SMASH Fact or Fiction?  Episode 12 "Publicity"

Happy Tuesday and welcome to the twelfth episode of SMASH Fact or Fiction?  Welcome to all you new readers, please take a moment to read the game rules before activating your buzzers.  Thanks to New York Magazine for naming this blog as “highbrow” and “brilliant” in their approval matrix.’m thrilled to achieve such a high honor with my pooping rhino video link still intact. NEW THIS WEEK: I just popped up on!  For fun, check it out, it's an interview with Megan Hilty:

Let’s get back to America’s favorite TV trivia game show. If you’ve missed the previous posts, check out Why Smash Matters and our first nine game shows, for the pilot episodeepisode two episode threeepisode four, episode five, episode six, episode seven, episode eightepisode nine , episode ten and episode eleven.   If you are new to My Own Space the blog, my name is Sharon and I’ve been in pretty many Broadway shows.  I am also friends with Theresa Rebeck, the creator, writer, and all around guru of the show–so I am here to remind you that I am in total support of the fact that the show is, in fact,  a TV show–a fictional drama–not a documentary. Right?  Right.  Good.  Please initialize your understanding of this fact here: ______.  We are not out to do anything except use the show as a launching point for fun conversation about the theater world.  Based on the success of A Chorus Line  and other backstage shows, we here at My Own Space assume there is a basic appreciation and curiosity of what happens behind the scenes on Broadway.  Or else, one might rightly ask, what in the world are you doing reading this blog.  Right?  Right.  If you can’t sing at least part of the song “Tomorrow”, you’re in the wrong place and should maybe try this instead.

Truth be told, you don’t really even need to watch the show to play along, but you might be confused at points and you will not win the grand prize which is hidden behind door number twelve and is probably a smoothie maker.

Here we go.  Lights up…cue theme music….

I will make a series of statements based on events in this weeks episode, and then give my opinion on whether the statements are “fact” or “fiction”.  You play along.  Get your buzzers ready.

Let's talk about understudies for a minute.

1)  A director would be unaware that the procedure for rehearsing an understudy is for the stage manager to run "understudy rehearsals" after a show starts performancesFact or fiction?

Fiction, but thank you Jack Davenport for standing in as the layman saying "What?" so the policy can be explained.  The idea that a well known choreographer/director would be confused about the decades long policy that the stage manager runs the understudy rehearsals actually made me chuckle out loud.  My guess is understudy rehearsals run by a stage manger dates back to the opening night of Antigone in howeverlongagothatwas B.C.

For those of you not in the know (and why should you be if you don't eat, sleep and breathe theater like we do?), yes, understudy rehearsals exist, they are run by the stage manager, and they are a thing unto themselves.  Now before everyone in the New York City (and all theater folk everywhere) gets their panties in a knot, allow me to outline the exceptions.  Sometimes (if the understudy is lucky) the rehearsal might be run by an assistant director or a "resident" director.  What is a resident director?   I would define a resident director as a person hired by the producer and approved (and hopefully trained) by the director, who is responsible for the upkeep of a company.  This became popular as shows started to run numerous productions at one time (think about how many companies of Mamma Mia were out at one time--I think at the high there were 2 national tours, a Las Vegas company, a New York company, a London company....etc.) and they needed people to direct the show as cast members came and went.  The resident directors are responsible for putting in new company members, and occasionally run an understudy rehearsal as well.  90% of the time, though, an understudy is rehearsed and put in by a stage manager.

Breaking it down, there is usually an understudy rehearsal every week, and usually at least two people understudy each role (as is the case with Ivy and Karen), so at the very most you might run through the show once every two weeks.  Rarely are all set pieces in use (for example, in PHANTOM rehearsals, we don't have the boat, or the "masquerade" stairs, or the chandelier, or the lair, or the magic chair...or...or...or you get the point.  We have a couple of chairs. Other shows have a little more available to them--like in Les Miz we used the turntable, which was very helpful.)  You also do not have the whole cast or the orchestra.  You have a few understudies called "swings" who cover the ensemble roles, and all of the other understudies--many of whom understudy more than one role, so they might run back and forth doing to people at once.  It is both hilarious and infuriating--especially if you know you are going on soon.  You truly can not completely duplicate what it feels like to be in performance until you are in front of an audience and all of the elements are there.  If you've ever seen a show where an understudy performed, and when they came out and took their curtain call the rest of the cast applauded, I would bet you dollars to doughnuts that was the understudies first show in that role.  It's pretty common for the company to applaud for a first performance, because they all know (even if they haven't done it) how unbelievably hard and nerve racking it is.  It's like crossing a crowded highway in a blindfold.

More about understudies:  It is very unusual and difficult to have it worded into your contract that you are the "first cover", meaning the first person who goes on if the lead it out--it is usually "at the discretion of stage management."  Yes, if you are wondering, there are often favorites (as we see if the case with Karen being preferred over Ivy at the minute--that will probably change), but generally speaking, the understudies split the performances missed by the lead actor.

Is this confusing?  Try being an understudy.  It's a political nightmare.  It's a game of wait in the back and be quiet and humble until you are suddenly shoved to the front and expected to be fully prepared and shine.  Then, the next day, you are in the back again.  I know of what I speak here, I've understudied a lot.  It's tough on ye olde ego.

2) Movie stars pass out swag (presents/product placements from fancy parties) to their less wealthy actor friends.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  It is a fun bonus for having famous friends.  Celebrities are handed a lot of free (but expensive) clothes and makeup and perfume and jewelry, etc. at various functions where they make appearances.  It is very accurate that an A-list celebrity would hand out some of these freebies to the hard working actors.  I have to balk at the famous Rebecca slumming at Karen's apartment.  Nope.  Famous people don't usually come to you, you come to them.

3) Celebrities travel with a "team" that keep track of their every move, even staying in the room during rehearsal.  Fact or fiction?

I'll give this a fact.  Personal assistants are a dime a dozen, and believe me, you want them around to help wrangle the celebrity and get their tea so you don't have to.  They are usually vastly over worked, privy to too much personal information, and not paid well enough.  Think Devil Wears Prada for an accurate depiction.  Dry cleaning pickups, dog walking, lint roller expert, telephone answerer, therapist is just a short list of their job duties.  Frequently (as you can imagine) these assistants do not like the celebrity.  I recently encountered a personal assistant to an A list musical theater star (who shall remain nameless) and I asked if she liked working for her.  She looked at me dryly and then said, "Oh yeah.  She's great.  She purposely wears a perfume that she knows I'm allergic to just so she can watch me sneeze." I laughed, thinking she was kidding.  She wasn't.  She told me later she was counting the days until she could quit.

Part two of this is: Would a stage manager (the lovely Ann Harada) have to step in if the assistants to the star were otherwise occupied?  Yes.  Stage management would step up, but there is more than one stage manager.  Ann (playing Linda) is playing the role of the Production Stage Manager (PSM) but what we don't see if any of her assistants (the PSM would have assistants, and probably an intern).  That's who would be making the smoothie.  Not the PSM.  Or Ellis, the producer's assistant.  That works, too (and is what happens in the show).

Part three of this:  Do stars have specific demands along the lines of Rebecca's kale and flax seed smoothie?  Yes, absolutely.  Or, they just don't eat at all and then send people out for junk food when they get faint (I've seen this in action).

Thanks for playing!