Is The Cult of Celebrity Entirely Welcome In Theatre World?

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This August, Benedict Cumberbatch will take to the Barbican stage to star as Hamlet until 31st October. Tickets for the show sold out in record breaking time, with an online ballot for £10 tickets heavily oversubscribed as well.

While there is no doubt that many will simply be wanting to see a talented actor starring in arguably one of the Bard’s greatest works, there are also those who will be simply going for the chance to see Cumberbatch in the flesh.

Indeed, when the actor announced he would not be appearing at the stage door after shows, there was near uproar on many forums and blogs, with fans declaring they had a right to meet the man they would be travelling to see.

Seeming to gloss over the fact that an actor is merely paid to perform on stage and not meet every person who lingers after the show, fans of celebrities who take to the stage are becoming more demanding in their stage door expectations and this, in turn, is having an impact on the entire theatrical world.

I’ve seen this in evidence myself recently, on a trip to Broadway where I watched Darren Criss perform in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Admittedly, the sole purpose of my trip was to see Criss in this role as I am a fan of his work. However, even I was surprised by the almost rabid response to his stage door appearances.

I was amazed that it was suggested to me, by multiple people, that I turn up every night of my stay, and linger at the stage door from around 9pm, in order to be at the front of the barriers.

This is not just any stage door experience, where theatregoers wait to get a signature and thank the cast for their performance. This is a celebrity stage door, where a large fanbase collectively gather in order to beg the star for pictures (which we were clearly told were not allowed), get multiple playbills signed, along with all sorts of other items, and jostle to ask said star questions and then film his response.

This is a stage door where fans ask the lead- who has just performed 90 minutes in a very physically and emotionally draining show- to sign condoms, and still persist even when he says he feels uncomfortable. This is a stage door where they ask him to hold a bag of vomit for a photo.

I wish I was joking.

The Hedwig stage door has barriers set up for the cast’s protection. It even has a dedicated area where fans who have not watched the show can wait for Criss to sign for them- though they still spread out down the street.

Criss’ fanbase are certainly dedicated in their support of his work, but is it entirely fair on those performers who are part of the Broadway community? Is it also fair to those who are merely theatregoers, fans of the show itself, tourists, who have paid for a ticket and would like the chance to say “well done” and now find themselves stuck behind three rows of fans who are trying to ask him about his Glee co-stars?

While the cult of celebrity definitely has its place, one could argue that its place is not at the stage door. Theatre etiquette dictates you never leave before curtain call unless the show is truly dire, and yet I have heard instances of fans leaving not only Hedwig early, but Gigi, Finding Neverland and even Elephant Man in order to make sure they can guarantee to meet the star.

Cumberbatch can let his performance in Hamlet speak for itself, I am sure, and true fans will be happy just to get the opportunity to see him tread the boards.

 

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