Originally written for On Stage (the original post can be found here: http://www.onstageblog.com/columns/2016/11/23/merchandise-am-i-a-mug-among-many-or-a-mug-alone).
It started with programmes. Then it progressed to tote bags, then magnets/ badges, then cast albums, then all four, and now it’s mugs (and programmes…and cast albums…obviously). But am I a mug alone, or a mug among many when it comes to theatre merchandise? I realise that lots of people swiftly pass by when they reach the merch stand; prices are steep and getting steeper, whether at the theatre or at gigs/ concerts. I’m a sucker though, and a merch stand is something that I always have to have a snoop at; inevitably coming away with some sort of souvenir.
Many people settle for a programme and nothing more. I have three huge storage boxes crammed with programmes, and in defiance of the naysayers who opined ‘why bother? You won’t look at them again’, every so often, I sit down and flip through a few of them, enjoying looking at the show-stopping moments captured in the pages.
Cast albums are kept in the car, and as mentioned in previous posts, they are unfailingly great at making long drives bearable and helping me to entertain the people around me while I tunelessly belt out my special rendition of ‘Someday’ from ‘Memphis’. Likewise, a cast album can lead to a great sing-along with friends on any given road trip- and who would ever pass up that kind of opportunity?
I use various tote bags for work, the current one being from the recent West End production of ‘Funny Girl’; it’s nice to carry around a momento from a great night out rather than grabbing the local supermarket’s latest bag for life. Although tote bags are fine for a while, you never use a tote bag as much as you think you will, especially if you keep getting a new one after each show you see! I have no more space or need for tote bags, but if I see a show I love and there is no mug available, I’ll settle for a tote bag rather than nothing (ahem, Kneehigh, I’m looking at you- no Kneehigh mug? Really?!) I do still pick up the odd magnet, but to be honest, I’m running out of space, and at some point I’ll have to adopt a more grown-up looking kitchen…
So, I’m now a mug for mugs. My kitchen cupboard is full of theatre/concert/gig mugs. They’re a perfect merch choice; used all day long in an English household, which stereotypically inhales tea on an hourly basis. So why so much love for (admittedly, often over-priced) mugs and the like? Well, because I love catching sight of the show name or image emblazoned across that mug, and it makes me smile. If it catches my eye on a bad day, it does, cheesily, lift my mood a little. It might plant the seed of a jaunty eponymous ditty in my head to help me cope with a horribly early morning; leaving me groggily humming a tune instead of just shivering and scowling. It might prompt a great conversation when handed to a guest during a long- awaited catch-up; or the friend who was there for that show can enjoy reminiscing with you. If I’m having a lonesome cuppa, I might indulge in an extended trip down memory lane- which might even progress to popping the cast album on; it’s all about re-living the joy of seeing that show. Sure, I’d think about them at some point, but probably not so much without the help of my kitchen cupboard contents!
I think we need our memories of great theatre to last. Theatre is so expensive these days, and West End shows pretty much always make me leave vowing to return; then my bank card shrieks ‘NO!’ at me and I’m left with just memories… So for me, the mugs and all the rest of it keep the memories alive when I can’t return to a show, or even see anything new. Plus, what about when I’m a octogenarian and getting a bit dotty, with a failing memory? ‘Well you must have seen Phantom of the Opera, Granny, look, you’ve got the mug’…’oh yes dear, I remember now; I remember a wonderfully gothic river set…’ Cue Streisand, ‘Mem’ries…’ and…perfection!
So, back to the question then: am I a mug alone or a mug among many when it comes to theatre merchandise?