SMASH Fact or fiction? Episode 4 “The Cost of Art”

Happy Thursday and welcome to our fourth episode of SMASH Fact or fiction?  I always start with a small disclaimer, so please read the fine print.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to America’s favorite TV trivia game show. If you’ve missed the previous posts, check out Why Smash Matters and our first three game shows, for the pilot episode  episode two and episode three.  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.  If you can’t sing at least part of the song “Tomorrow”, you’re in the wrong place and should maybe try this 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 fourteen and might be a year’s supply of drinks to throw in your ex-husband’s face.

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.

First of all, let’s welcome Ann Harada to the cast of SMASH.  Ann is the original Christmas Eve in Avenue Q and she plays Linda the stage manager for the workshop in this week’s episode.  It is always fun to look up and see a friend on the TV.  Yay Ann!

Now.  Let’s talk about behavior in rehearsal.

1)  All musical theater actors are either catty and mean or overly friendly.  Fact or fiction?

Fiction.  As a friend pointed out, where are all the tired and over it people?  There isn’t a jaded character actress in site, and they are gold standard in any rehearsal room.  True, true.

But let’s dig deeper and get into specific behavior, shall we?

Catty and mean behavior.  Does it happen?  ABSOLUTELY.  Actors can be some of the nastiest people on earth, and to add to the fun, we are notoriously cliquey.  Generally speaking, the younger the actor, the more this behavior surfaces.  Since Marilyn the Musical is made up of a cast of entirely young actors, it is totally believable that this kind of gross ostracizing of Karen might happen.  And hey–I am not saying that there aren’t horribly jaded cliquey older actors out there–I am just saying it is more prevalent in younger actors.  Older actors usually fall into the tired and jaded category where they save their energy to complain.  I have fallen into all of these categories at various points in my life and have been in Broadway shows full of these characters, so I feel like enough an authority to say it even though other actors might think I am being harsh.  Sorry, it’s true, we can be catty and jaded and cliquey. Here’s the thing I missed in SMASH, generally speaking, all of that jaded and catty behavior would be well hidden from anyone important in the room.  When the director or the producer is nearby, everyone is all smiles and best friends.  This leads me to…

The flip side.  Actors can be overly friendly.  It is 100% normal for actors to meet on the first day of rehearsal and within (I’m not kidding you) 5 minutes, you will hear two total strangers say “I LOVE you!!!” and then hug.  Totally normal.  Usually they’ve bonded over something monumental like having the same cell phone case.  It doesn’t take much.  Okay, now I think this is a really fun thing about being an actor, but I can see that other people would find it unsettling and odd.  I find it unsettling and odd when I am somewhere other than in a rehearsal room and people do weird things like take time to know each other.  It takes forever to make friends in the civilian world.  We don’t have that kind of time, our show might only last for a couple of weeks and then we are off to a new group of people.

2)  Musical theater performers travel in groups, sit on each others laps and talk loudly in sentences that end in exclamation points!!  Fact or fiction? 

Fact.  I mean, not exclusively, but as a general rule, yes, I have to admit it is pretty true. It is hard to admit this, but my one of my non-actor friends (yes, I have a few non-actor friends) tells me this is absolutely true.  Pretty embarrassing.

3) It is perfectly acceptable for an unknown star of a show to call the shots regarding who is in a dance number and who isn’t.  Fact or Fiction?

Fiction.

Let’s talk about this for a second.  Okay, I am going to say to you that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable and even the biggest star would NEVER pull the kind of crap Ivy was pulling in rehearsal and get away with it.  Complain that someone is singing so loudly that you can’t perform unless they are removed entirely?  No way.  My husband is working on Evita right now and he said that even the biggest star in the show, Ricky Martin, would never get away with that kind of diva behavior.  Okay, but then a friend said that Mario Lopez had guys moved to the back row of A Chorus Line if they had a chest that was bigger than his…..so maybe it does happen.  Honestly?  I am going to come down in the middle of this.  My feeling is that IF a star wants to get their way, they aren’t going to throw a disruptive diva fit.  It would be more insidious and passive aggressive, especially if said actor is sleeping with the director.  It would be a post coital conversation with lots of sentences that start with “You know what kind of bugs me?”  Or “Have you noticed how…”.

That said, my guess is this is all part of the build up to can Ivy.  So let’s just keep watching and see.

