Wanderers, I need you to use your imagination. Today, I’m putting you in the shoes of an actor you admire. It doesn’t matter which one; it can just be you, if you were an actor, if you like. The important thing is that you imagine this for me. Will you give it a go? OK.
You’re about to go onstage. Somewhere, you know, your friend is in the audience waiting to support you and, no doubt, give you a few friendly critiques. You know your lines, you’ve rehearsed the text, and you’re raring to go. You step out of the wings… and a pair of knickers lands on the stage.
Well, now you know what at least one of the audience’s motives for coming here tonight are, and it’s not your artistic talent they’re after. Still, you’re confident that that will all change when you get going. This is one of your favourite plays, written by one of your favourite playwrights, and the team working on this particular production is incredibly talented. The audience will soon appreciate the merits of your performance, not just your existence.
But as the play continues, the mood in the theatre doesn’t always quite match what you were hoping for. Someone wolf-whistles from the stalls as you bend down to close the eyes of your character’s fallen friend, and there’s an excited murmur as you tear a strip from your shirt to bandage the wound of another comrade. The actor playing your love interest doesn’t seem to have the audience’s sympathy at all. Something is wrong.
After the show, you can’t quite face going and signing things; people have been getting very pushy and very handsy, lately, and you’re tired; all you want to do is meet your friend backstage and go for a quiet, relaxing drink somewhere, or better yet collapse on your own sofa. Given how insistent fans have been lately, though, you don’t think you’ll be able to do that going out of the main stage door, and though you hate disappointing them you need to recover ready for the next performance.
Your friend manages to slip backstage unseen, and for a moment you can forget the reasons for your deception as you throw yourselves out of a small fire exit, giggling like children. It’s sort of thrilling, isn’t it, sneaking out of hidden doors? And it’s freeing. You don’t have to perform, right now.
What you do have to do, it turns out, is run, because the fans have found you and are literally running down the street behind you, screaming, trying to take pictures, and sounding increasingly angry as you pick up speed. They’re between you and your car, and while the rational part of your mind tells you that not everyone who admires you can possibly be like this, the whole idea of fans seems overwhelming and scary right now. You could probably make it onto the nearest bus before it pulls away, but people are constantly taking photos of you while you’re not looking when you take public transport and you’re too shaken to deal with that right now. You hail a cab instead and tell it to take a long, circuitous route back to your home, in case of being followed. You’ve never been worried about that, until recently. It’s exhausting.
By the time you make it home, it’s more than an hour after the end of the performance and it’s late at night. Your friend, who’s been telling you all that they thought of the show while you were in the taxi, apologises but doesn’t join you, taking the cab on home instead. It’s late, and everyone has work tomorrow. Including you; you have to do the whole thing again. It’s strange how you used to look forward to every part of your job, but now there’s a new anxiety creeping up and you have to just stay focused on those beautiful moments on stage when you are your character. You crawl into bed, tired and demoralised by the whole affair, and try to remember the good old days when people just supported you in your work, when your fans were a source of strength rather than fear. It’s the screaming, though, and the feeling of being chased, that follow you into your dreams.
…You’ve just imagined a day in the life of a very famous actor trying to work in theatre. Admittedly this is an extreme example, but it’s based on real stories that seem to be becoming increasingly common, and in all sorts of fandoms. As fans, we don’t have a right to demand that our favourite celebrities sign their names four hundred times before being allowed to get to their car, nor do we have a right to make them feel that they’re in danger by chasing them. And if we’re attending someone’s place of work, we have a responsibility to respect that work – nobody leaves their underwear in your in-tray, I hope, and that’s a basic decency we should extend to celebrities just as much as to anyone else.
The fans who cross these lines are generally speaking the minority, but they’re a loud, scary minority and if you have enough fans, a minority of them can still be hundreds or even thousands of people willing to chase you down the street and invade your privacy. The quiet, respectful majority, therefore, need to help out by making it clear that these behaviours are unacceptable and in no way condoned by the rest of the fanbase. And if a celebrity withdraws from fan interactions or takes other steps to protect themselves from their mad minority, I hope we can all understand now why they might need to do that.
Eleanor Musgrove (doesn’t mean to scare anyone who does or will have fans; as I say, it’s a minority)