SMASH Fact or Fiction? Season 2, Episode 3 "The Dramaturg"

SMASH Fact or Fiction? Season 2, Episode 3 "The Dramaturg"

SMASH is renewed for a second season, Fact or Fiction?  That's a fact, Jack.  Actors all over New York are thankful for another season of potential TV work and I'm delighted to host our favorite blogosphere TV gameshow.  Based on the shaky ratings this season, we'd better play while we can because as we all know, SMASH is much more fun when you play Fact or Fiction.

Everyone, get your buzzers out.  This season we have big prizes behind door number one so I hope you spent your hiatus studying up on theater facts and fictions. Please take a moment to read the game rules before activating your buzzers.

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, tough guy, and maybe you should go here 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 one and is probably a  case of Brooklyn beer.

My name is Sharon Wheatley, I've done some Broadway shows, and I will be your host. Be sure to read the comments after the blog because that's where I will be debated and corrected by all my insider-y Broadway friends and it is half the fun.  Reminder that we keep things clean and informative here on My Own Space.  If you want to trash talk there are exactly 5,872,017 Broadway message boards where you can do that.

Cell phones off.  Game buzzers on.

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.

1) Using a dramaturg is common practice.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  A dramaturg is a real job (pronounce it with a hard "g"),  but I am going to call out SMASH on their use of the word dramaturg, and say instead they have brought in a "show doctor".  Interestingly dramaturg is also the title of the episode, so they clearly choose the exact word they wanted, but let's talk about the difference (and yes, we are splitting hairs a bit here, but there is a difference) between a show doctor and a dramaturg.

The truth is ask 5 people to define a dramaturg and you will get 5 different answers, but let's face it, in the real world no one cares.  In this blog, we do, because we are educating the masses one gameshow at a time.

A dramaturg is more closely associated with plays and is used during the initial writing of the play and in rehearsals.  Most are well educated (I read an article that says they are often thought of as "book worms" and "critical thinkers") and well researched.  Many resident theaters have dramaturgs on staff and they are invaluable to the playwright.  There is a Huffington Post article that explains it, and I like this description, "A dramaturg is an in-house critic that is friendly to the production."

On Broadway, and especially in a big new musical like Bombshell, this kind of dramaturgy is a whole new animal and they are generally called "Show doctors" or "Script doctors".  Very often they are famous and almost all of the time they are well-paid and uncredited.  For more of a backstory of show doctors (they call Jerry Zaks "Doc") read this article from The New York Times in its entirety.  I pulled out this quote for you:

"Using the classic Broadway vernacular that is associated with script doctors, the “Catch Me” producers, Margo Lion and Hal Luftig, said in a statement: “Brian Yorkey is a friend of our production and was valuable to its developmental process.” Under Mr. Yorkey’s contract, his work on the show is uncredited, and no one involved in the production is allowed to acknowledge his specific contributions publicly."

Does a show doctor means a show is in trouble?  Yes.  Can they save it?  Have you seen the grosses for Spiderman: Turn of the Dark?  (The answer is yes).  On the flip side, have you seen the grosses for Wonderland ?   What's Wonderland you ask?  Exactly.  And that show had a surgical team.

Famous show doctors include George Abbott, Douglas Carter Beane, Jerry Zaks, Richard Maltby, Rupert Holmes and Jerome Robbins.  It might seem strange that someone else would be called in so late in the game to work creatively on a project, but as Eileen reminded us in this episode, she has a ton of money in this and she wants it right.

2)  In theater there are no agents and lawyers.  Everyone just talks directly to each other.  Fact or fiction? 

Fiction.  And with the exception of the lovely Brynn O'Malley who portrayed Derek's agent last week, agents have been largely ignored in SMASH.  Why, you might wonder (as I do, as all my friends do) and I will tell you plain and simply that it is 100% because they need the drama of those conversations happening between the characters without a middle man (or woman).  But I would be a bad blogger if I did not point out at least some of the moments that an agent or lawyer would have saved the day.

1)  Let's take last week's episode.  Remember how they were all gathered in a larger (and by "large" I mean "expensive" studio so that Eileen could announce that Bombshell was coming to Broadway (in an as-of-yet-undetermined-theater).  Reality?  That announcement would have happened in Boston while they were all under contract there, or else the calls would have gone out to agents and each actors agents would have delivered the news.

2)  In this week's episode we see Ivy ask a very friendly Bernie Telsey to audition for a different part in a show.  Can that happen.....yes......(although I can not imagine him being so friendly about it) but the most realistic thing would be for her to have her agent make that call.  Right, I know, that isn't good TV, I'm just telling you the way it would really go down.

3)  All the meetings with the writers in Eileen's office, the introduction of the show doctor, all of that.  It would all have to be run through agents and lawyers.  AGAIN, this is better TV, but really, at this level there is an entire step being skipped.  Julia wouldn't just barge into a dinner and yank that guy out on the street (yes, because her agent would do it, but also because she would never humiliate herself and possibly damage the show with such a public outburst.  But would she, and should she be furious?  Uh, yes.)

3)  Actresses (and actors) have as much power as Jennifer Hudson does in SMASH to get directors selected and have creative say.  Fact or fiction.

Fact.  If you are a Broadway heavyweight like Audra or Kristin and you have people developing projects for you specifically, then yes.  You have this much power.  Would a newcomer like Karen?  No.

Thanks for playing!  

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