In the ‘Greatest City in the World’: the cult followings of Broadway
In March of 2016, I finally had the opportunity to be in “the room where it happens” — or as most people say, to see “Hamilton” on Broadway. I had third row tickets since a year prior and had scored them for only 100 dollars apiece, having been an avid fan since before the show met smash success. I guess you can say I “knew it before it was cool,” making me, inherently, one of the show’s most devoted followers known as ‘Hamilfans.’
The show was, in short, everything and nothing I expected at once. It is breathtaking, life-changing, magic and certainly makes a major statement about race and diversity. It calls upon society as a whole to think deeper about what these things mean in the modern age.
There’s a certain buzz in the Richard Rogers theatre (and countless other theatres around the country, now that the show has begun its national tour) as the house lights dim. But the physical performance isn’t the most insane part of the experience. What’s crazier, for those brave enough to venture to the stage door, is the scene as the stars come out to meet and greet fans and audience members.
Picture news coverage on the morning of Black Friday — year after year, huge swarms of people high on caffeine and adrenaline charge a Super Walmart in suburban Pennsylvania to fight to the death over a $49.99 Xbox. Sub out the middle-aged mothers for theatre kids and the Xbox for a Lin Manuel Miranda autograph, and you’ve got the Hamilton stage door. Of course, being the devoted fan I am, with stars in my eyes and dried tears on my cheeks (the last scene is an absolute heartbreak), I joined the other 5,000 fans, both those who got to see the show on that March evening and those coming out just hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite star, at the stage door.
I wasn’t expecting the experience I had, and quite frankly, had never seen anything like it before. The entire block was barricaded, and the sidewalk begged for more space, pushing into the “Les Mis”’s theatre corner threateningly. Security guards stationed themselves around the gates and near the door — a no-mess bunch. The fans crowded, threw elbows, yelled and shrieked. It was like being brought back to the mosh pit at the emo concert I attended in ninth grade during my brief indie stage, except on the streets of New York City. The people around me grew restless and eventually rude, taking away from the camaraderie and experience of the after-show stage door, something so unique and special to the theatre. The crowd expected something from the cast and felt entitled to each member making an appearance, not thinking of the three-hour marathon they just sang, danced and emotionally invested themselves in (sometimes twice each day). Rather, just of the blurry picture and scribbled autograph that would eventually move from coffee table to a box under the bed.
In short, diehard “Hamilton” fans are a rare breed.
To me, there’s something really special about going to a stage door after a performance. There’s nothing like the “stage door” experience in any other form of art. After a concert, artists don’t usually stage door and you can’t meet the stars of your favorite movies and television shows upon completion of an episode or film. They stay on the other side of the screen, stage and radio. But in the theatre, especially in New York City, we are blessed with the gift of being able to meet the cast after they perform. Praising them, asking questions and enjoying a human moment from Broadway star to audience member — something Hamilton fans really seem to have redefined and taken for granted.
As a whole, the group was rambunxious and obnoxious, throwing themselves and their iPhones at the barricade and against other people — creating not a space to share in the revelry of live theatre, but rather a hostile scenario for everyone involved. Beckoning where certain actors and creative team members were, when perhaps, those people just wanted to head home and eat a bowl of cereal, make a pot of tea and go to sleep.
Of course, we are lucky that “Hamilton” has had the great effect and influence that it has, that it has touched so many people and had such a wonderful reaction to the public. Any piece of pop culture with such magnitude in the 21st century will generate some form of a cult-like following or large grouping of crazy fans — but respecting the performers and creative team, in addition to the piece of theatre itself, should be all these fans’ first priority.
Unfortunately, this really doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead of remembering the base of their love and devotion to “Hamilton,” the fans I encountered at the stage door that night seemed rather selfish and disrespectful. I know I’m not the only one who thinks so, as Lin-Manuel Miranda used to get strings of hate tweets and harsh Twitter attacks for not visiting the stage door after his performances. Eight shows a week is a feat, and Miranda, who also has a wife and child, sometimes just needed to head straight home to sleep. Instead of respecting that decision and realizing its implications, fans took to social media, criticizing and belittling him as a person.
Being a part of a theatre fandom so large and intense, it can be easy to forget why you began to follow the particular show. However, it’s important to remember that no matter how passionate you are about the musical, its performers and creators, they’re real people too with lives beyond the stage. Despite my adoration of the show and idolization of its writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, I always want to respect and admire them first. The wild group of Hamilton fans I encountered that night and other groups of “Hamilfans” around the country need to remember why they love the show, and to act appropriately, remembering what the theatre is for and why we love it.