My Stage Door Story: How It All Began
"It’s just that I feel so sad these wonderful nights. I sort of feel they’re never coming again, and I’m not really getting all I could out of them."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise
Of course my journey to being a regular at the stage door begins with my favourite show Cats the Musical; it was my first introduction to musical theatre and the first large-scale live theatre production I had had the chance to see and the impact it had on me also has a lot to do with how I have come to have such an intense appreciation for the uniqe magic of live theatre and just how speical it is. My first encounters with the show had been in the West End where I had seen it twice, both times being lucky enough to see members of the Ultimate Edition DVD recording cast - a face which possibly contributed to the slightly embarrassing amount of disconnect I had in my head about how the people from the show were people, real people who at some point left the theatre somehow! The DVD cast were my heroes, people who more or less lived on my TV screen every weekend for a significant proportion of my childhood. When I saw the show in the West End I doubt we would have had time to go to the stage door, but these people were the people from my TV so, in my head, there was an element of them somehow maybe not being real or accessible so it wasn't something I ever asked about. My next encounter with the show was on tour; I had been so excited but the production on that particular tour was not on a par with the show as I remembered it from the West End, and though the cast were brilliant the show simply didn't have the same effect on me and I was devestated by that fact. Again I didn't ask about the stage door - but I'll be honest, my brain still hadn't really got there on connecting up that such a place existed anyway.
By 2006, Cats the Musical was turning 25 and, despite the disappointment I'd had at the last tour, I was beyond excited to find out that a national tour would be happening in honour of the milestone. It was a really big deal to me to go and see the show agian; by then it had been a long time since I had seen the show live and I knew the DVD production almost too well, I knew it well enough to understand some of the flaws in it and definitely the ways in which a recording can never quite match how a live show can make you feel. I was determined that I would not walk away from another live performance of my favourite show disppointed: I would open my mind, make more allowances and soak up the feeling of the live form of the show no matter what. Turned out I hadn't needed to give myself the pep-talk though: the 2006 tour production of Cats was incredible in every way, from cast to staging to costume to orchestra. I saw that tour for the first time during their stop in Llandudno - a phenomenal venue acoustically speaking and a venue extremely well suited to a show like Cats. I knew it was going to be a night that I remembered forever from the moment the tour's Munkustrap sang the opening line of the show in a voice so stunning that it sent shivers down my spine. I walked back to our B&B w in a daze. my cheeks aching from smiling. Although I still hadn't got a single notion in my head that I could actually somehow ever meet those people behind the make-up who had been responsible for the happy daze I was to remind in for the next few weeks, I still think of that night as the night my stage door journey began because of the extent of the impression it had made on me.
I think Cats probably became all I talked about for a the next few weeks; the cast I had seen had made me fall in love with my favourite show all over again after a long time of my drifting away from it, but more importantly, they had reminded me of that special feeling of a show. The smell of the theatre, the feeling of the lights going down before an overture, the sensation of watching a sequin glint in a spotlight during that fraction of a second between the end of the song and the audience's applause. The feeling of a the last notes of the last song still vibrating through your bones as you walk away, the strangeness of feeling the cool outside air after the warmth of your skin from excitement. It all being there and then gone - something that will never happen again the same way, which you can't just pull out again some day and show people because it's something which comes down to pure feeling that is now a part of you and can't really be put into words. That is perhaps part of why Memory, as a song, has always resonated deeply with me in connection with my theatre and stage door story - its lyrics touch on these there-and-then-gone experiences and serve as a good reminder to me when the show is ending to try and absorb every second as best I can.
As you might expect, a lot of my thoughts and feelings about all of this post-Llandudno got unloaded onto my high school best friend, somehow who had never seen Cats before and who had previously never really been all that interested in the theatre. I don't know for sure how strong her will truly was to share this with me or if she just wanted to humour me, but when I told her that the show was coming to our local theatre she expressed an interest in coming to see it with me. And I was overjoyed: no friend I'd ever had before had indulged me in my Cats obsession and now I was finally getting to share it. I was so excited - I introduced her to the DVD, the music. The day we went to pick her up for the show I was so excited for her seeing the show I almost forgot I was also going to get to see my favourite show life again with this amazing cast I remembered.
