An unexpected… stage door (Richard Armitage, Old Vic)

Sorry for the rather long introductions, I guess it’s a bit of warm-up writing that I do without realising it, feel free to skip ahead.

Gratuitous photo, just because i like it 😉 (by Lefteris Pitarakis at Old Vic, RA of course)

This is a bit overdue I know, but I tend to spend sometimes 10h a day at work on a pc and sometimes at the end of the day I just don’t want to see the thing anymore. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to talk at you PC and the stuff to get typed up by magic ? 😉 I  bet there is a way but I’d feel weird talking at my computer, so typing it has to be.

You could say I got the right motivation yesterday to getting on with writing 😉 I was off into town to see an Otello at the English National Opera and as often on weekends it was absolute traffic mayhem. I ended up having to get the tube in a rush and it was hot and overly crowded with tourists trying to find their way and me trying to get to where I needed to be rushing up and down stairs, corridors and escalators. And just when I was near the end of my patience, juggling my stuff and puffing air to cool down, slowly sliding down another escalator I looked at the posters running along the wall besides me and there they were… 2 Crucible posters! And there I was in a sudden bubble of calm, looking back into Armitage’s eyes and slowing looking back at the other one with eyes closed, downcast. And I turned on my escalator step and smiled 🙂

I suspect they will be gone soon altogether, but not quite yet. I almost wish I had one of them as they were the later ones with the stars from the reviews on them, while the ones the theatre sold didn’t have them. But I’m not sure I’d want one with the grime of the tube on it 😉

But it was a lovely ‘encounter’ nevertheless and took me back into the ‘zen’ feeling of this summer and out of everyday London stress.

I was telling my friend about it later that evening after the show, as we shared a pizza close to Trafalgar square, not realising the man himself was barely a few meters away watching the last of ‘Wagglestaff’s’ (sic!) Richard III at the Trafalgar studios ;-)*.

It was almost like a mini-version of the ‘encounter’ at the stage door earlier the summer, a very pleasant surprise.

It’s not like I’ve never been to stage doors before. They’re more common around the opera going folk than you might think. In my experience people don’t mind having a brief chat after a show about particulars of it, their roles, singing and such. And sometimes I’ve enjoyed the show so much I really want to say thank you personally or just say that it’s nice to hear and see somebody perform again. But that is bar a few exceptions a small world of familiar faces in familiar surroundings. I’ve grown up around this stuff, I’m rarely lost for words 😉 Besides, there are always several exits and entrances, so when people don’t feel well or just don’t feel like a chat they leave privately, so you know you’re never really intruding if you stop by a stage door.

Why do people feel the need to get closer to the artists or see them in person? I have no clue really. Some people want photos with them in it or just the artist, some people have autograph books. I guess everyone expresses their passion in different ways and needs different things to remind them of special occasions. I’m not a photo person; because I really don’t want my picture floating about everywhere I’m highly unlikely to ever show a picture of myself with some famous ‘x’ around. My face is for family and friends alone to see 😉 No need to impose it upon the world. I like sharing my experience, but I sort of don’t need much tangible proof it happened. Same usually goes with autographs on tickets. Instead, I’d much rather talk to the person as it’s usually what brings me to the stage door in the first place: I’ve enjoyed myself sososo much I just have to say how wonderful I thought it was.

Also, if you try and do the lot, photo, signature, chat it feels like a bit much, there are more people around wanting to say or have something and I also appreciate after a show artists will want their well deserved peace,  so I feel comfortable with taking a few seconds or even minutes, but not much more. There are circumstances when it’s all organised and you can’t really say hello without a Cd, a programme to sign and I have both a few Cds I absolutely love which I’ve gotten signed and a few incidental pictures I have which remind me usually of very funny moments.

Don’t get me wrong I like looking at other people’s pictures most of the time and the few signatures I have do mean a lot to me, but exchanging a few words with the artists just means more as it sort of makes it real. It means I was there that night I remember and what I saw on stage wasn’t just an illusion 🙂

The risk with such things is always that reality doesn’t always live up to the artistic experience you’ve just had. But on occasions it’s just the cherry on top, an altogether pleasant experience that makes the evening perfect. I guess it’s all in the very delicate balance of doing only what you feel comfortable with, in surroundings that you feel safe in and comfortable with and also feeling that the artists themselves are comfortable in the situation. Whether they actually enjoy the experience themselves is hard to tell, but I always assume they are grown up people, they don’t HAVE to do this if they dislike it and when they’ve had enough it is their decision to leave 🙂 It’s up to me to behave in a way I feel is respectful towards them, but that’s about as much as I can do from my side.

