SMASH Fact or Fiction Episode 7 “The Workshop”

Happy Thursday and welcome to the seventh episode of SMASH Fact or fiction?  Welcome to all you new readers, please take a moment to read the game rules before activating your buzzers.

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 four game shows, for the pilot episode  episode two episode three episode four, episode five and episode six.  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 three which will be opened by Bernadette Peters.

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.

This episode of SMASH featured several people running late or leaving rehearsal.  Let’s break it down.

1)  Everyone in New York City runs late because of the subway.  Fact or fiction?

Fiction, although it is an absolute FACT that the excuse “The trains are all messed up” works like a get out of jail free card in Monopoly.  No matter what the reason is that you are late, the fastest and easiest thing to say is, “I got stuck on the train.”  Now, if you are lying and you are actually late for some other reason, you’d better be careful and not name a specific subway line.  For example, if you say, “Oh man, sorry there is something wrong with the A train” and someone else is there who was just ON the A train….you’re busted.  Keep it vague.  “The trains are messed up” is the best way to go.  Also good?  “Like an idiot, I thought taking a cab would be faster.  Should have taken the train.”  Sometimes a cab can be the way to go, and it is your impulse if you are running late, but most of the time your best bet is to get on the train and not risk running into hideous traffic.  This tip is especially important in the rain.

Now, in reality, if you walk into a rehearsal late and you say, “Sorry I’m late, the trains are messed up.” will you always get a free pass?  No.  It depends on the mood of the stage manager.

And just because it made me chuckle, a follow up question.

1A) People get stuck in elevators. Fact or fiction?

Fact (obviously) but I haven’t ever heard it used as an excuse to be late to rehearsal.  I might file it away for later use.  My favorite thing about it was that no one seemed to care at all or even say, “which one?” or “For how long?”.  It cracked me up.

2) If the pianist is late for rehearsal Bernadette Peters shows up and sings “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”?  Fact or Fiction.

Seriously, who can fault a show that has Bernadette Peters singing a musical theater song in prime time on a major network.  Thrilling.  Please add this to the list of “Why Smash Matters“.  I now expect her to show up and sing at my next rehearsal because I would like this to be a fact.

Let’s talk about some workshop details.

3)  Famous people come to performances of workshops and readings.  Fact or fiction?

Fact, and it is really fun.  These performances are almost always by invitation only and sometimes (frequently) actors do not get to invite anyone because the seats have to go to important “industry” people.  Anyone can get a seat to a Broadway show, but a seat to a promising reading or workshop (like the Marilyn show in SMASH) would be a very hot and hard to get ticket (and the tickets are free, in case you are wondering).  Famous producers, directors, other famous actors, high power agents, and casting directors are all in attendance.  They are often a one shot deal (as we saw in SMASH) although sometimes there are numerous performances.  (This depends on whether it is a “workshop” or a “reading”.)

4)  A workshop takes place in a rehearsal studio.  Fact or fiction?

I’m on the fence about this, but I will call it a FACT and just add that most workshops actually take place in a small theater.  I am not an expert on this, but my guess is if they are going to sink this much money into it and do one performance they’d want as many butts (with wallets) in the seats as possible and a rehearsal room would be too small.  On the other hand, the lower budget “readings” frequently (and usually) happen in a rehearsal studio and look exactly like the scene in SMASH (minus Anjelica Huston pounding her way into the boiler room).

5)  Actors watch who is coming in and everyone speculates about what “star name” could play the lead.  Fact or fiction?

Fact and fact.  We all watch and talk about who is coming in.  Last year I did a reading of a show, had a short conversation with a guy and later found out it was James Lapine.  I am an idiot when it comes to identifying famous people unless it’s like…Julia Roberts or George Clooney.  My friend was appalled.  I was secretly happy because if I’d realized who I was talking to I probably would have been nervous.  So there you go.

We do all like to talk about what star names could play a part, but the funny thing is that very often readings are packed with star power because of the small time commitment (29 hour maximum for a reading).  I could list stars who performed in readings and never actually appeared in the show, but my favorite was a big reading that happened a few years ago when a famous actress married to a much more famous actor (his name might rhyme with Com Bruise) did a reading of a new musical (I can’t remember which show it was) and she was terrible.  (She can’t sing, although I hear she was very nice).  She was eventually replaced, as I recall, and with a much less famous but more talented singer/actress.  Others:  The very talented and adorable Evan Pappas did all the readings of THE PRODUCERS before being replaced by Matthew Broderick.  Sensational Stephanie J. Block did all the readings of WICKED before being replaced by Idina Menzel. On the flip side, Jane Krakowski (from 30 Rock) did the workshop of XANADU although Kerry Butler played the role on Broadway.  Bea Arthur was Mrs. Meers in an early Millie workshop with Kristin Chenoweth as Millie.  Ultimately Harriet Harris and a young and unknown Sutton Foster played the roles respectively.

Fun fact.  Brian Darcy James did every reading in town for a number of years and was jilted over and over again.  He now plays the jilted husband of Debra Messing on SMASH.  He got a part and is making the big bucks.  I like it.

6)  Directors and producers read Broadway chat boards.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  Duh.  But they will claim they don’t.

And for my least favorite quote of the night (and dear SMASH please stop railing on chorus performers.)

7)  People in the ensemble “turn down the wattage and can’t turn it back up again.”  Fact or fiction?

