...

I always feel awkward stagedooring, and rarely do it anymore. I almost made an exception for "Deuce" to meet Angela Lansbury, but my opinion wasn't high enough of the show for me to feel comfortable doing it.

However, a friend MADE me do it after "Lestat," a Carolee Carmello said one of the nicest things to me that anyone has ever said, so it almost -- almost -- made me start to do it regularly again. :-)

Esther said...

Hey Mike, thanks for the comment!

I guess I'm in the minority of people who liked "Deuce." But I can certainly understand your reluctance to go to the stage door if you didn't enjoy the performance. Luckily, I haven't faced that dilemma yet. :-)

And I do know what you mean about feeling awkward. I mean, I'm old enough to be John Gallagher Jr.'s mother. Still, that didn't stop me!

I guess I'm the ultimate tourist. Going to a Broadway show is still a new enough experience for me that getting an autograph and meeting the actors is pretty exciting.

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, You know that part of the reason why I've done the stage door is all because of you! It was fun for me getting those snapshots of you with Gavin Lee and Ashley Brown, and didn't we have fun when we went to provide our kudos to Saycon Sengbloh!

As for Deuce, I enjoyed one of my best stage-door memories when I came face-to-face with Marian Seldes. After I thanked her for all her work, she graciously tilted her forehead toward mind as she thanked me. Talk about a class act!

Esther said...

Steve, I'm glad some of my stage-door enthusiasm is rubbing off on you. Thank-you for indulging me! I loved meeting Ashley Brown and Gavin Lee and getting my picture taken with them. It's very nice having a personal photographer!

Saycon Sengbloh had an unenviable task going on as an understudy, and she did a magnificent job. I'm so happy we had a chance to tell her how much we enjoyed her performance. And I'm sure it meant a lot to her when you told her she deserved her own star turn on Broadway. I think that's one of the nicest stage-door moments, when you can tell someone who isn't yet a big star that you really enjoyed seeing them.

And not only have you gone to the stage door with me, you've gone to the stage door for me, to get the cast of "Curtains" to sign an autographed souvenir program! So even when I'm not there, I'm there!

Finally, I agree wholeheartedly about Marian Seldes. I had a chance to talk to her when she sat across the aisle from me at "Gypsy." What a sweet, gracious woman, in addition to a theatrical legend. A class act indeed!

Anonymous said...

I took my 12 year old to her first Broadway show, Wicked, last Christmas and she was thrilled to have her picture taken with Steve Garrison, Jayne Houdyshell and and Ana Gastayer. They were all very gracious and it made the whole expeience so much more special for my child and me :)

Esther said...

Thanks for the comment anonymous! What a lucky girl! I hope it's the first of many shows you have a chance to see together.

I saw Wicked on tour in January and it's one of my all-time favorite shows. Someday I'd love to see it on Broadway!

I'm so glad your daughter had a great experience at the stage door. That's definitely part of what makes going to a Broadway show so special. And I've found that all the actors who come out to sign are generally incredibly gracious and giving of their time, especially when you consider that they've just been through an exhausting performance. I had the pleasure of seeing Jayne Houdyshell in "The Receptionist" off Broadway, and she was terrific.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. I enjoyed your stories of "stage-dooring" a lot. I've never been to a Broadway show... But, this Fall I am making it a point to go see "Equus" when Daniel Radcliffe reprises his role.

So, tell me... how does one "stage-door"?

Esther said...

Thank-you so much for the compliment and the comment Billyjolie! Congratulations on your decision to attend your first Broadway show. I went for the first time a year ago Saturday and it was a terrific experience. I've been back many times since then.

So, stage-dooring is pretty easy. You'll want to get out there as soon as possible after the show ends to get a good spot. I'm not sure where the stage door is at the Broadhurst, but you can just ask an usher inside the theater. Chances are, with Daniel Radcliffe's fame, it'll be a mob scene and there'll be metal barricades set up. so you won't have any trouble finding it!

We don't know yet what color the Playbill will be, but you might want to get two different-color Sharpies (available at most drugstores), one black and one a lighter color, like red or silver. You can also check back at the web site after the show opens, and you'll be able to see what the Playbill looks like, so you'll know which color will show up best.

Then make friends with the person standing next to you, in case there's an opportunity to get a picture with Mr. Radcliffe. You can quickly hand the person your camera.

In my experience, the "big stars" usually come out last, so you could be waiting a half hour or more, but don't despair and don't leave. (You'll have plenty of company). And when they do come out, they're pretty good about making sure everyone gets an autograph. While there are no guarantees, I have a feeling Daniel will be pretty accommodating. There'll be a lot of people, but the key is to be persistent, hold your ground and don't be shy. Good luck, and e-mail me if you have any more questions.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the thrill that one gets while waiting outside a stage door. It's that suspense of whenever the door opens, someone like Dan Radcliffe, will walk out. For theater nerds like me, there is no bigger adrenaline rush than waiting behind a barricade for an actor to come out!! =D

(I'm seeing a matinee performance of Equus tomorrow and being a HUGE fan of Dan Radcliffe, I will definately be waiting. I hope he comes out...)