Why There Are No Theatre Celebrities

I love the theatre. I am what one may call a ‘theatre nerd’. I pride myself on knowing cast lists, touring dates and musical scores off by heart. My Instagram feed is full of Broadway actors, directors and local theatre houses. These are my celebrities, but it has become blatantly obvious to me that most people don’t care.

The title of this article is somewhat misleading, there are of course theatre celebrities. But the question is rather why do they not come about as frequently or in the same way as film and television celebrities seem to? Why do we not seem to have the same celebrity culture for theatre that we do with films? To illustrate my point; think of a celebrity actor: Tom Cruise, Brad Pritt, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie. Pretty easy. Now think of some theatre actors. Harder? Yes.

Many celebrities begin their careers in the theatre and move on to other work, often at times going back to theatre, bringing their celebrity status, and fans with them. But why is it that their ‘big break’ usually always comes from the film work they do? Take Andrew Garfield, of The Amazing Spider-Man fame. He had his start in British theatre in 2004, then he went on to Spider-Man and only recently, in 2017 has he returned to the theatre to critical acclaim for his portrayal of Prior Walter in Angels in America.

We are now living in an era of Netflix and Amazon Prime where everything we could possibly want to watch is there for us to peruse at our leisure. Whole seasons of shows are released at a time, meaning that rather than go to that 9am lecture we can watch all 9 series of Peep Show (not saying that we have…). This ‘bingeability’ factor of TV and film means we can re-watch over and over again.

In stark contrast to this, theatre performances are a one-time thing. Unless you happen to be extremely rich and have the resources to see the show every day or the performance is professionally recorded and made available (which doesn’t happen often) you don’t have the ability to re-watch. Theatre is a live experience you can’t binge, and this simply means the actors have less exposure to individuals. Their performance may be wonderful and stay with you, but it is likely that you wouldn’t recognize their face as much as that one recurring character in season whatever of that one show you like. On services like Amazon Prime they even have a feature where as you are watching a scene, the actor’s name pops up and you can immediately see everything they have been in. It is hard to compete with that.

Celebrity culture is the ability for the general public to know everything about a person and it is just so much easier to do this with film and tv celebrities. Red carpets, awards shows and interviews give them exposure and secure their celebrity status. The closest thing the theatre has to this is the Tony Awards but even this is not broadcast as widely as say, The Oscars or The Grammys.

Another factor is dedication. I am not saying celebrities are not talented, of course they are. But think about reality tv celebrities or those celebrities that are famous for being famous. For something like musical theatre, actors need to be a triple threat. To be able to sing, dance and act to a professional level takes commitment and hard work, leaving them not much time to focus on ‘becoming celebrities’. The people willing to spend hours honing their craft are the ones, in my opinion, least concerned with fame.

I am always an advocate for more support to the theatre and to making it as accessible as possible but unfortunately, people will always take the easiest route. And it is easier to stay in and watch Keeping up with the Kardashians than it is to go out and see a play or a musical. Until people are actively made aware of theatre actors, they won’t become celebrities. But I also believe that they don’t care. It’s okay that they are not celebrities in the traditional sense; if you see a performance and leave the theatre having had a good experience then they have done their job well and that is all they should care about.


Georgie Burgess

Image credit: dailyreview.com.au