SMASH Fact or Fiction? (Come play along)

It's a game show!

It’s a game show!

Happy Wednesday! Did you watch SMASH?  Let’s continue with part two of my SMASH blog series.  If you missed yesterday’s post about Why Smash Matters, check that out, too.

So we all know SMASH is a TV show, and we’re excited to have a show about Broadway on TV.   Deep down we know it’s a fictional TV show an not a documentary.  But… a Broadway insider it’s enormous fun to talk about what is “real” and what isn’t.

Let’s get right to it, in a new segment I like to call:

SMASH  Fact or Fiction?  It’s a game show!  Everyone please pull out your buzzers and prepare.  The top scorer wins the prize behind door #2.

1)  In the opening scene, KMP (Katharine McPhee) is seen singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in a fantasy sequence.  She is snapped back to reality by the director taking a phone call during her audition and while she is singing.  Does that really happen?  Fact or Fiction?


More common is texting and checking of e-mail, which happens throughout an audition, but absolutely people answer their phone.  I have a friend who says they delivered lunch while she was singing.  I can add an onstage story–once when I was doing CATS, a group of people came back after intermission and sat down in their onstage seats (CATS on Broadway had onstage seats).  During Old Deuteronomy’s song–which is very quiet and starts the second act–they passed out the coffee and doughnuts they’d purchased down the street during intermission.  My favorite moment?  When one of the ladies kept saying, “Pass me one more Splenda.” to her friend four seats down, and then, “No, I got the jelly, not the glazed.”  Full voice.  Onstage.  While he was singing.  So yes.  We are trained like combat fighters.  We keep going no matter what.

Here’s my question about that scene, and it is for the performers out there.  Do you guys take all your stuff into auditions?  Like, they both had their bags with them, and they took off their coats in the room, etc.  I tend to leave mine in the hall and pray I won’t get robbed.  What do you do?

Here’s my observation of that scene.  She leaves the audition and slams the door.

Wouldn’t happen.  Never.  No way.  You slam a door at an audition and you are black listed from that casting office.  Yes, you immediately call and bitch about it to your spouse/significant other/agent but you don’t slam the door on the way out.  Actors worry way to much about pissing people off to do that.

2)  A massive apartment on Riverside drive, and an entire brownstone in (I’m assuming) Brooklyn?  Do theater writers make that much money?  Fact or Fiction?

The jury is out on this and here is why.  All we know so far is that they’ve had one big hit.  We can assume they’ve had more, but that looks more like TV money or Hollywood money, not really theater money unless you’ve had a long running hit.  Yes, Sondheim owns a brownstone in Gramercy Park and Sir Lloyd Webber owns Buckingham Palace (basically), but they’re very established and older and have written for TV and film.  So, we just don’t have enough information to answer this yet, although I loved a friend’s tweet about it (he’s an actor and a real estate agent), “So the young songwriter lives in a classic six on Riverside Drive? Hmmmm.”  We’re skeptical over here in Broadway land.  I’m calling it the “Friends” kind of New York living, where all living spaces are supersized for TV purposes.

Here’s my observation:  Kudos to the realistic depiction of the difference between how actors live and how “creative” people live.  Notice that Ivy (Megan Hilty) is on Broadway in a hit show, but she still has a dinky kitchen.  Notice how tricked out the director’s apartment is.  This is because people who create shows get “points” in the show (a percentage of the profits) so they make a bundle if the show is a hit.  Actors–except in rare instances–do not get points and live pay check to pay check, making minimum.  Thumbs up.  Accurate.

3)  Is it really like that backstage at a theater? Fact or Fiction?

Fiction.  I’ll point out three things.

1)  I don’t think you’re going to see a composer in the wings, especially in the way of the entrances and exits, during a show.