It all gets complicated when you don’t have 5 people having a relaxed chat with somebody, but hundreds of people wanting a 1-1 with an artist. In these situations I’ve had the worst experiences possible and, unless it was a fully organised signature session, it’s rarely been pleasant or special. In most cases crowd control was pretty rude and you get the ‘crazy fan’ treatment, which does away with any feeling of enthusiasm. Or people get so caught up in the moment they forget about the people next to them and it can get dangerous. I’ve had to extricate myself once from such a crowd with bruised ribs and feet and it’s put me off nearly forever from getting near a bigger crowd again. This means that for both our and the artist’s safety when there are loads of people barriers have to come up, frequently physical ones, and it becomes by default distanced and impersonal, which kind of does away with the reason for approaching a stage door to begin with…

With all this in mind I have to say I never even considered going to the Old Vic stage door to begin with. I don’t associate artists from the big screen with reality, well, not with my reality anyway 😉 I understand a lot about singing, but I have little clue about acting, what would I say? It was good? Well, my hands are red from clapping, what more could words say?

And I’d peeked around the corner of the building and seen the crowds, looked like a lot of people. Besides, people were saying it was getting increasingly rushed and you could read the disappointment between the lines. The show was so incredible and made me feel so much, why would I risk feeling sad after it or disappointed?

Trouble is, after seeing it more than once it becomes much more than just a show and you start wondering who these people are who can produce such performances? I’d already slipped and gushed a couple of babbling words to Adrian Schiller at the bar after 1 of the shows, but that’s 2 seconds in a place you’re already there with friends for drinks  and you haven’t sought out on purpose and not the crowds at stage door. Not ready to brave that for the ‘man-himself’ as he was so extraordinary on stage I doubted a glimpse at stage door could improve on that in any way and I was rather fearful that perfect image would get some kind of irreparable crack instead.

About mid-way through ‘my’ run a friend was going to come and see it and I knew she would like her ticket signed as a memento of the evening. I ended up promising I’d come along with her, I have to admit however fully intending to dissuade her from trying on accounts of big crowds and us having to catch last bus home. At the same time it had just been my other friends’ birthday (the one who took me to the Crucible and introduced me to the knowledge of the ‘man-himself’ in the first place!). Having failed to win the signed champagne bottle for her (duh!) I’d bought her a book with Miller’s plays as a surprise consolation present and was playing around with the idea of getting it signed, which would have made it more special. So I hadn’t given her the book yet, debating the idea and thinking that she didn’t know about it so no harm done if it was unsigned, it would still be something to link us both to the memories of the Crucible summer. I did stuff it in my bag that night as I set off to the Old Vic, just in case.

I went ahead with my plan to discourage my friend however and explained the cue was up to the front entrance and our bus would leave at 11,50 so I thought it would be unwise to try the stage door; besides it would be rushed so maybe we better just leave and just spend some time chatting at home about the show instead. She said a non-committal ‘let’s see’. ( yes I know I was being a pain!)

On with the show, which was amazing and I was lucky enough to be able to watch from the back of the stalls this time. We lingered about a bit taking in the atmosphere before leaving, looking at the ashes on the floor while people were rushing to pick up pieces of the confession; I nearly stepped on one the girls’ headscarf which had been left on the floor and picked it up taking it back to an usher who smiled surprised I didn’t want to keep it. It just felt like every scarp belonged to the show and I just couldn’t take away a bit of it, as if it just didn’t belong it my time or something. Although I continued to find pieces of ash which fell out of my clothes for a couple of days after 🙂 Maybe I had time- travelled a bit too 😉

I said ‘let’s get some fresh air’ as we both needed to clear our minds and she said  ‘oh look this door opens onto the street’ and out we went… straight into the stage door cue! I stopped on the doorstep saying ‘we’re not staying are we? I think we should be going to catch the bus’ but she’d found two other German ladies right next to us and said ‘oh we might as well stay since we’re here’. I mumbled a frustrated ‘oookay’  and since the door had closed right behind me, proceeded to lean into the corner wondering how the hell I’d ended up there. She proceeded to chat animatedly to the really nice 2 ladies and I mumbled grumpily along looking at my watch every couple of seconds impatiently. No, I can’t actually tell you how much time passed, as I didn’t really look at what I was doing other than getting really nervous. She said smilingly ‘stop complaining, we’ll be out of here in no time, I’m sure he’s coming out soon’. I felt really bad for being a right pain in the *** but I couldn’t really help myself. After all I could have insisted we leave for the bus but I had stuck around!

At which point I suddenly remembered the book! I finally had a purpose for being there. So I fumbled for it in my bag and took it out and explained to my friend what I was planning to do. It would have helped if I’d had a look at the book before as I was trying to find a half empty page somewhere at the beginning in the dark.

All the while a really nice and polite security guard had passed twice along the line asking us to please stand in one line. I had no clue where we were in line or how many more people were behind us as I was still safely tucked away in the corner of the door.

And then suddenly movement began, I figured ‘man-himself’ had appeared as the cue suddenly became restless and my view was obscured by the people to my right who were eager to take pictures and stepped in front.

Fumbling with the book I thought ‘not long now’ and told my friend to get her ticket ready to make sure she got her signature lest he rushed past and missed her. (Yep, when I’m bloody nervous I tend to order people around!).

Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw him in front of the people next  to/before me in the cue, a young women and her boyfriend and there was some confusion about cameras and photos as all I could hear was RA saying: ’yes, where is the camera? Where is the camera? Where is the camera?’ They had by now both stepped in front of me and were taking pictures with phone and camera and she was asking if she could take a picture with him. After some confusion the picture was finally taken and they had turned to watch him from in front of me. Suddenly he was past them and in front of my friend who was to my left and he signed her ticket. I didn’t hear a thing as I must have been completely entranced just watching him. She told me on the way home as we exchanged impressions she’d said thanks and probably noticing her accent he’d said ‘thank you very much for coming’.

He didn’t look nearly as tall as I expected it. Don’t know why I was surprised as I’m fairly tall myself so he wouldn’t tower over me, but still I expected to have to look much higher up to see his face. The utter surprise was however how in the general excitement and buzz around me he sounded so soft and calm, with a really warm tone of voice.

I thought ‘hurray, she got the ticket signed! Phew, thank God we didn’t miss him’ and, as I was probably gawping, the strangest thing happened. He’d stopped in front of her and looked up and straight at me, smiled and took a sudden step towards me in my corner and I remembered I was still holding the book!  He’d seen it and reached for it as I extended my hand and after he signed I suddenly remembered I had a voice and broke out into ‘ it was so wonderful, thank you very much! It was so so emotional… and ..gasp.. Harrowing!’ (yes, groan.. I know! So smart and composed!) While still holding the book he’d lifted his head again, looked me in the eyes while I was mumbling, smiled and said in that warm sweet , soft voice ‘Bless you!’ … and then he was gone.  There was no rush in his gestures at all, in fact, it was almost as if he moved in slow motion, in a rhythm all of his own, with a bubble of calm surrounding him and from the moment he’d looked at me his time was all mine for those few seconds. I didn’t feel at all rushed either and he didn’t look like he was going to step away while I was talking, if only I’d thought of a few more things to say 😉 he’d let me finish my 2 thoughts, smiled and reacted to them and only then moved away.

It was really… well, wonderful 🙂  And so not at all what I had expected or thought it would be.

I think my first words to my friend were: ‘sorry I was so against this, it was actually incredibly nice, wasn’t it?’ We stuffed our things in our bags, left the cue and waited a couple of minutes for the cue to finish and lingered in front of the theatre while people left taking a few pictures of the theatre at night.

We exchanged impressions with brimming wide smiles and agreed it had been the absolute perfect ending to a perfect night! We both were very thankful for the security arrangements and the way the Old Vic managed the cue. I was happy not to feel crowded in and to come away safely with no bruised ribs and feet. Yes, it being summer and being able to cue outside helped, but it was one of the best organised SD’s I’ve ever seen. It’s difficult to handle such things and I think they did a great job. I didn’t actually have to deal with anyone else’s behaviour but my own and that is something to be said amongst so many people present.

As to the ‘man-himself’? Well, as far as I could see and feel he’s great! Don’t know really why he came out every night, but he didn’t act as if it was a chore. I believe at least a bit of it was him probably thinking of the people who were there only once, like my friend, and who would only get that one chance, maybe ever, to say hello or get a photo or a signature. And the fact that he did think of such people every night speaks greatly of him. And I think he tried his very best to give everyone something so they wouldn’t regret waiting for him.

He’s really special in the way he does it too, letting people in, with no physical barriers, sort of extending this bubble of his own comfort around you for a few seconds and it makes you feel safe, welcomed and not at all as if you are intruding. That is nice and really sweet and I hope he’s felt how thankful we are for it, that we really appreciate it and that overall it’s been a pleasant experience for him as well,  because I believe the vast majority of people wanted to do just that, be thankful and nice back and not intrude 🙂

Oh, and my friend loved her book! She didn’t even mind that the signature on it was UPSIDE DOWN!!! ( oh yes, this is how out of it I really was, I didn’t clock that if I was holding the book as if I was reading it, he’d be signing it upside down, so now she has to turn it around if she wants to read his signature…. But hey, it’s unique this way, no? 😉 )

AP/ Lefteris Pitarakis ‘man-himself’ @Old Vic

PS I don’t remember much about the way he looked that night other than his features and eyes and the gentle smile. I think he wore a chequered jacket and maybe a white tshirt? It was the 23rd of August, so if anyone would like to share any photos i’d love to look at them 😉 thank you 🙂


*(Richard III aside)- Which I’ve seen by the way much earlier in the year, very Tarantino-esque, especially watched while being on stage, looked at by both audience and actors. A very interesting show,  which left lasting impressions, even if these are mixed.  Its’ a different sense of responsibility you get assigned to when you are literally displayed like that on stage, with the audience being in the dark looking straight at you, not at all like being in a round.  And very different in a play like this, which by its very nature does not create a natural emotional sympathy bond.  I was busy processing and busy keeping the processing away from my face and eyes, as I was constantly catching the eyes of actors and was conscious of only wanting to transmit interest and engagement and not distract or jar in any way with any of the conflicting thoughts running through my mind. Exhausting! Just goes to show there are many ways you can have stage seating and engage with the audience. But definitely worth experiencing 🙂