SMASH's second season is winding down and we all wonder if it might be the last. No matter, actors all over New York are thankful for another season of potential TV work, hopeful for a third and I'm delighted to host our favorite blogosphere TV gameshow. 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. 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 two and is probably aisle seats to the first preview of Bombshell.
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.
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. We will cover two episodes in this blog post, so I hope you stretched.
From Episode 11, The Dress Rehearsal.
1) An "invited dress rehearsal" is a rehearsal before the first preview performance, and it is by invitation only. It is supposed to be supportive but is incredibly stressful. Fact or Fiction?
Personally, I think invited dress rehearsals are a version of hell. Others might disagree, and certainly the idea of them is to be helpful and supportive. I haven't watched the episode in a while, but I think some character makes a comment about what a terrible idea it is to make the first public performance in front of all of your peers. Why? The invited dress is full of savvy theater insiders who know when it is right and when it is wrong, and are (let's all be honest) quick to judge. They talk about the mistakes made during the invited dress in this episode, and that is something that happens frequently since often it is the first time all the design elements come together in "real time" (no stopping). There is almost always a speech in the beginning, the most recent invited dress I attended was for Annie and the director took a moment to thank the producers, the crew, the cast, his creative team, etc. In addition, in this day and age, there is an appeal to not tweet or place anything on social media since it is still a "rehearsal" and not a performance. Finally they do explain that there will be mistakes and the show might stop if needed with technical elements re-run for accuracy.
To be in the audience, it is a blast. To be onstage is both incredibly exhilarating (I finally get to hear where the audience is going to laugh!!) and totally stressful (oh my god. They didn't laugh. What am I doing wrong?? Do they hate it?? We're going to close.)
I'll tell you one thing that every invited dress rehearsal has in common, and it was not shown on SMASH. They are LOUD. The minute the lights go down, the audience starts to scream and clap. Imagine the final show of American Idol (does anyone still watch that?). You know how the fans go nuts? That's what most dress rehearsals are like. So when the lights dimmed and Ivy came out to no applause or cheering, I knew I had to tell you. In reality, the place would have gone nuts. Us theater folk are supportive in a loud way.
2) A composer composes on a piano with a pencil. Fact or fiction?
Depends on the composer, but in this case, I am going to say Fiction.
If a composer needs a song f-a-s-t, I'm going to guess that he or she is going to enter it into a computer and play on a keyboard IF the composer is a contemporary composer and the show is primarily a rock show. I am open to be totally wrong on this, it just jumped out at me when I saw young Jeremy Jordan at a piano with staff paper and a pencil. Does any contemporary composer still use a pencil and piano? It just seemed so......Cole Porter.
Let's talk about nudity in a show.
3) First things first. Under our costumes actresses are butt naked. Fact or Fiction?
There are entire stores devoted to undergarments for the Broadway community. It is its own cottage industry. The idea that Ivy's costume could malfunction and underneath she would be completely naked was hilarious to me (and many of my friends). If that dress slid off like that you would be privy to garments including but not limited to: 1) A microphone held on by a special body stocking attached to her inner thigh, or on the small of her back, although frequently mic pacs are now hidden in wig caps, so okay, maybe no mic. 2) Spanx or a full of girdle 50's style (come on, she IS playing Marilyn Monroe), or at the VERY LEAST some kind of body stocking because she appears next "naked" in bed with JFK. No way would she be completely naked under that costume. No way.
4) If the producer and director wanted to keep the nude scene, they would appeal to the actress herself. Fact or Fiction?
Tough call on this, but I am going to say that they might have the initial conversation with the actress, but then everything would get thrown back to the agent and the General Manager for a re-negotiation. IF Ivy decided to do the nude scene, she would go back and try to get more money, or at the very least, additional compensation for "upkeep" which might include waxing and a gym membership to stay toned. You think I'm kidding? I have 5 actresses on speed dial who would confirm the laundry list of things they would ask for if they were suddenly going to appear naked 8 times a week onstage, especially if that decision happened after the initial negotiation. It would also have to go to the Actors' Union because a "nudity clause" would have to be added to the contract.
Have you wondered how it would impact the understudies? That was the first thing I thought about. Would the understudies have to do the nudity? Maybe not, but if, as in SMASH's case, if they suddenly saw an uptick of ticket sales based on the nudity, you can bet the understudies are going to feel a ton of pressure to do it.
