Repeat Attenders: The Stories Behind Broadway Superfans
By Kelsey Balzli
Playbill.com chats with some of Broadway's most devoted fans, who dedicate themselves to seeing shows more than 100 times.
2013 marks the 10th anniversary of one of Broadway's most "popular" shows, Wicked. In the last decade the show has "defied gravity" by winning over 50 awards, but perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the show lies not onstage, but in the audience.
Over the course of a decade, Wicked, as well as other Broadway hits, has attracted a large and devoted fan base. These productions have warmed the hearts of theatregoers around the world. Fans of all ages know the songs backwards and forwards and can even recite the show's cast history.
However, there are a few fans of these shows that know the wear and tear of an eight-show schedule. They're not actors, but but they will be there to meet the cast at the stage door multiple times a week.
"No one outside the theatre world understands the concept of multiple performances," said Bettie Laven, a fan of Wicked since its 2003 preview in San Francisco. "I know I have lost track of the real number of times I've seen Wicked after it reached over 150. After a certain number, people think you are crazy."
Laven has followed Wicked for 10 years, having seen the show in major cities all over the United States. While she has followed Wicked closely, she is only a small part of the Broadway "superfan" community, who devote themselves emotionally, physically and financially to one particular show.
Hollis Stern, a "groupie" of Rock of Ages since 2008, has rocked in the audience more than 200 times.
"I think every show provides something emotionally when you see it. Rock of Ages came out less than a year after I lost a family member, and we went to see it Off-Broadway to have fun," Stern said. "We had a great time, so I continued to go. I was often asked how long I would continue going and I always said, 'When it stops being fun.' I don't think there's a number attached to being a fan."
Rob Lawlor, who has flown to Oz at least 45 times, also has an emotional tie to Wicked's underlying message.
"Wicked has brought so much joy and understanding through its message of accepting those who are different than yourself," Lawlor said. "We know these characters. We've all felt like Elphaba in some capacity in our lives. It's that feeling of watching Elphaba during 'Defying Gravity' and feeling that sort of heart-in-my-throat moment when she finally defies everyone."
Seeing a show so often that theatregoers hit the triple digits doesn't come without a cost. While fandom is not free, is can be more affordable than one might think.
Heather Card, who has seen Newsies more than 40 times, has only paid for a full-price ticket once. Sarah Packard, a self-proclaimed "RoA-holic", has seen Rock of Ages 109 times on Broadway, Off-Broadway, on tour and in Toronto, but her love for hair metal hasn't broken the bank.
"Rush tickets help save on the cost, and of course there are discount codes as well," Packard said. "I admit I hardly ever pay full price for the shows I see because I have a limited budget. I work in the theatre business, and I am lucky to get invited to a lot of shows. I am also grateful for rush, lotto and standing-room pricing."
Another way to see a show multiple times is to stand in line for rush or lottery tickets. Sure, it takes a lot of planning, but the camaraderie in the lottery is unique to the New York theatre scene. Jonathan Cort, a fan of Wicked since 2004, said there is an art to the lottery.
"Most of the 48 times I've seen Wicked have been via the ticket lottery system," Cort said. Oftentimes, Wicked fan friends will coordinate and help each other out with lottery when someone wants to see the show."
Rachel Sather, who has seen The Book of Mormon 28 times, shows her support for the show with a "Man Up" tattoo on her forearm. While such dedication might cause those who fear needles to cringe, she said she enjoys bonding with her fellow fans.
"It becomes a very communal thing, in a way, and it was a comfort zone after I moved to New York," Sather said. "Being with fans becomes very ritualistic, not to mention the basic love for the show itself."
And cast interactions are a must. Cort works on a blog called "Innuendo & Outuendo," which allows him to interview Wicked cast and alumni. But he said the connection that he, as well as fans of other shows, have made with Broadway casts is unique.
"I've developed relationships with performers just from seeing the show multiple times and talking to them at stage door," Cort said. "This can sometimes lead to an actual friendship beyond the stage door."
Emma Story has ventured into the dark, mysterious world of Sleep No More 64 times in the last two years. The cost of that many tickets to Punchdrunk's immersive production might cause even Macbeth's dagger to quiver, but Story has always paid full price for the elusive experience. Pricing aside, what draws her to the show is the aspect of the unknown, as well as the thrill of seeing new cast members fill the roles.
"There's a huge amount packed into each three-hour experience. I attended very frequently in an effort to see it all — follow every character for a full loop, experience every one-on-one and explore every room," Story said. "I even got my Sleep No More tattoo after the first few times. When I go now, it's because of an interesting performer/role combination I've heard about."
Bettie Laven also attends Wicked for the sake of seeing nuances in each new cast of the show.
"I still go back to see Wicked when there is a change in actors or just to see if the cherry picker is still functioning properly," Laven said. "I had so many buttons from the lottery that I returned them in a large plastic bag to the house manager."
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