4)  Actors give each others makeovers and sing together at clubs.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  First let’s talk makeovers.  At one point in my life, I dropped a lot of weight and totally changed my look and my type.  I was suddenly going in for all the “pretty girl” parts and had formerly been more of a character actress.  I literally didn’t know how to dress or do my make up or what to sing, and I will report that several of my best friends swooped in and taught me.  They really did go through my closet.  They did my makeup.  They taught me what to sing.  These were all women I would now be “competing” against and rather than trying to trip me up, they helped.  So I give the “makeover” part a rating of “fact”.  I really wanted to call foul on the singing together at clubs, but again, a friend weighed in and said this absolutely happens.  Exactly what she said was, “I mean, it isn’t any thing YOU or I would do, Sharon, but there is absolutely a crowd of Broadway actors out there who really do go to cabaret clubs and sing at open mic nights.”  Full disclosure, I have done it a couple of times as an invited guest, but I wouldn’t go just for fun.  But of course, I have two kids and need my sleep.  So there you go.

One final editor’s note:  Actors can be really nice people and many of us land somewhere between jaded and overly! enthusiastic!  But no matter what, we are always entertaining, we tell a good story, and you absolutely want us on your team in a game of celebrity.

Thanks for playing!  See you next week!  If you like this and think your friends might like it, feel free to share it.  No pressure, just fun.

(To read the next post in this series, go here)

About Sharon Wheatley

Mother of Charlotte and Beatrix. Sometimes an actress. Sometimes a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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3 Responses to SMASH Fact or fiction? Episode 4 “The Cost of Art”

  1. David Cleveland says:

    Maybe it's the nouveau Diva that wouldn't pull stuff. Michael Crawford, Yul Brenner and Betty Buckley have HORRIBLE reputations….. my lawyer says to add "allegedly"!

  2. Pauline says:

    Totally agree that they need more jaded characters and just more "characters" in general. Karen is soooo dull as is the girl who's currently playing Marilyn (and you're right, she would have been much more devious in getting her rival cut). What I remember about being in musical theater was the level of neuroticism. Every show I did had at least one crazy person in it. Where are the oddballs? These people all seem so Midwestern?

    Do agree about the makeovers (underwent those). And when I was in my 20's, I was an open mic fanatic, so that seemed very real to me.

    My favorite characters are the composer and lyricist, they seem the most on to me (followed by the Producer and the lovely Brian D'Arcy James). I hope they get a couple more people with "angles"

  3. nkirchmar says:

    Well I can agree with some of this.

    Being on tour, I was the lowest of the low on the food chain of a Broadway tour. I was the Merchandise Manager. When I was hired, I was flown to Atlanta, handed a packet upon my arrival to theater had to find a hotel (It was the middle of Freak-nik) Only to find 1/2 the Theatre burned the night before opening and they were postponing the show a few nights, which was good as I had food poisoning. I can say that the shower at the Peachtree Hotel, was the most amazing shower I have ever experienced in my life… Even to this day!! It was amazing.

    Anyway, once I got to Phantom… I felt like I was thrown into a pool of sharks and I was the little guppy. Nobody really talked to me etc. Some people even looked at me as if I was something stuck on the bottom of their shoe. Eventually I made friends and got to know people and was included in the group and events and I helped to organize the BCEFA cabarets and they let me sing and it was awesome! Then, just like that, I was sent to do a hostile take over of another show and basically got flown to NYC picked up a Ryder Truck loaded with Merch and had to drive with a total stranger to San Jose in 5 days. Cross Country and the truck had a governor set to a max of 56 mph.

    Once we got to San Jose we sat in the Parking lot of the theater for basically 2 days until the takeover was complete and talk about a cold reception. It took basically over a month until some cast members even said hello to us. We were the bad guys. Eventually, it all worked out and the tour was great. Then once again I was sent back to Phantom… but the "other" company, not my original one. It was awful and many of the cast would have nothing to do with me. Christmas 1998 was the worst ever… they had a potluck dinner on the 24th and everyone, I mean everyone was invited. except me. I flew to NYC the next day (christmas), interviewed with another company and when I got back I had a voicemail offering me the job. I called my boss and gave my 4 week notice. (I hated leaving them, but I could not be on this tour not being included as part of the company etc.) I mean I was not even handed the packets for the next city, I basically had to beg for them.

    Ok once again I have used your comments as a personal blog space and I apologize. But yes, people can be mean and catty not only to fellow actors, but to crew and the like. I can say one thing, everybody was sweet to me when they wanted to buy merchandise for friends etc. It was also my way of getting a little revenge. One person who was particularly nasty (I actually over heard her in a dressing room talking about me) needed a dozen Phantom picture frames… She came to me and said she had to have them for something and basically I told her it would be a week (I had them) but I made her wait, because I could. So she got them with hours to spare a week later and was flustered. I told her to maybe give a little more notice the next time she needed a large order and to be careful when she was speaking because you never know who might be around the corner. (because I was trying to make friends and give good customer service, I would deliver their merch orders and that was how I overheard her). Needless to say, she was nice to me until I left the tour.

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