Here is the official AEA language provided by my Deep Throat Company Manager friend: The understudy question is interesting because the AEA contract states that "Actor shall not appear nude or perform acts of a sexual nature in the course of a stage presentation unless the Actor has been advised and gives written consent by the time of the Actor's signing the contract." So you would have to negotiate with all the understudies too.
One has to ask. Again. Where are the agents? (And as a side note, I have to say I cracked up when Sam's agent called to tell him he wasn't performing the first preview as a swing.....that call would come from the stage manager.....so I was like, wait, SMASH, after 2 seasons you are finally having an agent call an actor and it's about the wrong thing? It isn't Ivy's agent calling about the renegotiation for the nudity? Wouldn't have that been a better and more interesting scene to see Ivy and her agent making a list of demands for her to do the nudity? Hilarious. But I digress....) Oh wait, and just to cover this, since we are on the subject of swings because I've heard from several of my swing friends about this....SMASH depicts being a swing as the lowest form of actor in a show, like they are bottom feeders, like a person would rather be unemployed that be a swing, and I think I speak for every actor who has swung a show when I say tacky, tacky, tacky. SMASH. Shame on you. By the way, for the up and coming actors reading this, being a swing is a great job. You get paid more money than anyone else in the chorus and you don't get burned out from playing the same chorus role over and over. Great job. Okay? Okay.
5) A number would be restaged at the last minute to include crawling through aisle seats. Fact or fiction.
My Deep Throat Company manager friend had a thought on why that was fiction: "They could never have the time to light the 2nd act number and there isn't a Producer in the world who is going to give up that many seats a night for a number. Maybe one or two but not 8 or 10 aisle seats! Jujamcyn has a policy of selling aisle seats at higher prices than regular orch seats and all of those seats would be premium locations. We're talking a reduced gross of $2-4k per show."
Let's move on to "Opening Night" I only have a couple of observations.
1) Reviews are written before opening night. Fact or Fiction?
Fact! Yes. They come the week before, not on opening night. I think we covered that in a prior post, but it bears repeating because I think it is interesting.
2) Other shows would be invited to the opening night performance? Fact or Fiction?
Fiction, and here is why. In my experience, the only way another cast--we're talking the entire cast-- would be invited to an opening night is if the show is produced by the same producing company. In that event, the entire cast might get invited, but usually they will only attend the party because they, themselves, have a performance at the same time. Why would a producer invite another show? Easy. Double dip on press. You send your currently running show cast down the red carpet with your newly opened cast and you get press for both shows. Right? Example: When I was doing Avenue Q we were invited to the In The Heights opening night party because they were both produced by The Producing Office. We brought the puppets for photo ops.
Deep Throat Company Manager said this: "Usually no one but investors, guests of company members, staff, agents and celebs get invited. If they are playing a huge house They might invite the cast of a show the same producers are involved in. Highly unlikely that Hit List would be invited except that Derek is the choreographer of record on the show and he might have pitched it to Eileen."
I still say doubtful because all that Eileen has done for the last two episodes is complain that Hit List is getting better press than her so THE VERY LAST THING she would want is Hit List any where NEAR her show.
Final question. (Whew this has been a long one. I hope you all had snacks to get you through).
4) So much talk about the New York Times. Is it really true that a show will close without a great New York Times review?
Yes, a NYT review is important, and can seriously impact things like word of mouth and Tony nominations. Is it CRITICAL? No. Many shows currently running on Broadway (including the current juggernauts The Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia) got a lukewarm review from the NYT, yet ran because of, who knows why, but I'd guess good timing and great advertising.
On the flip side, if I tried to list the number of shows that got a rave in the NYT, but went on to close, my Wordpress page would crash. Many, many great shows close. Many mediocre shows run. Why? Eileen has it right, it's all the way the game is played by the producer.
Before I let you all go, a couple of quick housekeeping things from me, Sharon Wheatley, author of this blog.
First of all, I'd like to invite you all to my first-ever solo show (which isn't a solo show because I have excellent, excellent back up singers). It is one night only Wednesday, May 15th at 9:30pm at 54 Below. Please join me. If you like this blog, you'll like this show. Buy tickets now, it is selling out. Click here!
Second of all, I apologize for the delays. My husband and children and I are moving to California and our life has been a zoo. Speaking of zoos, if you are in the Houston area, my show Avenue Zoo opens in mid June and runs through the summer at The Houston Zoo. I am running a half marathon this weekend (woo hoo!) and then going straight to Houston for casting, so do not expect my next blog until Thursday of next week. I hope you understand, friends.
Until next time,