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 week 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 five and is probably Sean Hayes's meds.
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) A read-through is just reading though the script. Fact or Fiction?
Fact. It's really that simple. And yes, it really can be done on any scale from an "official" run-through with the entire cast and a music director and a full cast, or as simple as a small group of people reading through a script in someone's living room. The whole purpose of a read through is to hear the script in its entirety and see how it works. There is no pay for a read-through unless it is done as part of the rehearsal process (often a show will start rehearsals with a read-through on the first day) and can be done (as we saw in SMASH) with non-actors reading the roles for privacy.
2) The Belasco Theater is rumored to be haunted. Fact or fiction?
Fact!! I love The Belasco and was thrilled they chose it.....despite the fact that The Belasco is a super crummy choice for a big, splashy musical. Why, you ask? It's tiny, I reply. With only 1016 seats I call foul to Jerry's talk of re-couping his investment. If he REALLY wants to re-coup, find a bigger theater. But I digress. Let's get back to the ghost.
There are a lot of really fascinating things about The Belasco and I didn't know a lot about it until a fun girls' night with my pals (and Belasco occupants with James Joyce's The Dead) Emily Skinner and Donna Lynne Champlin. I listened entranced while they told stories about the theater. Get a load of this: It is allegedly haunted by the ghost of David Belasco, whom The Belasco was built for, and as a part of the build he provided himself with a 10 room duplex apartment IN the theater. Which, to the best of my knowledge, still exists, as does his ghost, despite the fact that the cast of Oh Calcutta tried to banish it. Turns out the ghost is a prude and just wasn't into all that nudity, and he returned after that production left.
3) People rehearse in costume. Fact or fiction?
I'm going to give this a fact-ish. The truth is very often a room will be full of "suggestions" of costumes. Yes, in a period show the women would wear skirts and **maybe** a corset (depending on the budget and the availability) but no rehearsal clothes are as pristine as the ones we saw on SMASH tonight. The skirts would be mismatched and ill fitting and the corsets would be tied with shoe laces. In CATS we had "rehearsal tails" and they were braided ropes that tied around our waist with ribbons. They gave the suggestion, but didn't look pretty. Very normal is wearing your "show shoes" as soon as they are ready to break them in and to get used to that whole "walk in someone else's shoes for a while" thing.
Two celebrity sightings, and both are attached to people already in the show: Sean Hayes from Debra Messing's Will and Grace played the dumbest actor ever (which way is stage right?) and Nicki Blonsky from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman's Hairspray as Jerry's exuberant and loose lipped assistant.
4) Were Follies, Grey Gardens, and Ragtime flops? Fact or fiction?
Fact. If your definition of a flop is not recouping the original investment, then yes. All three were flops. Of course, producing a Broadway musical is an enormous risk with whatever show you are creating. About 7 out of 10 Broadway musicals never make back their original investment (a percentage, by the way, that is relatively unchanged since the 1930's). And many shows that we look back on as being huge blockbusters were enormous risks at the time. Cameron Mackintosh had to sell part of his business to raise money for a show that didn't have a plot, didn't have a book, didn't have a movie star in the leading role and was essentially a dance concert performed by actors dressed up as cats. Cats the musical became the longest running Broadway show in history at the time. Why even some of the original investors in Oklahoma! asked for their original investment back when the out of town tryout in New Haven for the show was not well received. It's too bad for them; they missed out on a 2500% return on their investment. Jerry's view that a show that is artistic won't make money and that a show that is a spectacle will isn't a fiction, per se; it's just paranoid.
5) We started the episode with a splashy dance sequence. Choreography for the stage is the same as choreography for a TV show. Fact or fiction?
Fiction. Here’s the fact: choreography for TV/Film is totally different for choreography for stage. One is not better than the other but the fact is with film the camera is the eye and chooses who to look at. On stage the audience member gets to choose. On film you can focus on a snap of the fingers or roll of the shoulder or and eyebrow going up. On stage it is much more difficult to translate that detail in movement.
Check out Bob Fosse’s "Big Spender" number from Sweet Charity for an example. In terms of actual choreography, the director and director of photography and choreographer have “storyboarded” the number. Meaning knowing exactly what will be shot. There is possibly less choreography needed. For instance, if its a close up shot of the star's face there is no need to choreograph those counts for the body because they won't be seen. In terms of rehearsal for the SMASH numbers - time is money so I bet they don’t have a lot of rehearsal unless its a huge number. This makes it crucial to hire good people who can see the choreography once and then do it perfectly.