"Hey guys! I'm actually running late. I hope you enjoy the show," he said as he ran past us into the theatre in a blond blur.

And so ended my brush with the fame of Randy Harrison, who starred in Showtime's Queer As Folk and is finishing a run in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was a highlight for this fan but also made me wonder about the impact of celebrity journalism.

My friend and co-worker (who introduced me to Queer As Folk) and I traveled to Montgomery to see Randy in the production. And we weren't the only ones. I was sure we wouldn't be — Queer As Folk has a very devoted following — but what did surprise me was that the audience seemed to consist of a significant number of Randy fans.

In fact, we sat next to two other fans, and there were several others scattered around the Festival Stage. If you looked hard enough, you could tell who was there to see the play and who was there to see Randy. The permanent smiles and random giggles gave it away. At one point in the show, Randy's Lysander proposes to his love, Hermia, played by Akiko Aizawa. After Lysander's most heartfelt declaration, Hermia turns the audience and mouths a silent "YES!" with fists in the air. This reaction got several laughs from audience members who were probably thinking they would react the same way.

The same held true for the backstage tour we took the next morning. Out of the approximately 12 people on the tour, the only people not to mention Randy's name directly were an older couple. I think our tour guide figured out why the rest of us were there. I asked him about the Festival's sales. I was curious to find out what kind of financial impact Randy's fans would have. His response (with a knowing grin): "We've done pretty well the last couple of weeks."

After the tour, we stood outside the theatre chatting with some other Randy fans close to the actors' entrance. While we were talking, some of the cast members arrived for that day's matinee, including Randy. That's when the brief but very memorable encounter took place.

Now, I see nothing wrong with what we did. I don't think of it as "stalking." I think of it as "creative autograph seeking." Stalking implies something scary — that's what the girls who scream, cry and profess their undying love do. Creative autograph seeking is merely attempting to meet a celebrity and have something signed.

Therein lies the difference between fans such as myself and fangirls — that contingent of admirers who are almost rabid in their devotion. Fangirls want him. Fans, like me, want him to be happy. For me, getting an autograph from Randy has nothing to do with professing undying love and everything to do with professing my endless gratitude. It would be a small moment in time when I might be able to say, "Thank you. Your work has struck a chord with me, and I wanted you to know how much I appreciate what you do," and have something to remember the auspicious occasion.

The rights of celebrities seem to be discussed endlessly. Of course Mr. Harrison has a right to privacy, and I have absolutely no desire to interfere with those rights. However, I feel that I also have rights as a fan. I have the right to ask politely for an autograph, and he has the right to politely refuse, which is exactly what happened in this situation. We asked nicely and didn't push, and we were given acknowledgement and an explanation.

I think the surroundings are also an important factor. In this case, I was at a theatre supporting the work of Randy Harrison the actor, not in some public place pestering Randy Harrison the person. I, for one, am much more interested in what play he's doing next than who he's dating. Any personal information he chooses to share with his fans is up to him. Anything he keeps to himself is obviously none of my business.

I couldn't help but wonder what kind of impact celebrity journalism has in creating these fangirls. I was struck by just how much information some of them were able to gather. So much of it was traded among the group that, frankly, stalking would have been easy. Fortunately, we are mature fans and not fangirls. While the media might share some of the blame for showering attention on celebrities, I don't believe we are divulging such details as the color of Randy's car or the tags on it.

The way "celebrity" is portrayed in the media is particularly important to me as a journalist. The world of celebrity journalism discredits what I do for a living and the craft that I love, and celebrities tend to put plenty of blame on the media. But not all of us are willing to cause a wreck with a celebrity for a story. And not all of us are hiding in bushes just waiting to get a snapshot of the latest starlet without make-up. Where is the news in that?

To me, there seems to be a simple solution. If the event is significant for some reason, then the media should cover it. If it insignificant, then there is no reason for news coverage. As a responsible journalist, I look at the news value. For example, Angelina Jolie aiding the people of Darfur is newsworthy. Angelina Jolie going to the grocery store with her children is not. And I believe the public knows the difference.

The dance between journalists and celebrities has more twists and turns and ups and downs than a quickstep, but the fact remains that we rely on each other. Celebrities use us to promote their latest ventures, and we use them to sell what we publish and broadcast. The music is still playing in this relationship, so I suppose the only solution is to take another spin around the dance floor and try not to step on each other's toes.

Although this isn't a review, I have to take a moment to say just how good Anne Bogart's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream was. The set, sound and actors combined flawlessly into a truly creative presentation. Randy's Lysander was full of passion, both love and hate, and his performance as Thisbe was charmingly hilarious. I miss seeing him on my television screen, but after seeing him on stage, I understand that it is a natural home for him. And as a fan, he has my best wishes.

Krista Richmond is the lifestyles editor for the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published periodically.

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