Fiction.  It is very rare to be a performer who is “always in the chorus” or a performer who “always plays the lead”. People move back and forth depending on the show.  Yes, absolutely, there are people who do more chorus work (I would fall into that category) but there are a lot of friends of mine who straddle both.  I am not trying to say that there isn’t a special zip to certain performers–I remember when I saw Kristen Chenowith in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and it was absolutely apparent that this girl had something special.  No doubt.  It was palpable.  That is what they want for Marilyn and while I understand and appreciate it, I wish they’d stop taking swings at the chorus.  Lots of people do both chorus parts and play principal roles.

Thanks for playing!

(For the next SMASH post, 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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13 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction Episode 7 “The Workshop”

  1. Debbie says:

    Love your blog! I'm wondering about this epi and the fact that Derek kept telling Ivy she was "off her game". What was your take on that? I honestly did find something… lacking… that was always there in rehearsals. I couldn't put my finger on it, but her performance seemed to be ratcheted down a few notches.

  2. Drabengi says:

    I was hoping that Ivy and her mom would sing an impromptu, off -the-cuff, angry/ tender duet in the bedroom. Bernadette Peters looks great; so I wonder if Derek will come on to her.

  3. J-Man says:

    "Seriously, who can fault a show that has Bernadette Peters singing a musical theater song in prime time on a major network." .

    8) NBC is still a major network. FICTION.

    Oh, and his name is spelled Brian d'Arcy James.

  4. Rachel says:

    Love Fact or Fiction each week!! Oh, Smash got renewed for another season by the way!!!

  5. Allison C says:

    I just love this blog! Two (maybe nit-picky) things that jumped out at me in this week's episode:

    1) when Actor Friend marched Karen up to the stage manager and said "Karen needs to leave for an hour or two" and the stage manager gave her the go-ahead. Does Karen get out of rehearsal the day before the workshop? Maybe, but it seems unlikely. Does the stage manager release her without checking with the creative team? No way. (I also would like to know where that stage manager's ASM or PA have been this whole time!)

    2) when Julia was dragged back into the room by Derek to have her listen to something in the book wasn't working. I have never seen this happen on a new piece, not with actors in the room. Re-writes happen after/before rehearsals, or, if the creative team wants to talk about something in the book that isn't working during a rehearsal, they'd leave the room or call a break to talk about it, right? I assume this is for the actors' sake.

    • sswheatley says:

      I actually wrote a whole thing about people leaving rehearsal the day before a performance and was going to get all up on my high horse about it, but I left it out and I will tell you why. This whole time SMASH is straddling something between a reading and an actual workshop and the rules about missing rehearsal would vary. People miss rehearsals for readings all the time and it wouldn't be odd for an actor to miss a couple of hours. Not that anyone would love it, but it can happen. Generally speaking people know readings are not well paid and temporary employment at that, so if another opportunity comes up (an audition, for example), people try to accommodate it. If it were a workshop (I haven't done one) I would guess it would be harder to get out. Also for the lyricist to just walk out? Probably not….but great TV (I loved the scene with her son). Would the director have the script read out loud like that? Again, good TV.

      • Allison C says:

        Yes — the whole thing feels more like a workshop (definitely more involved than a 29 hour reading), except that they keep referring to how much money everyone is not making.

        I PA'd a four week workshop last September and on two different days, two different members of the company were excused, ironically, so they could go shoot an episode of SMASH.

        And I totally agree that all of the above makes for good TV! I guess that's what's more important than a lot of this. I was simultaneously groaning when Bernadette Peters started singing (because that would never happen) and also completely loving that it was happening.

  6. Jeff S says:

    WHOA! We left out the most obviously questionable moment in the show…Sharon, perhaps you can reply to this?

    8) Upon visiting you mid-rehearsal, Rob would put your youngest daughter down, and allow her to run into your arms mid-scene…? Fact or Fiction? Love to hear your thoughts about family visiting rehearsals, versus family visiting backstage during a run…etc…. :)

  7. Avery says:

    Hi :) I heard about your SMASH recaps on another website & am enjoying them very much. Thank you for writing them! I know this is a tv show and not meant to be representative of the reality of theatre but I was wondering what you thought about the firing of Michael? It left a bad taste in my mouth. Julia had every right to end the affair and frankly, Michael's reactions to Julia breaking it off gave me the creeps. However, the firing just seemed to me like a petty power play and I wonder if it's going to come back to bite her?

  8. SmashFan says:

    "…plays the jilted husband of Debra Messing…". Worse than jilted. Cuckolded. (And why? I just don't see the chemistry between Messing's character and her lover.)

  9. toscaskiss32 says:

    Though this is old, just need to correct the spelling of Kristin Chenoweth's name (it's not unusual to get one or the other of her names wrong; you managed both, which is also not at all unusual–not a slam on your much appreciated endeavors here, just setting that spelling straight).

    J-Man already set the record straight on spelling for the fabulous Brian D'Arcy James' name.

    Also, I agree with Jeff S about the moment with the wife and kids barging in and disrupting rehearsal mid-scene. That's the kind of unnecessary inaccuracy that annoys me so on SMASH. Dramatically, for the good of an entertaining TV show, they could have done better by making that scene more realistic and still achieving their dramatic plot-line goals. The ridiculousness jarred me out of the scene.

  10. Iris says:

    Can I just say that I absoluty LOVE your blog and the Smash Fact or Fiction cracks me up big time?! So. Much. Win!

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