Just when we were really rolling with our first SMASH Fact or Fiction of the new season, things came to a crashing halt due to a week hiatus. NEVER FEAR! Because you, dear readers, are so thirsty for knowledge, we've had some excellent questions sent in and therefore I am starting our first-ever SMASH Fact or Fiction Ask and Answer. My name is Sharon and I am your host. I am frequently bossy (but always fun).
The first series of questions come to us from Rick:
ASK: Eileen has the St. James (because it's BIG!) or does she? Don't some producers want smaller theaters because the rent will be less and the demand unknown? Or are all the "on" Broadway houses roughly the same size? (I know "off-Broadway" doesn't really mean "off", it means "smaller" and "off-off" means "a lot smaller", right?)
ANSWER: I had another producer bring this point up exactly, so good question. Here's what that producer said about the St. James. "Contrary to popular belief, not everyone wants the St. James because its minimums are very high for both IATSE Local 1, and for AFM Local 802. It is an extremely expensive theater to run your show in, so your show really better have great 'legs!'"
As you remember from the episode, the creative team wants the St. James because it has good "juju" due to the fact that so many long running shows have played there, most recently being (as they mentioned) The Producers. For extra credit and the AP course about The St. James,go here .
To answer the next part of the question I take you directly to the Broadway League site and the Actors Equity Handbook.
Broadway houses vary in number of seats. With some exceptions (I'm looking at you, Vivian Beaumont) Broadway has to do with size (because size does matter) and geography (location, location, location). They have more than 499 seats, and are located between 41st and 54th streets, from 6th to 8th Avenues. Currently, there are about 40 Broadway theaters and they range in size from 597 seats (The Helen Hayes, which currently houses Rock of Ages) to 1933 seats (The Gershwin, which currently houses Wicked). For the complete list, go here.
Off Broadway has less that 499 seats and more than 99. Off Off Broadway has less than 99 seats (and the paycheck to match).
Rick, who clearly was a straight A student and sat in the front of the class, has another question:
Ask: And how long would a cast wait around between a Boston tryout and the Broadway opening before finding other work? They can't all be on the payroll while they sit around, can they? So how long is the prep, rewrite, tech, etc. supposed to take upon entering a new theater?
Answer: Did you catch that Karen is back at her waitressing job? For real accuracy they should've shown all the actors coming home from the airport and immediately signing up for unemployment. So the answer is no. They are not all on payroll. Whether or not someone is slipped an incentive here and there I don't know, but the general rule is no. You are only paid when you are rehearsing or performing. Make no mistake, those SMASH kids were all out at auditions (like Ivy) as soon as they got back. No theater set for the incoming show? They are all on the horn with their agents asap saying, "Nobody knows what is happening. Get me another show!"
The prep to go into a theater depends totally on the state of the show. Some shows need a lot of work, some don't. Case by case.
And because Rick is out to take over this blog someday, he has still one more question.
Ask: We come to NY once a year and see a half dozen shows in a week (exhausting, but fun.) But we also see lots of traveling shows, which usually open Thursday and run through Sunday. Can they really pack everything up, load it into I don't know how many semis and buses, and get to the next town and set up to be ready to go again by the next Thursday? Does the cast even get to see the new setup before they go on?
Answer: First off, thank you for supporting live theater. Seriously. None of us could do what we do without you. Only 6 shows in a week????? you could probably squeeze in at least 8......you should see all of us TONY voters in TONY season. I've done 9 in a week, and I agree, it is fun but exhausting.
Regarding traveling shows, most shows do the load out on Sunday night and load into the next city for a Tuesday night show! Sometimes there are two sets and one travels to the next city to load in (this was true on the first national your of Phantom) but these days I'm guessing most shows fit in 12-15 trucks and they do it in 48 hours. To answer the other part of the question, the cast generally familiarizes themselves with the set during sound check but you'd be surprised at how it looks exactly the same from city to city.
This question came in from several people.
Ask: Is it all reasonable that Karen would be considered "a big deal" after just two weeks in a preview performance?
Answer: Um, no, is my off the cuff answer, but as someone wisely pointed out, it does happen but not to this extreme. Take, for example, Jeremy Jordan (a new cast member on SMASH, by the way). When he was in Newsies at Papermill Playhouse (a prestigious regional theater in New Jersey) it became obvious very quickly that the show would be seriously lacking without him. What happened is Papermill's production closed and they lost Jeremy to Bonnie and Clyde. But then, in a twist of fate ( a bad one if you are Frank Wildhorn or anyone else besides Jordan working on the show) Bonnie and Clyde closed quickly and Jordan became available to do Newsies. Now the thing to know about this is that Jordan was already hot. Unlike Karen he had two other Broadway shows under his belt prior to any of this (Rock of Ages and West Side Story).
Two of my favorite questions came from Iris:
Ask: Does anyone besides tourists ever really sit at these chairs in the middle of Times Square? Except maybe if you're doing a show at the Marquis?
Answer: I'm going to say yes. Actors sit out there, but generally we all try to avoid the center of Times Square if at all possible. That said, sitting outside in midtown is at a premium and if it is a nice day and you have a minute or get a phone call it is a-ok to sit there, but I will give you a tip. 99% of all actors who choose to sit outside on a nice day hang out at Worldwide Plaza.
Ask: Can you just interrupt an American Theater Wing Gala with an impromtu performance if you're not even invited to be there in the first place?
Answer: No. There were 5,000 ridiculous things about that scene, but on a positive note, didn't Megan Hilty just kill it with that song? That girl has pipes.
Ask: Is is true that the cast are like family and know everyone else's business?
Answer: Wait. Isn't every work place like that? To answer for real, if you suddenly join a show expect the following things.
1) To be hugged by everyone.
2) To have someone say I love you within the first 5 minutes.
3) To exchange cell phone numbers and be friended on Facebook.
4) Fast forward 2 years when you run into that person on the street and recognize the face but are grasping for their name.
And to answer the most asked question of all.....Could Karen really get Ivy fired?
MAYBE. If we buy into the conceit of the show that she is the up and coming, soon to be TONY winning star-on-the-rise, yes, MAYBE. But it would be tricky and they would have to buy her out of her contract and...I'm not totally sure about this....and if anyone has a better answer to this, please write in.
And finally, we have some corrections and clarifications.
JPR writes: Margot Martindale played the fictitious head of the American Theatre Wing, Miriam Abramson, which was modeled after the late President of the Wing, Isabel Stevenson.
Myra writes about another guest appearance: Annaleigh Ashford, who originated the role of Margot in "Legally Blonde" on Broadway (played the stationary selling former actress). She also appears in the "Smash" pilot in the audition montage, as the girl who showed up in full Marilyn getup.
And from TLT: And Brenda Braxton playing J Huds mom in her show! Love that Braxton : )
And from Michael Riedel's **mother: FACT Michael Riedel is not a New York Post reporter. He is a gossip columnist, not a journalist or critic. Snark away at his supposed power to bring down shows, but if you do remember to praise him for his power to hold them up...I'd argue he does more for musical theatre than any other writer in nyc.
**not really, and p.s. I do praise him for his ability to bring a show up. Exactly my point. SMASH is smart to bring him on and get in his good graces.
We'll resume with another SMASH Fact or Fiction next week! Thanks for playing!