Sunday, August 2, 2020


You have heard it before and you will hear it a lot more,-- we are living in very strange times.  My daughter who has a bookstore in Wayne, Pennsylvania outside Philadelphia told me months ago that she has to change her methodology daily according to new rules and guidelines and does not know what the next day will bring.

What had not quite dawned on me then is that we are all having to change our methodology daily and nowhere more so than in the arts.  We can no longer go to movies, theaters, or museums, so all entertainment occurs on screen.  We can complain all we want that this is not the real thing, that we need original works of art and live theater, but things are as they are. 

The issue, therefore, is where to get our arts fix using the avenue that remains open.  It might be compared to being let loose in the stacks of the Library of Congress without a card catalog guide us.  We have to find our own way.

One of the new channels we now subscribe to is BroadwayHD.  Since we are avid theatergoers in the good times, we have seen an awful lot and chosen carefully before spending the money on a ticket.  Now, after paying our subscription fee everything is “free”!  So the question is where we want to spend our time.  Often, we want to try something new.

The other night we found an intriguing title, “Repeat Attenders” a 2020 documentary by Australian filmmaker, Mark Dooley.  It was like nothing I have ever seen.  The blurb shown before the show states, “The Theater: Each year, millions of people attend to escape reality. But for a select few, the theatre IS their reality, with some of them seeing the same show hundreds of times. They are Repeat Attenders. Six years in the making, ‘Repeat Attenders’ is a groundbreaking feature documentary, that delves into the psychology behind the extreme superfans of Broadway”.

The reason that musicals attract more recidivists is that they are more accessible to a larger part of the population so usually have longer runs than straight plays.  Previously I had only heard rumors about these devoted fans. Having been married to two former dancers who identified with A Chorus Line (“Everything is Beautiful at the Ballet … Hey, I was Happy at the Ballet”) I saw the show in the theater at least twice and the film as well, but that, for me, was an exception.

The documentary “Repeat Attenders” was comprised of interviews and film clips of performances on Broadway, London’s West End, Bochum, Germany and Melbourne, Australia of Cats, Rent, Les Misérables, and Starlight Express.

In the film, they revealed the passion that lead people from different countries to attend multiple performances of their favorite shows, as they fell in love with the characters and songs.   A German woman, who loved Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express had a closet full of costumes from the show and even participated in local events as one of the characters.  Her parents had told her she was too ugly and overweight to be an actress, so she found another way to participate. She went as far as dressing her daughter in Starlight Express costumes and make-up as well.  Possibly the entire town of Bochum was obsessed with the show since they built an arena-like theater for it.

Starlight Express Theater in Bochum, Germany

One New York businessman they interviewed had seen Rent 1,169 out of its 5,123 Broadway performances.  He took off from work to sleep on the ground and wait hours or even days for a “rush” last-minute ticket.

Waiting for "rush" tickets

One fan pointed out that if you see a movie multiple times it is the same every time, but in live theater, it is always just a little different.  If my wife and I were repeat attenders I am sure we would argue after every performance on which detail the performers had changed. 

The documentary not only explored how people become obsessed with a show, but it also distinguished them from stalkers, who are obsessed with an individual performer. One man confessed to having stalked a certain actress and how close he came to assaulting her. Here is the trailer.

In the end “Repeat Attenders” demonstrated how theater offers the ultimate escape into another world which is where many of us would like to be right now!

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