Happy Tuesday and welcome to the fifteenth and FINAL 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. I’m thrilled to achieve such a high honor with my pooping rhino video link still intact. This blog also popped up on vulture.com. For fun, check it out, it’s an interview with Megan Hilty. But now, 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 fourteen game shows, for the pilot episode, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, episode 5, episode 6, episode 7, episode 8, episode 9, episode 10, episode 11, and episode 12, episode 13 and episode 14. 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 fourteen and is probably a wig cap and pincurls.
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 start with an easy one (because my Facebook feed lit up with an audible and collective gasp as soon as it happened)
1) A wig is worn directly over your own hair. Fact or fiction?
Every one say it together now....fiction. I literally gasped out loud when the first wig came off and her hair came tumbling down. Where is the wig cap? What's a wig cap, you ask? Most recognized in bank robbers (when pulled down over your face), a wig cap is a cap made out of panty hose material (nylon), that stretches over and smooths down the 50 zillion pincurls on your head. What's a pin curl (really? Do I have to explain this?) A pin curl is when you take about a square inch of your hair, twist it into a curl and pin it down with two bobby pins that cross over each other in an x formation. If you are a principal in a show, you might have a fancy hair person who pin curls your hair for you and they do it in such a way that when you take your hair down after the show it is flowing and beautiful. If you are someone like me (in the chorus), you pin curl it yourself, as fast as possible because you are probably late to your wig call (a wig call is when you have to get to the wig room to get your freshly styled wig pinned on).
Hands down, the most unpleasant and time consuming part of getting ready for a show (in my opinion) is the tiresome pin curling (my hair looks like I've stuck my finger in a socket when I take it down after the show), followed by trying to find a clean wig cap and pinning that on, followed by pinning on your microphone (which is predominantly worn under your wig), and then anchoring the wig on with giant lobotomy needle sized bobby pins. The pin curls, wig cap and anchor pins are designed to hold the wig in place for all of those fancy head flips and cartwheels. Would you ever wear a wig without a wig cap? Nope. It would fall off before you even left your dressing room.
So why not have the girls in wig caps on TV? Easy. It's ugly. Who wants to see Ivy or Karen rip off a wig in fury to reveal....pins curls and a wig cap? Nobody (except those of us who know how awful it would look). Long hair cascading down in soft curls is much better in HDTV.
2) It is okay to announce to the understudy that she is going on in front of the entire cast. Fact or fiction?
Fact. In this case (I think), Karen is still serving as the "understudy" and is not being promoted to play Marilyn for the Broadway run. Am I wrong about that? If they are using her as the understudy, it is fair game for them to tell her in any way they see fit. I've had it screamed up the stairs "SHARON! YOU"RE ON!". Now, if they are promoting her to PLAY THE ROLE of Marilyn for ever and ever amen, then the whole thing is fiction because in reality they would have to call her agent and negotiate a whole new (intricate) contract, and any agent worth their salt would put the kabbash on any performing or accepting anything until a deal had been hammered out, no matter how much their client might be wide eyed and agreeable. If Karen really doesn't have an agent (there are no agents mentioned), all of her nosy and helpful chorus friends would have her on the horn with their agent toot suite. You simply don't make a deal like this alone.
Piggybacking on that question...
3) There would be a full company/full costume/full technical rehearsal to put Karen in as Marilyn. Fact or fiction?
Fact. It is not often that a producer would go through the unbelievable expense of a full technical rehearsal with orchestra, but in this case? Absolutely.
Given the seriousness of the situation, there would be absolutely NO horsing around. No time for breakdowns, diva fits, conversations with your non-understudying-pouting girlfriend. No time to threaten fiancees, no time for looking for the weepy star-to-be. None of it. It's way too expensive to fool around. Time is money was never more true.
BUT THERE IS TIME FOR...
Equity breaks. What's an Equity break? You heard it when Linda the stage manager (again, the lovely Ann Harada, Ladies and Gentlemen, who had a lot of scenes this week) told the director they HAD to have an Equity break even though he said there wasn't time for it. The actors' union rule is very strict about breaks (I won't list them all) but this was a basic "you have to take a 10 minute break for every 90 minutes of work." Or is it 80 minutes and the 10 becomes the rest of the 90? I get confused. I'll call Ann Harada for clarification.
4) The composer does his own orchestrations. Fact or fiction?
Fiction. We've covered this before, I believe, but no. The composer does not do his own orchestrations, that is what an orchestrator is for. This is an especially sensitive subject since the Drama Desk Awards recently tried to cut out the orchestration award, and then opted to put the category back in due to the avalanche of criticism. To read more on what an orchestrator does, read this post written by my orchestrator husband.
P.S. If a song was put in that late in the day, it would be played on the piano only for the show that night. This actually happened during the preview period of Little Women.
