Passion vs Obsession in the Theatre Community

Sunday 17 March 2019

As someone who feels things very strongly, I often find myself fixated on certain topics or hobbies, in the way that when I enjoy something, I will focus my attention on it as a means to make myself more knowledgable about it/better at it. In any creative industry, emotions are heightened already and in theatre especially, it's almost natural that trends occur and passions become prevalent. However, the line between being passionate and obsessive can sometimes become wavy or unclear and there can be an almost scary intensity with which people feel.

Let me start by saying that I think being passionate is fantastic. Having something you can enjoy, relate to and immerse yourself in is truly joyous and caring so much about something can really fill your life. The issue however, is when this passion becomes too much and begins controlling your life, rather than enriching it. 

As someone who attends the theatre an average of three times a week, there are many times where I become completely enclosed in the theatre bubble and almost forget that there's a world outside the stagey community. In terms of my life at this time, it isn't a problem as such because the majority of my friends are in the same circles and I have a pretty well-rounded life with and without theatre. When I was younger this was a different story though... 

I have always been a theatre fanatic, from when I saw my first musical (Beauty and the Beast at the New Victoria Theatre) I was hooked and haven't looked back since. Like many theatre people, I went through a Wicked phase... like, really went through it. I would listen to it 24/7, create artwork, research the performers, perform it, get my friends to perform it, basically I was obsessed. Whilst I don't regret this phase in my life at all because I was super young and it was something I enjoyed, I do see it in a different way. I was living my best life, but at that time, I was not surrounded by theatre loving people which meant whilst I was in the theatre bubble, I was alone. This is where one problem with crossing from passion to obsession comes into play. By focussing 95% of your attention on something your peers can't relate to, you do face the trial of isolating yourself. There may be an online community alongside you, but in the real, non-virtual world, it's just you. 

the peak Wicked days 

However, as I said, during my Wicked (and subsequent Les Mis) phases, I was young and this outlook certainly comes with age. The issue with obsession is when it continues into adult life. Barely a day goes by when a West End performer doesn't have to call someone out for overstepping boundaries. A video recently circulated showing a girl  publicly hating on a performer and explaining how she has no qualms about verbally abusing those she doesn't like; whilst a number of high profile West End people regularly have to reign people in on their instagrams and twitters for overstepping. 
So when does passion reach a dangerous level?

Obviously it doesn't take a brain scientist to answer this. People overstep when they try and integrate themselves into the lives of the performers they admire. Be it trying to become their friend, burdening them with their problems or just contacting them constantly. Boundaries have always been an issue in the film and television industry but with the ever developing rise of social media, way West End actors are reaching higher profiles, and the way it's so easy to access a theatre performer compared to a screen actor, means it's a problem which seems to be rapidly seeping into the theatre community and is actually doing a lot of damage. 

There's also the aspect of fans often being drawn to, or purposely attaching themselves to unknowns/swings/understudies and 'lesser' cast members (not that anyone is less worthy or talented but you get the gist). It's almost as if people feel they'll be more likely to form a bond with someone who not everyone is trying to chat to. The idea of someone being less well known so therefore easier to, for lack of a better word, target, just feels wrong. Absolutely support the entire cast, crew and team but don't use someone just to validate yourself and feel closer to a show than you are in reality.

Most performers are nice people and they're not going to out you for these things because it would be an awkward conversation to have, but just because you have a nice stage door experience, or because you get friendly at the theatre with them, remember that it's all within the theatre bubble. 

Now I completely understand putting energy into theatre because it is, after all an escape and I'm definitely guilty of investing my emotional wellbeing into a show, however, not in terms bringing the actors on stage into that. As human beings, the performers of course do care about the people they talk to and I'm sure take a genuine interest in what they're being told, but at the end of the day, someone at stage door who is not actually a friend, is never going to care as much about you as you care about them so it's not fair to expect them to shoulder your issues. 

I know this is all pretty much common sense, and I'm not trying to be preachy about boundaries, but for the few people who may read this and recognise some of the obsessive actions in their own lives, perhaps this can act as a gentle reminder that theatre itself is all an act, and the people who put it on, have very real, very personal lives outside of what you see on stage/social media. Of course be supportive and engaging, and be passionate, but keep in mind that there's a world outside theatre. Your life is there to be filled with as many things to make you happy as possible, but so are the people's who you admire and they pick what they fill it with, so don't use all your energy trying to make yourself an integral part of it off stage. Live your life, love shows and support actors, just keep it chill sometimes, and if you really have a lot to say, keep it to your whatsapp chats.

I hope this doesn't come across as overly negative because I really do admire people who love theatre and I so relate, but continual drama clearly means some people are unable to isolate the real from the stage so I wanted to throw my two pence in! Stay stagey!