Happy Wednesday! Did you watch SMASH? Let's continue with part two of my SMASH blog series. If you missed yesterday's post about Why Smash Matters, check that out, too.
So we all know SMASH is a TV show, and we're excited to have a show about Broadway on TV. Deep down we know it's a fictional TV show an not a documentary. But.....as a Broadway insider it's enormous fun to talk about what is "real" and what isn't.
Let's get right to it, in a new segment I like to call:
SMASH Fact or Fiction? It's a game show! Everyone please pull out your buzzers and prepare. The top scorer wins the prize behind door #2.
1) In the opening scene, KMP (Katharine McPhee) is seen singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in a fantasy sequence. She is snapped back to reality by the director taking a phone call during her audition and while she is singing. Does that really happen? Fact or Fiction?
More common is texting and checking of e-mail, which happens throughout an audition, but absolutely people answer their phone. I have a friend who says they delivered lunch while she was singing. I can add an onstage story--once when I was doing CATS, a group of people came back after intermission and sat down in their onstage seats (CATS on Broadway had onstage seats). During Old Deuteronomy's song--which is very quiet and starts the second act--they passed out the coffee and doughnuts they'd purchased down the street during intermission. My favorite moment? When one of the ladies kept saying, "Pass me one more Splenda." to her friend four seats down, and then, "No, I got the jelly, not the glazed." Full voice. Onstage. While he was singing. So yes. We are trained like combat fighters. We keep going no matter what.
Here's my question about that scene, and it is for the performers out there. Do you guys take all your stuff into auditions? Like, they both had their bags with them, and they took off their coats in the room, etc. I tend to leave mine in the hall and pray I won't get robbed. What do you do?
Here's my observation of that scene. She leaves the audition and slams the door.
Wouldn't happen. Never. No way. You slam a door at an audition and you are black listed from that casting office. Yes, you immediately call and bitch about it to your spouse/significant other/agent but you don't slam the door on the way out. Actors worry way to much about pissing people off to do that.
2) A massive apartment on Riverside drive, and an entire brownstone in (I'm assuming) Brooklyn? Do theater writers make that much money? Fact or Fiction?
The jury is out on this and here is why. All we know so far is that they've had one big hit. We can assume they've had more, but that looks more like TV money or Hollywood money, not really theater money unless you've had a long running hit. Yes, Sondheim owns a brownstone in Gramercy Park and Sir Lloyd Webber owns Buckingham Palace (basically), but they're very established and older and have written for TV and film. So, we just don't have enough information to answer this yet, although I loved a friend's tweet about it (he's an actor and a real estate agent), "So the young songwriter lives in a classic six on Riverside Drive? Hmmmm." We're skeptical over here in Broadway land. I'm calling it the "Friends" kind of New York living, where all living spaces are supersized for TV purposes.
Here's my observation: Kudos to the realistic depiction of the difference between how actors live and how "creative" people live. Notice that Ivy (Megan Hilty) is on Broadway in a hit show, but she still has a dinky kitchen. Notice how tricked out the director's apartment is. This is because people who create shows get "points" in the show (a percentage of the profits) so they make a bundle if the show is a hit. Actors--except in rare instances--do not get points and live pay check to pay check, making minimum. Thumbs up. Accurate.
3) Is it really like that backstage at a theater? Fact or Fiction?
Fiction. I'll point out three things.
1) I don't think you're going to see a composer in the wings, especially in the way of the entrances and exits, during a show.
2) That was a really nice chorus girl dressing room, particularly that it was painted that lovely pink. They are usually a 60-year-old off white and the paint is peeling. At the Golden when I was doing Avenue Q we begged to paint our room--said we'd do it ourselves--and we were denied. I forget why. Now, that said, some people (like Linda Balgord) make a dressing room fabulous, but that is a principal room (one person) and not a whole group.
3) I don't think the composer would come into a ladies dressing room in the middle of the show for a heart to heart with a chorus girl. Too many boobs for a gay guy.
Here's my observation: None of the above bothered me at all. It just made for good TV.
4) Megan Hilty's character Ivy does the demo recording and the "audition" baseball number without getting paid. That seems like a lot of work for free. Fact or Fiction?
Fact. That just couldn't be more factual. The amount of work Broadway performers do for free in the hopes that they will then get taken along with the project is staggering. If we do a "29 hour reading" of a show (which is 29 hours of rehearsal in a week with a presentation for financial backers at the end of the week) there is sometimes a very small stipend--read SMALL--I'm talking, they cover the cost of your subway fare. Doing something called a "workshop" which is what they are casting in the first episode, pays slightly more money and gives you certain rights.
Here's my observation: I like that they made Ivy re-audition for the workshop even though she'd already put in so much work for free--I thought that was totally realistic. Happens all the time. In fact, I had to re-audition to get into the Broadway company of The Phantom of the Opera even though I'd been a "vacation swing" there for years (covering actor's vacations). By the way, I did not get the permanent job.
5) KMP gets a call from the director late at night asking for a coaching session at his apartment, she is there in 20 minutes, and is supposed to sleep with him to get the job. Does this really happen? Is there a casting couch in theater? Fact or Fiction?
This might be a controversial decision, but I am going to call this one fiction.
I've taken an informal poll of my nearest and dearest friends in the business and tried to cover a wide span of ages, genders and sexual orientations. Not a single person I spoke to had ever heard of anyone getting a late night call DIRECTLY from the director of a show, and I could not find anyone who had even heard of someone sleeping with anyone to get a part.
Now look--I am not saying it doesn't happen because (as my friend David said) "Men are dogs." But even he couldn't think of anyone. Maybe one, was his final answer. It is something people like to speculate about ("She probably slept with him to get this job.") but the reality doesn't seem to be there. On a personal note, I will say that my during my very first performance of The Phantom of the Opera, which was on tour and we were in Denver, I was accused of only getting the job only because my husband was the conductor of the show. I remember distinctly saying to the guy, "The reality is I was cast because I fit in the $30,000 dress and they didn't want to have to alter it. I also think my previous Broadway show experience helped. But that's okay if you want to think that." I know I was snarky to him, but trust me when I say that he deserved it and he was always fairly respectful to me after that.
Here's my observation: I like that they showed Ivy throwing up before the audition--which I've never done, but I know others who have. (try singing after that). I also love that KMP didn't sleep with him and said, "Never gonna happen." Great TV.
6) That whole segment where they were singing in the shower and singing in the cab and singing as they walked down the street, that was just cheesy TV stuff, right? Fact or fiction.
Fact. Absolutely fact. David and I were talking tonight about how we warm up on the way to auditions; we sing in cabs, we sing walking down the street--and my personal favorite--I wait until a subway car is coming as I wait for the train and sing full out as it arrives. I might look crazy but NO ONE can hear a thing when that subway is rolling to a stop. Most embarrassing? (And this happens all the time) Singing full out on an empty elevator just to find a crowded hallway of people who can hear you as the doors open. Mortifying but necessary. And pretty funny.
I'm going to stop here. If you have other FACT or FICTION questions, let me know and I will do my best to find out.
I hope you liked the show, I loved it. Hang in there with it--first episodes are notoriously hard to write because so much information has to be crammed in. It will find it's footing. I promise. Theresa Rebeck's smart.
If this seems fun, I'll write SMASH FACT OR FICTION after each new show. Thanks for playing!