Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to round three of SMASH Fact or Fiction, America’s favorite TV trivia game show. If you’ve missed the previous posts, check out Why Smash Matters and our first two game shows, for the pilot episode and episode two. 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. This is all in fun and support. If you can’t sing at least part of the song “Tomorrow”, you’re in the wrong place and should maybe try this instead.
Let’s talk quickly about about the buzz around SMASH, that the numbers are dropping, that it hasn’t found it’s footing, whatever. I’ve read it all. Be patient. The pilot was shot 6 months (at least) before the second episode, and it takes a minute for everything to settle. From what I’ve read, episode four is spectacular and really gets the series off and running. So there you go. Keep watching. That’s an order.
That said, 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 seven and is not tickets to Bruno Mars at LaMama.
Here we go.
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) To get a show to Broadway, writers do a rehearsal period and performance called a “workshop” and that is the same as a “reading”. Fact or fiction?
Fiction. Yes, the majority of the time writers present their works at various points for feedback, to hear it out loud, to get money from backers, to try to land a theater who will produce it. But, a reading and a workshop are two different animals.
Let me break it down for you because SMASH is combining the two, although they are calling it a “workshop”. There are some pretty major differences between the two, and they have to do with two things that all of us Broadway types really care about
2) Right of refusal.
Let’s break it down point by point.
PAYMENT. In the episode, the number $200 a week is batted around pretty regularly as the payment for the workshop. To my ears that sounded really low. Thanks to my friend Brian Myers Cooper who is an Actors Equity Association National Council Member (that means he’s on the elected council of the actors union and is responsible for knowing this stuff), I have this information at my finger tips. Here’s what Brian said:
A commercial producer using the Workshop Contract has to pay $595 for a five day week or $714 for a six day week, plus a piece of the profits down the line. $200 is a little off.
I wanted to know what “a piece of the profits down the line” meant, so I researched further. According to the Actors Equity website: (**You can skip this if you just want a summary, but some people might find this interesting so I will put it in) In addition to the salary the Actors earn during the Workshop sessions, they also earn a share in the future success of the show. For their contributions to the development of the show, the Actors share in contingent compensation that takes two forms. First, the Actors share in the weekly box office gross when the show is produced under contract; that is, the Actors as a group share a percentage (usually 1%) of the gross box office receipts. However, the percentage of gross receipts may increase when there is more than one session of the Workshop. Equity determines each Actors share based on the number of days/weeks that the Actor participated in the Workshop.
There are minimum royalty payments required when a so-called Royalty Pool is established, based on the contract used for the production.
Actors also share in any subsidiary rights income which is generated by the play. For example, subsidiary rights income can come from royalties from foreign productions, stock and amateur rights, or from the sale of motion picture rights. The Actors’ share of subsidiary rights is usually 1.5% of net receipts.
***Summary? In a workshop you get a cut of the future profits. Granted it’s a split of 1%, but still, it’s something. You also get a cut if it goes international or they sell it as a movie.
Additionally, you get health insurance weeks for a workshop. Always a bonus.
Therefore I conclude this. Katharine McPhee the waitress might need some health insurance weeks and would make MORE money doing the workshop than as a waitress in a coffee shop.
RIGHT OF FIRST REFUSAL. In a workshop you get right of first refusal. Let me explain via the Equity website language (***again I will summarize, but this one is shorter). Those Actors who complete the Workshop must also be offered employment to perform the same role or function in the first subsequent production of the play under a standard Equity contract, or they must be offered no less than four weeks’ minimum salary under the appropriate Equity contract.
****Summary? You become part of the show if it moves to a “real” production, and if they decide they don’t want you, they have to pay you out at 4 weeks salary of the new contract (so that is about $7500 if it is going to Broadway).
New hotty Will Chase (Joe Dimaggio) is concerned about the cash and is talked into doing the workshop by his wife, and I have to challenge this. He’s been working at LaMama (how much can that possibly pay?), he is concerned the pay is so low for the workshop, but in reality, any actor with half a brain knows that all great roles happen in a workshop setting. You have to suffer through the lower pay of a workshop in order to be attached to the project as it moves forward. Period. A workshop is a big deal and all the shiny people sign on to do them. So, this is all pretty bogus.
That said, if it was a READING of a new musical, which is what it seems like everyone is talking about as they discuss money (the waitress in the coffee shop, the wife), it would be much more believable. Readings are a dime a dozen, you get basically no pay for a week’s work (they are called “29 hour readings” meaning the rehearsal is limited to 29 hours in a week.) They are supposed to be done without any choreography or memorization, so they are “script in hand”. They cost very little money to do–so they are done all the time–and the actor gets no rights as the show moves forward, nor do they get any cut from future box office receipts. As Brian said, A staged reading is $100, a Metro card and a bottle of water.
Actors do a lot of readings to stay in the loop, get to know up and coming composers and–let’s face it–so they can say they are doing something. It’s a great gig between shows, especially if Uncle Sam is funding you with a little unemployment check. My score card is this: I’ve done a lot of readings, but I pretty much limit myself to one a year because of the massive childcare cost for me. I’ve never done a workshop, but I would in a heartbeat.
2) The director, in his meeting with Katharine McPhee, says the show could take 5 years to get to Broadway. This is a true statement because it can take years to get the script and score ready and raise the money. Fact or fiction?
Fact. As an example, I will tell you that the Tony winning musical MEMPHIS took a rumored 12 years to get to Broadway from first reading to opening night.
3) All shows that have a workshop make it to Broadway. Fact or fiction?
Fiction, fiction, fiction. That’s like saying everyone who auditions for American Idol wins.
4) Saying “Chorus” instead of “Ensemble” is like saying “Garbageman” instead of “Sanitation Worker” AND someone can be “too talented” to be in the ensemble. Fact or fiction.
I’m not even giving this a fact or fiction, I just rate this as offensive. But then again, check my tax returns and 401K plans and pension. I’ve spent a lot of time in the chorus or ensemble or whatever you want to call it (I don’t care) and I’m plenty talented. So that’s my very personal take on it. The fact is, there are a lot more jobs in the chorus than there are starring in shows, so if you want to pay your rent and be in the business for a long time, you do chorus work at times. A great career includes a balance, because sometimes baby, you gotta pay the rent.
And with this, I must sign off. If you can believe it, I have an audition for a Broadway show (the very same show that I told you didn’t call me back–and it’s for a chorus part) and I have to get some sleep. I was also cast in a reading of a new musical (a lead), and now that you all know the difference between a reading and a workshop, you know I must really like the show to do it!
Thank you for joining me and come back next week. Keep watching SMASH!
(To read the next post, go here.)
(To read the next SMASH Fact or fiction? Go here.)