2)  That was a really nice chorus girl dressing room, particularly that it was painted that lovely pink.  They are usually a 60-year-old off white and the paint is peeling.  At the Golden when I was doing Avenue Q we begged to paint our room–said we’d do it ourselves–and we were denied.  I forget why.  Now, that said, some people (like Linda Balgord) make a dressing room fabulous, but that is a principal room (one person) and not a whole group.

3)  I don’t think the composer would come into a ladies dressing room in the middle of the show for a heart to heart with a chorus girl.  Too many boobs for a gay guy.

Here’s my observation:  None of the above bothered me at all.  It just made for good TV.

4)  Megan Hilty’s character Ivy does the demo recording and the “audition” baseball number without getting paid.  That seems like a lot of work for free.  Fact or Fiction?

Fact.  That just couldn’t be more factual.  The amount of work Broadway performers do for free in the hopes that they will then get taken along with the project is staggering.  If we do a “29 hour reading” of a show (which is 29 hours of rehearsal in a week with a presentation for financial backers at the end of the week) there is sometimes a very small stipend–read SMALL–I’m talking, they cover the cost of your subway fare.  Doing something called a “workshop” which is what they are casting in the first episode, pays slightly more money and gives you certain rights.

Here’s my observation:  I like that they made Ivy re-audition for the workshop even though she’d already put in so much work for free–I thought that was totally realistic.  Happens all the time.  In fact, I had to re-audition to get into the Broadway company of The Phantom of the Opera even though I’d been a “vacation swing” there for years (covering actor’s vacations).  By the way, I did not get the permanent job.

5)  KMP gets a call from the director late at night asking for a coaching session at his apartment, she is there in 20 minutes, and is supposed to sleep with him to get the job.  Does this really happen?  Is there a casting couch in theater?  Fact or Fiction?

This might be a controversial decision, but I am going to call this one fiction.

I’ve taken an informal poll of my nearest and dearest friends in the business and tried to cover a wide span of ages, genders and sexual orientations.  Not a single person I spoke to had ever heard of anyone getting a late night call DIRECTLY from the director of a show, and I could not find anyone who had even heard of someone sleeping with anyone to get a part.

Now look–I am not saying it doesn’t happen because (as my friend David said) “Men are dogs.” But even he couldn’t think of anyone.  Maybe one, was his final answer.  It is something people like to speculate about (“She probably slept with him to get this job.”) but the reality doesn’t seem to be there.  On a personal note, I will say that my during my very first performance of The Phantom of the Opera, which was on tour and we were in DenverI was accused of only getting the job only because my husband was the conductor of the show.  I remember distinctly saying to the guy, “The reality is I was cast because I fit in the $30,000 dress and they didn’t want to have to alter it.  I also think my previous Broadway show experience helped.  But that’s okay if you want to think that.”  I know I was snarky to him, but trust me when I say that he deserved it and he was always fairly respectful to me after that.

Here’s my observation:  I like that they showed Ivy throwing up before the audition–which I’ve never done, but I know others who have.  (try singing after that).  I also love that KMP didn’t sleep with him and said, “Never gonna happen.”  Great TV.

Final question:

6)  That whole segment where they were singing in the shower and singing in the cab and singing as they walked down the street, that was just cheesy TV stuff, right?  Fact or fiction.

Fact.  Absolutely fact.  David and I were talking tonight about how we warm up on the way to auditions; we sing in cabs, we sing walking down the street–and my personal favorite–I wait until a subway car is coming as I wait for the train and sing full out as it arrives.  I might look crazy but NO ONE can hear a thing when that subway is rolling to a stop.  Most embarrassing?  (And this happens all the time) Singing full out on an empty elevator just to find a crowded hallway of people who can hear you as the doors open.  Mortifying but necessary.  And pretty funny.

I’m going to stop here.  If you have other FACT or FICTION questions, let me know and I will do my best to find out.

I hope you liked the show, I loved it.  Hang in there with it–first episodes are notoriously hard to write because so much information has to be crammed in.  It will find it’s footing.  I promise.  Theresa Rebeck’s smart.

