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 and episode five. 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 and might be a year’s supply of steroids.
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.
1) It is normal and expected to arrive at rehearsal and get new “pages” for your script. Fact or fiction?
Fact. The process of developing a new show is sort of like playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. One minute a scene is there, the next minute it’s gone. Re-writes, changes, additions, subtractions are all par for the course. They are absolutely expected, especially if you are doing a new show, and changes can happen every day up until the point when the show is “frozen”, which is usually in time for the critics to come. Fun fact, you probably think the critics come on opening night, right? Actually critics come during the final performances of the “preview” period right before the show opens. (P.S. Spiderman is the exception to almost everything I just wrote, but that is for another blog.)
One of my very favorite stories about last minute changes comes from Tony Award Winning actress, Joanna Gleason, who told a story about doing the short-lived show Nick and Nora on Broadway. There were a slew of changes, which often happens when a show is in trouble, and one night Joanna (who was playing Nora) came in and found out she had an entirely new SONG (not just new lyrics) and they wanted to put it into the show that night. Joanna agreed to it, but said they had to create a way that she could have the lyrics onstage with her as she was singing it, so they created a bunch of hat boxes that were stacked around her. As she sang the song she would open the boxes and viola! The lyrics were inside. So for all the naysayers who think a director might not say, “Hey, let’s try this song without holding the pages” even though the actors had just received the music like Ivy and Michael had–I’m here to tell you–it happens. The phrase “Make it work” applies not only to Project Runway, but also to theater.
One more quick side bar about this, another fun fact is that once a show is “frozen” it doesn’t always stay frozen. For example, when I was doing Avenue Q, the writers would periodically come in and change things–once just the name of a kindergarten kid–and leave again. Often (as was the case with Avenue Q) the creative team goes off to rehearse another company (like the National tour cast) and discover something they like better, so they end up putting it in every score. Les Miserables actually had about 17 minutes chopped off of it about 12 or 13 years into the run. Why? Money. They needed to get it under 3 hours to save on overtime costs. Crazy, right? Most audience members never even noticed.
But let’s get back to SMASH.
2) The music is always written before the lyrics. Fact or fiction?
Fiction. There is no hard and fast rule about what is written first, although the song writing team of Julia and Tom appear to write the music first. In reality it varies from team to team (and remember that many times the lyrics and music are written by the same person). My husband is also a musical theater history professor, and he had some fun facts. Richard Rodgers wrote with two lyricists in his life. Right? Right. Okay, so what is weird about it is that when he wrote with Lorenz Hart he wrote the music first and then Hart plugged in lyrics, and when he wrote with Oscar Hammerstein II, he wrote the music after Oscar wrote the lyrics. Kander and Ebb, who were great friends, wrote the music and lyrics together in the same room (more like what we see with Julia and Tom). The highly touted Stephen Sondheim writes with God, so the music and the lyrics just appear on the page together like a stigmata.
3) Singers use steriods.
Fact. Way fact. If there was steroid testing on Broadway during flu season, well…let’s just say a large number of people would be disqualified if this were a professional sporting team instead of a Broadway stage. By some bizarre twist of fate I’ve never used them, but the stories about the side effects are legendary. With the exception of the Karen/Marilyn in the mirror, I think SMASH got everything right about steroids. Oh wait, except one thing, she would have had a shot at the doctor’s office. Generally speaking, if you need your voice back quickly, you make an appointment with Dr. Woo (or your ENT of choice) and they will shoot you up with some steroids and you are good to go that night. Miracle? Yes. Side effects? Tons.
And while we are on the subject, I’d like to clarify that “vocal rest” is just that. No talking. At all. No whispering. It is totally normal to see someone with a note pad and paper because they are on total vocal rest. I’ve known singers who were on vocal rest for weeks at a time. Crazy, but it absolutely works. Now in TV land, can you really have a singer on complete vocal rest? (we saw Ivy talking while she was on vocal rest) No. A show with a star on vocal rest would be a complete bore, but it would have been fun to see her at least try to write things down instead of talking. It gets old and annoying really fast.
Our final question of the show (drumroll please)
4) Singers take side jobs like singing at Bar Mitzvahs. Fact or fiction?
Fact. Happens all the time. I can’t say a Bar Mitzvah is the one I hear about the most (but it was hilarious to see Karen totally blow it on the Hava Nagila). Usually people sing upscale private parties or concerts. They are great for fast cast. True, true, true. On the fancy side it can be a Broadway themed pops concerts with symphonies for about $1000 per performance. On the un-fancy side it’s a wedding for 50 bucks for your cousin Kay.
The next question is unrelated to SMASH, but so fun and topical I can’t pass it up.
5) In a theater there is a “deluge” curtain and it is the final precaution in case of fire. It can go off without warning and drench a set and orchestra pit. Fact or fiction?
Fact. And let me tell you why and what happened. This week at the Marquis theater on Broadway, someone accidentally tripped the **deluge curtain and flooded the stage.
**Drencher or deluge system – a large reservoir of water stored above the stage which, when released in case of fire, will flood the stage in an attempt to extinguish any flames.
My husband has been working on the Broadway revival of Evita which is playing the Marquis Theater, and he got a call that he had to come fast because it was “raining” onstage. When I say “raining” please don’t just picture a small sprinkler. We are talking about 10,000 gallons of water being released over a ten minute time period, and it fell like a monsoon in the tropics. The cast and creative team was in the house getting notes (they had just had their first “preview” performance) when suddenly the water came flying down. People jumped into the orchestra pit to save the orchestra scores and instruments as the entire stage flooded and the water flowed down into the orchestra pit. By the time my husband got there (he is the music copyist) the orchestra scores were draped all over the seats and drying. I don’t have a picture of that (I wish I did), but I do have a picture of what the scores looked like. Here you go:
And even with all this damage, they managed to get the show back up and running for a performance tonight. Ain’t Broadway grand?
This brings us to the conclusion of this week’s FACT or FICTION? Thanks for swinging by!
(For SMASH Fact or fiction episode 7, go here.)