me + richard armitage + stage doors, hypothetical and real
[Let me emphasize that this is an account of my feelings. I’m not speaking for anyone else. Other people obviously have very different experiences and feelings about them.]
On the evening of Thursday, September 22nd, although we don’t know how it will work just yet, we expect the “stage door” to open again and fans lucky enough to be at the theater to see Richard Armitage on stage may be able to approach him briefly in person with relative ease for the first time in a little over two years. Those further away will watch via social media. Stage door is in scare quotes because the theater apparently has an unusual exit arrangement for artists. Although there are no guarantees, if the last play is any indication, Richard Armitage will appear, and the fandom will have plenty of discussions about how to do it most effectively. Judging from his behavior in London, I think he has a good idea of how important this experience is to fans. This post is not a list of strategies or rules for the stage door; if Armitage makes himself available, the best way to negotiate the situation will emerge, and apart from not breaking the law and being reasonably considerate of others in the way that most adults are anyway, there’s no wrong thing to do, really. Rather, the catalyst for this post was being asked twice recently if I don’t want to attempt to talk to Richard Armitage at the “stage door” of the Steinberg Center for Theatre when I go to see Love, Love, Love — and thinking about the answer.
The question and my answer(s) draw together matters that have preoccupied me really since the beginning of Armitagemania, as I was wondering as soon as there was even a whiff of a play on the horizon what I would do. (I explored it further, and we talked about it more, here.) Two things strike me upon revisiting those posts now. First, I was knocked over by Armitagemania in January of 2010, in ways that stun me even now. It was one of the most intense feelings I’ve ever had. On some level, I was afraid I would totally discorporate if I ever met Richard Armitage in person. Not that I’d throw myself at him or anything like that, but that I’d dissolve into thin air (somehow), become so anxious and overwrought I would have to run away screaming. Second, I was also intensely naive, in that I assumed that all fellow fans were sharing the experience I was having and were advising me altruistically. It’s interesting to me to think about the journey from serious confusion about my own feelings and the real need to clarify them by discussing them with other fans, to developing the strength and independence to claim my own decisions as a fan and in so doing, to refuse the labels some others wanted to push on me. Someone was seriously trying to convince me at that time that if I traveled from the U.S. to the UK to see a play, saw it multiple times, went to the stage door, and blogged about it, I’d be stalking Richard Armitage. It’s fun now to see new fans on Twitter and know that the fandom has expanded enough that people feel free to joke about this kind of thing.
My concern about seeing a play evaporated really quickly, as I gradually reasoned myself that there was no reason that anyone should feel hindered from seeing an actor act — that’s why they sell tickets to plays, after all — but the question of the stage door persisted for me (and persists, though I attended and witnessed Old Vic stage doors). Not because I was concerned about my own behavior, but rather because I was concerned about my feelings — precisely because they were so intense, I was concerned about how they would affect me. And they were so shapeless that I couldn’t entirely put my finger on what they were. Once I knew I would go to see The Crucible, the question became actual, and I spent a lot of time discussing what I would do with Obscura. I told her about my instinctive rejection of it being a good idea, the knee-jerk feeling that I shouldn’t do it. She listened several times to my litany of reservations and then gave me the sensible advice that it was impossible to predict whether I would ever have another opportunity (this is one of the things that makes the whole stage door atmosphere so fraught — its infinitely transitory qualities, and the sobering fact that most fans will have only one chance to “get it right,” to get what they want) and so maybe I should try not to think about my issues and “just do it.” Would I want to regret later that I had had the opportunity and not used it?
In principle, this was highly sensible advice. In practice, I knew there would be certain restrictions; I didn’t have a smart phone for a selfie and wouldn’t have had the guts to ask a stranger to photograph me with Armitage, and the only person I knew who I was planning to meet at the play was Guylty, so I knew if it were to happen at all, it would have to happen the evening we were meeting, which was supposed to be the second one. However, the issues with the Old Vic roof meant that I didn’t have a first night to scope things out and figure out what I was comfortable with — if I was going to do it, it had to be the night Guylty was there, which was my first night. What happened, from my perspective that night, is described here.