If this seems fun, I’ll write SMASH FACT OR FICTION after each new show.  Thanks for playing!

(For the next post, go here)

(For the next SMASH quiz, go here)







About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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11 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction? (Come play along)

  1. Babs says:

    Showing up "in costume" for an audition…would it actually be that common to see a hallway full of hopefuls all dressed as Marilyn? And the flip side of that…showing up dressed as the anti-Marilyn would get you noticed in a good way?

    • Nina says:

      Yes….for decades.

    • John says:

      In my experience in the business, for a project as potentially big and high-profile and this attention getting as this musical is supposed to be, a little more care would be taken in instructions for the audition. For instance, the (apparently non-existent) casting director would tell the agents submitting actors that the producers are not looking for a Marilyn impersonator but rather an actor who can honestly portray the PERSON Norma Jean/Marilyn, and most likely they would have specifically requested that the auditioners NOT come in full Marilyn regalia. The fact that virtually all of them did (except Karen) therefore suggested to me that they been told to come in costume, so then it made no sense that Derek was annoyed that they did, or that Karen didn't know she was supposed to. In general the audition didn't make much sense, to me.

  2. kathleen hendy says:

    From an actor's mother's perspective, I loved getting a bird's eye view of a "real" audition and am thoroughly enjoying your "fact" or "fiction" critique!

  3. Jen says:

    I have absolutely sung full voice while the A-train rolls in! I didn’t know anyone else did that!!

  4. nkirchmar says:

    You already know I love this and of course, for personal reasons cried my sick little eyes out. After watching it, I wished I had done things differently in my life at an earlier age and wished I had people who believed in me. I also wish that my family had not been so screwed up and that I lived in a fantasy bubble for most of my childhood. Anyway, maybe in my next life I will dance on Broadway.

    I can only assume I pissed a lot of people off in my time, as I am a big door slammer when mad. That was the only way to get attention in my house, well that and the fact that after I slammed said door, I would crawl out of my bedroom window and catch the bus into downtown Denver and wander the streets. I was 12 or 13 at the time. After cooling off, I would call home (Even though we did not have cell phones, we never left our house without at least phone money) tell my Mom where I was, apologize and then go to the Denver Center and wait at the stage door or dance in the atrium area or sing at the top of my lungs on the parking garage.

    I apologize, I am using your comments to post my own blog observations. Forgive me. But yes, I slammed a lot of doors and I burned a lot of bridges. all, of which I regret.

  5. hannah says:

    My favorite part was that she magically made it to the director's apartment in 20 mins…she must have gotten dressed and done her make up on the express train. :)

  6. Farah says:

    Hey! I'm going to contest a few of your answers, my friend. I agree the backstage situation is fictional because of the beautiful wall color and gorgeous lighting in the dressing room and also because where are the wig caps? Everyone looks like a shriveled up mole wearing fake eyelashes backstage in a real show. But as for the composer being in the wings and/or the dressing room during the show, happened at NINE on Bway. All the time.

    Also, I really do know two people who became involved with the producer and the director of a show, respectively (two different shows). One absolutely admitted to me in confidence she began the relationship to get the job. But in both of these instances, there wasn't like an exchange of goods, sex for a part. It was a little more strategic and longer term. I don't think it happens like it suggested on the show but I ABSOLUTELY believe the casting couch happens. That said, there's a lot more gay men and gay sex involved, just proportionately. So far, there's not enough gay people on the show. That's not factual.

  7. sswheatley says:

    Most of the comments and conversations are happening on my Facebook page, so go here to read more feedback

  8. Jean-Paul says:

    Response to #5. In the 1970's, there was a"famous" director who used to have "callbacks" at night in his apartment, just for females, of course. He slept with many of them until two of them blew the whistle on him when they refused his advances. I believe the director in SMASH is based on this creep.

  9. David says:

    $30,000 dress? Which costume in Phantom is that?

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