Covid brings a change in stage-door etiquette

As theatres reopen, Bart Cubbins looks at how stage-door policies and etiquette have responded to the pandemic

stage door
Stage door at the National Theatre

As theatre buildings start to re-open, owners and producers are putting huge amounts of time and resources into trying to create safe environments for casts, crews, staff and audiences alike. One big change for audiences is the change to theatre etiquette, particularly as regards stage-door policies.

Some theatres managed to reopen last summer after the first wave of the pandemic but ensuring that they stayed open has proven to be a tad more difficult. Behind the scenes, people are working to ensure they can stay open but they have called on theatre fans to do their bit to help as some of the “normal” aspects of a theatre visit are being put on hold.

The most important of these for fans is the after-show stage door experience. As part of guidance, most theatres around the UK have had to stop people from gathering at their stage doors after shows.

This policy has come about to give performers and audiences alike a chance to maintain social distancing to minimise the transmission of Covid-19. Not everyone working on a show may have been vaccinated yet, and with families at home or other dependents, many of them are looking to be as careful as possible while the risks come down. With new variants of the virus proving to be far more transmissible, this revision in stage-door policies is aimed at keeping everyone as safe as possible.

Nimax Theatres, which operates six theatres in the West End, as well as the Sondheim Theatre, the Criterion Theatre, the Gillian Lynne Theatre and the National Theatre are among those that are not allowing people to congregate at stage doors at present. In most cases autographs, photographs and other interactions with performers will not happen. In most cases stage doors are not even accepting gifts or items left for signature.

This is a course of action that has the support of industry associations SOLT (the Society of London Theatre) and UK Theatre as well as producers, unions, performers and employees to try to minimise risk. A positive Covid test at any theatre can cause havoc with casts having to isolate, possibly leading to performance cancellations. Only today, performances of Death Drop at the Garrick Theatre from 30 June and 4 July had to be suddenly cancelled due to members of the company needing to self-isolate.

I’ve been alarmed this month to hear reports from performers about abusive patrons, including one who chased an actor through the streets, because they did not stop for photos and autographs. This is not acceptable under any circumstances. I’m sure performers will be pleased to return to meeting the fans once the final lockdown measures are removed and more people are vaccinated. But that time has not yet come.

Having not worked for a year and with many not receiving assistance because of their freelance status, actors are looking forward to theatres re-opening and staying open as it will help many of them to get back on their feet. As a result, many theatre folk are being hyper-vigilant and strictly following safety guidelines.

It’s worth also noting that while stage-door gatherings and cast interactions have developed as part of the live theatre experience, they are not a guaranteed part of a trip to the theatre. They are not part of the price of admission to the show. It has always been at the discretion of the performers so fans must respect this aspect of your theatre visit may not be available, especially in these difficult times.

Some show and theatre websites have started to display their policy on stage-door gatherings so it is worth checking if in doubt.

We are all keen to get back to the theatre so now that theatres are open, we need to make sure they can stay open!

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