My friend and I enjoyed the show. A lot. We were beaming. I was delirious, she was converted, we were both babbling and joyous and thrilled with every moment of the show we'd seen and honestly that alone would have been enough of a good memory for me. I was more than old enough to have shaken off that old disconnect I mentioned, about the cast being real people who left the theatre after the show. But for whatever reason? I still wasn't even considering it as something that could be done. The suggestion, in the end, came from my dad...who definitely didn't know what he was starting! I don't know what made him ask my friend and me if we would like to go to the stage door after the show and meet the cast: maybe the ridiculous level of excitement I'd had in the build up to that night's show because I finally had a friend who wanted to share this with me, or maybe because my friend was with us as our guest so he felt it was part of his hosting duties to make it more of an 'event' - but what I do know is my eyes went really wide and I asked something along the lines of 'Can we even do that? It that even possible? They really just...walk out at the end of the night like normal humans who didn't just perform actual magic on that stage just now????!!! YES PLEASE!' And the rest is history...!
When the dawn comes, tonight will be a memory too,
and a new day will begin
- Memory, Cats the Musical
Our first night at a stage door was a learning curve: we muddled through trying to match people to their headshots and got a fairly decent success rate for a first try, all things considered. It all went by in such a blur because we were giddy, delirious, laughing the whole time trying to figure out who was who and what was going on and caught up in the drama of trying to figure out how best to approach them and how to tell people from their headshots and how to avoid doing anything too embarrassing. All of the cast were so lovely to us though - and we also had the benefit of them having noticed us as we had been sitting in the front row. Funnily enough, this was where we just became known by them as crazy-enthusastic cheerers of the show despite us not technically having been the loudest cheerers that particular night: we had been sat next to this group who cheered everything. They were actually getting on our nerves a little bit by the end! But the cast thought we'd been with that group I think, because we were very enthusiastic ourselves and we showed up at stage door with these massive grins and all this praise for them and, honestly, we did do a lot of our own enthusiastic cheering and clapping that night so it wasn't a completely inaccurate impression, but I do think it added to the feeling we got from the cast that they had enjoyed having us there, and that warmth was a big part of what really drew us in to the idea of meeting them again, somehow doing more to live up to that idea of us being their biggest supporters and to encourage and thank them for their performances even more, because we daw for ourselves how much it mattered when we met them that first night.
One of the things which I think really stuck with me about us going to the stage door that night was actually to do with how I was when I was there. I'm normally a really shy, quiet person unless I'm around a group of people I know well - I hold back and sometimes I've even probably missed out on certain things just because I was too shy to speak up about something. But when I got to stage door I suddenly had no fear; I said things I would never normally dared say, I was brave enough to step forward and actually ask people to sign my programme and tell them about how much I loved the show and something about the way theatre people have about them just put me so at ease so quickly and I think that was a huge part of why I was desperate to go back and also to give back something to them in the form of cards, gifts and cheers. From both my friend and I there was this sudden crazy-intense need to see the show live again and take in every different detail, but also to cheer for the show again, even more since we then knew how much it meant to the cast. To take in the excitment of all the usual things that made live theatre special, but to also take in the added wonder of letting these people know how amazing their performances were, hearing some of their crazy stories, learning new things about the show and the tour and how the whole world of the theatre was so different and fascinated from the other side too. We went back for more signitures in our programmes, more photos, but most importantly more time with these wonderful humans, getting to know them beyond just their performances and making ourselves practically a part of the tour itself.
..Of course, as is the way with the theatre, these things can only last so long: there was a cast change or two, the two eventually had to end, and in the background was school and real life also moving us along. But I never forgot the wonder of being at stage door, and I also never forgot how important these people and their performances were to me. And so it was I knew I had to keep seeing them, keep supporting them as best I could even when they were no longer in Cats - it was about more than just my favourite show, it was about people who work their hearts out to keep magic alive eight shows a week who I cared about and wanted to help cheer on in any way I could. So I started going to the shows they went to after Cats. With every new visit to the stage door I learnt new things, made new jokes, found more crazy stories and fell in love a little bit more with the world of the theatre; trips to the theatre started having a whole new dimension of excitment and wonder to them and making those memories felt like a good way to keep a hold of all of those little pieces of magic which normally faded away with the end of the show. It was something which I thought, at first, was perhaps unique to that group who I had first met, since they were the ones who started it all. But when Cats went on tour again in 2013, I tested the water and went to stage door, swearing up and down I would never get attached. But the new cast had just as many stories, memories and jokes for me - maybe even more now I was that little bit older and therefore less of a kid and more of an equal to them, meaning I get let in on even better stories, even more jokes and a whole other level of understanding of their world. It's something I treasure, so much, and also something I want to share. I think if more people knew about these people and their ability to create magic, their boundlessly kind hearts and their brilliant stories then maybe they would appreciate the world of live theatre that little bit more and also see what I see which is that the theatre is the closest most of us will ever come to real magic and it should be protected, appreciated and celebrated as such. And the best place to start that appreciation? It is most definitely with a kind word to a performer after a show when you wait for them at the stage door...