I have never looked at that picture beyond reassuring myself that I still have a copy of the file. In fact, recently someone else (whom I left out of my narrative of that evening at their request) asked me if I have any photos they are in, and I still couldn’t bring myself to look at those pictures. Part of the difficulty is because they are stored on the same media that have the last pictures of my mother, and I don’t want to risk seeing those, either. However, frankly, a bigger part is that I felt a lot of shame about that moment for quite a long time — I still do, at times. I couldn’t bring myself to stand next to him, or even very close to him, unlike the many proud, intrepid fans who gave him a side hug as they posed with him. I’m sure the photo looks a lot more like me standing in front of him, as if he were a monument like the Eiffel Tower. This feeling of shame hit in the late fall of 2014 and persisted for months. At the time I thought I was bothered either because I had been pusillanimous, or weird, or rude. In retrospect, I was happier about the nights when I’d asked for an autograph on my copy of the play, or just stood at the stage door observing what was going on.
I realized recently, though, when yet another fan who has a reticence similar to mine about these situations asked me whether she should attend the Love, Love, Love stage door. We talked a lot about what Obscura has referred to as the problem of the artificial hierarchy in fandom, and the way that the stage door situation foregrounds that aspect of the fan experience. I realized in the course of conversation what the real problem was for me with this situation in general and my experiences in London in particular. It wasn’t fear that I’d behave badly; it wasn’t my reluctance to touch a stranger or my religious reservations about embracing strange men; it wasn’t even my awe before the “monumental” Richard Armitage, who left me largely tongued tied when it came to speaking, anyway. It was that all of the rules I’d built up for myself, all the things I knew I didn’t want, said I didn’t want, suddenly collapsed in my emotions. “The bubble rule” had been a fundamental proviso for me since the beginning of blogging — and suddenly the bubble rule seemed meaningless because Armitage had played the role he’s always played for me. It wasn’t so much that he made me want, but rather that he made me want to want things. And he did it in his presence.
I was — embarrassed. By the depths of my own capacity to desire. By the immodesty of my feelings. Not of my sexual feelings, because although that’s a component of my response to him, that’s not the primary kind of wanting he’s evoked, and I have less issue with acknowledging those responses because they have always seemed physiological to me. But there are so many things I, like other fans, could want, and somehow Armitage speaks to, evokes, all of those varied things for me. Perhaps, above all, the need to be known.
So I gave her the advice that Obscura gave me, with the proviso that one never knows ahead of time how one will feel — and that the risk is there, the risk that one will simply be overwhelmed by a peculiar, intense form of wanting, whatever it is that one wants — to be seen, to be noticed, to be greeted, or all the other things that make up each of our personal lists. It disrupts not so much the political hierarchy of the situation so much as the hierarchy of one’s own values and convictions and all the little rules one makes for oneself about how one will behave and what one will let oneself feel. It’s not so much how much that desire causes us to behave — on the whole fans have been polite and safe with Armitage. It’s how scary it is to realize that even after years of self-discipline, one is still vulnerable to the animating, life-giving need to desire things. This is positive — but it’s also stunning to realize how little effect years of resigning oneself, forcing oneself to not having certain needs fulfilled (whatever they are) have when the object who provokes not only desire, but equally the awareness of desire, the desire to desire, is standing in front of one.
Richard Armitage on screen — made me want to want things. Richard Armitage in person — made me want not only things that I had long told myself I could not have, but things that I had never even contemplated wanting. That wasn’t bad. It was terrifying.
I don’t know what I will do when I see this play. I don’t want another picture of me + Richard Armitage that I can’t make myself look at. A lot of fandom for me has involved learning not to be shamed by my own desire(s). I want to want. I fully expect that will happen again. And I fully expect I will be just as terrified when it does.
Best wishes to all who will see the play — I hope that everyone has exactly the experience s/he hopes to have in the theater or at the stage door.