SMASH Fact or Fiction? Episode Two. Callback.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to SMASH Fact or Fiction?, the game show where we look at the show bizzy details of the TV show SMASH and ask the hard question FACT or FICTION.  If you are wondering why we are making such a big deal about a TV show, you obviously didn’t read my post called Why SMASH Matters.  So,  some homework for you.  Last week we had our first game show about the pilot episode of SMASH (go here to play) and while I thought about 5 people might play along, the truth is, our numbers were so through the roof and people had so much fun, we knew we had to continue.  And by “we” I mean “me” and I am not sure why I am talking like I am a corporation, although I like to think of this blog post as a giant game show with a support staff and prizes and an audience and flashing lights and a catchy theme song.  Even though the reality is,  it is me on my couch in my pajamas with a lit candle listening to Enya.

I don’t really listen to Enya (except in the bathtub, because Enya is required music for bathing worldwide.)

So here we are.  EPISODE TWO Fact or Fiction? 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.

I will start with an observation.

I told you I am 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.  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.

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)  There are numerous auditions and callbacks for a show at all hours of the night and day, and actors are just expected to go to show up, learn a ton of material and not get paid for any of it in the hopes  they land the role.  Fact or Fiction?

Okay, this is going to be debated, but I am going to call this one FACT.  (Before you guys at Actors’ Equity Association the union behind actors get all mad at me, allow me to explain.)

There is a rule though the actors union and reads like this (this is directly from the public section of the AEA website):

(ii) Auditions and/or readings, excluding initial interviews/auditions, shall be limited to four in number for an Equity performer and said performer shall be compensated at the rate of one-eighth of minimum salary for each reading and/or audition over four, to which the performer is called. The above numerical limitations and payment shall not be applicable to recognized stars or top featured performers.

I am not challenging this rule.  It is a rule that exists and was hard fought for by our union.  What it means for SMASH is if they see the girls more than 4 times, they’d have to pay them roughly…one eighth of a workshop salary (which is the contract they are auditioning for) which would be roughly….I’d say…$50?

What I am saying, and the reason I am calling it FACT, is because very few people would want to be the squeaky wheel that asks for this money when you are trying to get a job.  Yes, some people do it, and some agents are good at asking for the money (as one friend said, “WHERE ARE THESE GIRLS’ AGENTS??”), and some ethical producers might give the money without being asked for it.  But that is NOT the norm.  More insight from the same friend, “Whenever I’m explaining to civilians what an agent does, I say that you pay an agent 10% of everything you make to be the bad guy for you. He acts selfish and ambitious and heartless for you so that you can just worry about the “art”… Or least appear to. ”

I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how many auditions they’ve had (the highest I heard was 17 auditions for one show) and how they would never even think to ask for money.  So yes, I call it a FACT.

 2)  A person can audition one on one without anyone else in the room.  Fact or Fiction?

FACT.  If I am wrong, tell me, but I could not find a rule stating that a third party had to be in the room.  This is not a male OB/GYN with a patient who needs a nurse present so he isn’t sued for indecent behavior.  This is an audition.  I think one on one is okay.

Is it normal?

No.

Especially not in an audition for a musical because there is always going to be a pianist, and in any audition, one has to ask where the casting agent is.  Normally in an audition there are at least two people auditioning you, a casting director and someone on the project, like the director or their assistant.  Very, very rare to be one on one.  The “acting callbacks” where the hotty British director was working with the girls were probably called “work sessions” and these are also normal.  Frequently as you get close to a big project you go in for a “work session” with the director or musical director, so they can prep you for the audition before the final callback.  Were there lines crossed in the episode?  Yep.  Was it good TV?  Yep.  Would it happen just like that in real life?  Nope.  Would a director of that caliber take the time to introduce the girls?  Nope.

3)  It is normal to teach an entire production number for an audition, complete with back up dancers, props and moving set pieces.  Fact or Fiction?

FICTION.  I had to call in a friend who is a dancer to weigh in on this, because I know choreographers sometimes have work sessions to try out new choreography with their favorite dancers, but that isn’t what this is.  My dancer friend’s view, “Those dancers wouldn’t be there. They are clearly LEARNING the combo in the audition- who are they? They wouldn’t be there. ALSO- the DIRECTOR would NEVER be running a dance call!”  Let me explain her last comment, “the director would never be running a dance call”.  Even though he is the director and choreographer, he would have an assistant teaching and running the dance call.  A Broadway director/choreographer is way to fancy to do get up and teach the steps.  He would just sit and judge and make those girls horrifically nervous.

4)  When you get a job, it is a-okay to announce it at a club on the very same day you get an offer.  Fact or Fiction?

FICTION.  Here’s what my dancer friend said (and she is much more than a dancer, but we’ll stick to that label because it is easy):  “Ivy wouldn’t tell anyone about the job offer right away other than those very close to her and she would be sure to tell them to keep their trap shut. That announcer at the club at the end wouldn’t say she just landed a new gig. She still doesn’t have the official offer. Unless she’s just an idiot and didn’t care.”

So what is an official offer?  An official offer is an offer that comes in writing and (usually) comes through your agent.  An official offer is not an offer that comes through your composing friend in a basement somewhere. But that brings us to:

5)  It is okay for people from the creative team, who are friends of the auditioning actor, to tell the actor they got the job.  Fact or fiction?

FACT.  I actually had this happen.  I found out about one of the Broadway shows I was auditioning for during my haircut.  My cell phone rang and it a dear friend who was on staff with the show.  She said she’d asked permission to be the one to call and tell me I’d gotten the job.  Happiest haircut ever.

6)  “Bernie” was on the phone talking about casting and he is a real person.  Fact or fiction?

FACT.  Bernie Telsey is a top casting director in New York City and is (incestuously) also the casting director of the TV show SMASH.  This was a very fun moment for all of us NYC actor-types.  I mean, what can be wrong with a TV show where Angelica Houston is yelling at Bernie Telsey?  Heaven.

(For the next post in the SMASH series, go here.)

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About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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5 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction? Episode Two. Callback.

  1. Jessica Cogan says:

    Lovin' these, Sharon! It brings a nice extra level for those of us not in the know. As you very rightly mention, it's a drama not a documentary, ergo Ivy's one-on-one audition was a plot device. Like THAT isn't gonna come back and bite her in the ass! Unless she likes it that way…. ;-)

  2. TLT says:

    Yea! Love it! Good TV and fun for me to watch from my hospital bed in the middle of nowhere. I love this game : )

  3. Mark says:

    I am reading your every post from here on out. Thank you for the fantastic commentary.

  4. sswheatley says:

    Most of the comments and conversations are happening on my Facebook page, so go here to read more feedback https://www.facebook.com/sharon.wheatley

  5. Leah says:

    RE: #3 – Knowing that it is almost 100% true that the director/choreographer wouldn't be running the audition, I have to say that once during my career I went to a chorus call that was actually run by the Queen Ann Reinking herself. She taught all the choreography with no assistant. It was only her all the way from the beginning of the call with over 300 women in attendance, to the final cut where we were whittled down to a mere 20. It had to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life as a dancer.

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