Broadway: Ben Platt, Stage Door Autographs, and the In-Between
In recent days, a great deal of discussion has occurred about Broadway performers and a reticence to sign autographs and greet audience members at the stage door. Actor Ben Platt of Dear Evan Hansen defended his reasoning to disgruntled fans who are upset because the actor has avoided stopping for fans outside the Music Box Theatre. He makes some excellent points that we need to take into consideration.
"My priority must always be self-care so I can recreate the same quality show each night. That’s my job, and what each and every audience member is paying for and deserves. Before you tweet hateful things about how I don’t value our incredible fans when I can’t come to the door, please pause to consider that my responsibility to them is first and foremost to give my all each night. I preserve myself because I value each of them deeply.”
Some fans of the show, many of whom have traveled a great distance and paid exorbitant ticket prices to see Dear Evan Hansen (or any Broadway show for that matter), feel as though this personal connection at the stage door is all a part of the experience.
So, who is right here?
Performers have no contractual obligation to sign autographs or even speak to you at the stage door. This is not time that they are paid for. Also, nothing in your ticket price includes a meet & greet as part of the experience. A performer's tool is their body, and for a musical performer, they must take detailed care of their vocal instrument. In the end, their number one priority is to remain in good health and deliver their best to each audience member who pays the hellacious prices to see a Broadway show. Technically, all the above is correct and Mr. Platt is justified in his stance.
That being said...
Building an audience is a part of creating a longevity in this business. When you have a crowd of adoring fans and you give them that special moment, you are creating supporters for life. They carry that exchange in their hearts, holding it as dearly as seeing the show itself. It's an excellent opportunity for a performer to do some self-promotion, endearing themselves to what will be their enduring audience. Also, in these days of social media, what a great way to get more exposure when you take a selfie with a fan and let them share your talent and generosity with the world. These small courtesies should not be discounted in a business where popularity is fleeting for many. I remember interviews with Mary Martin and Carol Channing where they both spoke of how their popularity endured because of the time they took with their fans. Considering their longevity in this business, it's an important thing to keep in mind.
Now fans: here is where you must take some responsibility. Stage-dooring can be an obnoxious experience, daunting for the performer and your behavior behind the cordons can make or break their willingness to engage. If you didn't buy a ticket to see the show, it is unfair to overcrowd the queue to get a selfie or autograph. Leave this experience to those who purchased their way into an expensive Broadway show. When performers exit, be respectful. Pushing and shoving, sticking Playbills in their face, taking more time with them than is necessary (especially when others are patiently waiting their turn), are all deterrents to performers who might stop and take that time with you. Keep it classy; keep it together.
Let's also remember that performers may have plans following a show, or an early audition or rehearsal the next day. If they can't stop for you, don't always assume they are shunning the audience. Some have kids and most have families. Imagine if you were leaving work and needed to get home to your sick kid and you were held up by a crowd who want your autograph. Where would your priorities lie? Exactly!
You will find that, if you really want an autograph, if you write to a performer c/o the theatre where they are performing, include a large, self-addressed envelope with plenty of postage affixed, they will oblige (on their own time) to send you an autograph. There is no guarantee (they are not required), but they are generally willing. Just don't turn around and sell it on eBay. Where is the respect for their time and effort in that?
Note that I have mentioned the cost of seeing a Broadway show several times over in this article. The price is often hefty, so I think this is partly where this sense of entitlement from autograph seekers comes from. Between transportation, (sometimes lodging), and the cost of seeing Broadway in its greatness, theatergoers want to maximize the experience. A close-up moment with a performer gives them that "something extra." I also credit the cost of Broadway theatre for the now-expected standing ovation at the end of almost every show. This was not always the case, but as ticket prices have escalated, I surmise that audiences feel compelled to justify their expenditures by making sure it was a life-changing one. "There was a standing ovation." The phrase "standing ovation" no longer holds the same meaning. But, I digress. Performers, though you are not obligated to stand there for that extra twenty minutes that it requires to make the sacrifice of appeasing the throngs, it is a generous move on your part when you consider the sacrifices that many of your audience members have made to be there in the first place.
So please understand, Mr. Platt might be exhausted from giving you his all. Perhaps he is under the weather or has responsibilities outside of his work schedule (don't we all?). To be disgusted with him because he can't always reach you all, or spend time with you after a show, is an unfair assessment of his position. Where he (or any performer) can make that connection is a lovely and magical opportunity. It's a gift a performer can give their adoring fans. The nice thing about magic and gifts is that they are often an unexpected thing. When it happens, enjoy it, but let's not make it an entitlement or hold someone's reputation captive because they cannot always deliver. Let's look at both sides of this argument and try to understand why this heated discussion is happening in the first place: a love for theatre, the people who create it, and they people who make the sacrifices to support it. There are worse things we could be debating.