5) The composing team would work on the score in the lobby of the theater. Fact or fiction?
I am going to call this one as a fact. The truth is, they'd probably be working in a hotel room, but this close to curtain, they very well might have a keyboard set up in the lobby. The great thing is, if you are renting a building for a show, you pretty much get the whole building, and most shows use the space. I've had numerous rehearsals for The Phantom of the Opera in the lower lobby of The Majestic Theater (They teach "Masquerade" to new cast members on the stairs that lead to the lobby bar, because it costs so much money to call in the crew to set up the real stairs on stage). Funniest location for a rehearsal? The Men's room in the Imperial Theater where my husband conducted many music rehearsals. When I asked him why he always had rehearsal in the bathroom he said, "It wasn't by the urinals, Sharon, it was out in the lounge part because that was the only place they could store the piano." Just imagine getting your first Broadway job, and day one of rehearsals you are told to report to.....the bathroom. I love it so much. That's the glamor of show biz, folks.
Geez this is long. Should we stop? Nahhhhhh. It's our last one. EQUITY BREAK Go grab a snack, use the restroom, and let's go long. (I'm having trail mix and a glass of water. You? Reminder. No eating in costume.) I'm going to miss doing this blog.
6) There might be two Marilyn's dressed to go on. Fact or fiction?
Fact. Sorry for all of you who rolled your eyes out there like, "Oh that would NEVER happen", but yeah. It would and I speak from experience. I have been told to get dressed and ready to go (hurry with the damn pin curls) because the person I was standing by for was losing her voice. I got completely dressed and told to stand in the wings just in case she had to come out of the show. She walked off stage, there I stood, and yes. Two people, dressed to play the same role were face to face. She decided she was fine and I made my way back up to my dressing room, undressed and went back to my magazine. I ESPECIALLY buy it if Karen had taken off and no one could find her. Yes. This could (and does) happen, and yes, it's pretty dramatic.
7) The director can over rule everyone and make the final decision about who plays the lead role. Fact or fiction?
You know what? I really don't know. I've thought about this all day, and here is my final conclusion. I think it TOTALLY depends on how famous and powerful the director is VS. how famous the producer is. In this case, the director is presumably more famous and powerful than the producer, so I think yes. But I can't say for sure. If you have thoughts on this please write in.
8) It is okay to give lyrics to a new song as they are calling the 15 minute call? Fact or fiction?
Fiction, but it was fun to watch, don't you think? There is a strict rule that no new notes can be given after half hour (the 30 minutes prior to curtain), and new lyrics would be considered notes....so I call foul on this.
9) The front doors of the theater are unlocked and it is a-ok for people to wander in and out of this time crunched rehearsal. Fact or fiction?
We all know this is fiction, especially since they made a point of saying in the previous episode that no one in the cast is allowed to communicate with the outside world about the goings on in the theater. That theater would be locked down like Alcatraz. Yes, phone calls could happen, and yes, Michael Riedel might try to get a phone interview for the Post, but no one--especially another producer--would be allowed in. And, just for the record, you can't call your fiancee and have him watch the rehearsal. BUT, for TV we need all these people in the room so that the scenes can happen. This isn't a documentary, folks.
10) Late breaking write in question from a reader: Ms. Wheatley, I have a burning question based on the Smash finale! Would an understudy not have her own set of costumes? Would there be just one set and they'd be altered ASAP? Thanks! Love each Fact or Fiction!!
It depends. In this case, I believe that the focus of the costume designer and wardrobe supervisor would be to get all of the costumes ready for the "playing company", and save the understudy costumes for after the show opened. Especially since the lead was being played by a huge movie star who would insist that her costumes fit like a glove. It is absolutely believable that there wouldn't be costumes.
BUT, I cry foul at the empty wardrobe room. Remember when Derrick went to look at the costumes and the wardrobe room was empty? No way. There would be a huge crew of people in the altering those costumes like crazy people. Picture the final moments of Project Runway as they get the clothes to runway.....that's what that wardrobe room would look like if they knew an understudy was going on as the lead.
Some closing thoughts.
First of all, thank you all for coming and reading this every week. I never had any idea this blog would become so well followed, and whether you've agreed with me or not, I appreciate your presence. Thank you, also, for watching SMASH. I am happy that it was renewed for another season.
I have spent the past several months writing about what is fact and what is fiction, and I end with this.
Creating, writing, running a TV show is grueling and sometimes thankless work. Fact or fiction?
Fact. For more details, read Theresa Rebeck's spectacular book, full of insider scoop on TV writing called FREE FIRE ZONE. The ultimate fact or fiction, it gives the unvarnished truth about what it is like to write for TV, from one of the best out there. Thank you, Theresa Rebeck for 15 fun weeks of SMASH. You're the real deal.