Broadway West -The Vegas Edition (Blogisode Four)

Mum's the word which is so poopy.

Mum's the word which is so poopy.

So guess what I just did?  I just signed a confidentiality agreement, which means I can not talk–at all–about the job I’m doing.  That’s a great way to bust a blogger’s balloon, huh?  I’m so sorry to disappoint all of you.  I am trying to get permission to write about it once the show airs (which **I think** is in the fall) so we have that to look forward to.  I’ll let you know what they say.  I am writing from set because  (and I think this is okay to say) there is a lot of sitting around on set.  Of course, the second I wrote that I was called to set.  Hilarious.  I should’ve started writing hours ago to get things moving.  Back in a minute.

It’s two days later.

Okay.  Let’s not mess around.  I have a feeling this week is going to be busy and I am going to want to talk about the Lifetime shooting, so let’s just go really long today and bang out a bunch of Broadway West.  I’m not kidding.  Let’s just finish this puppy.  Crank your air conditioner, grab some snacks and let’s do this and be done by Friday.  I will give bathroom breaks and updates as I write.  I am starting this at 11:56am and where am I?  On the A train of course.  I wish you could see how I have to balance my iPad on my purse as I am squeezed between two people.  Every five minutes or so, when the train really gets going, my iPad starts to slide

My desk.  Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle.

My desk. Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle.

around.  It’s like trying to write on a desk made of jello.

I can’t really remember where we left off and I can’t access it on the subway, but I think I was mid-list about something or other, and I am pretty sure I was talking about working in a Casino.  Even if I wasn’t, that’s what I feel like talking about first because it is the strangest thing of all and is where the story starts and ends–with an understanding of the difference between working for a Broadway producing company and working for a casino.  These are two different animals.  Let’s talk about it.

To be totally honest, I never had any access to the contract between The Producing Office (Avenue Q’s producing company) and The Wynn Casino, nor did I ever hear anything about it.  All I knew was what was important to me.
1) The contract was close to Broadway pay.
2) There was (apparently) an 18 month guarantee from The Wynn that the show would run,  To be truthful, I don’t know who said that, but it was said to me as I was negotiating, and it was important because I was moving my whole family out there, Rob was turning down an associate MD job on Broadway to do it, and NO SHOW gives a guarantee, so it seemed like a smart move.  Perhaps you are wondering why we didn’t stay in town to do the job Rob was offered of Broadway and I will explain that.  The show wasn’t looking like it would have a long run.  He’d just done another Broadway show that had closed prematurely, and didn’t want to do it again.  Also, remember, we were looking to get out of New York.  We wanted to move west, and this show with a guarantee seemed to be out ticket.  One more reason–our housing was totally paid for in Vegas for the first year.  Yes, we could live rent free for a year and dig out of some debt.  More than anything, that was appealing.  We turned down Broadway and we went with (pretty much) no regrets.

Back to working at a casino.  Things were different from the moment we showed up.  I mean, there were the obvious things–it was hot, it was the desert, we were living in an apartment with a dishwasher AND a washer and dryer (luxury living), we bought a car and then a second (very used car), the grocery stores were the size of the state of Rhode Island, there were pools everywhere, 90% of the population was blonde, children had birthday parties at

A whole new life, starting with private school.

A whole new life, starting with private school.

Chuck E. Cheese.  You get it.  We were swallowed up entirely by a desert suburb and honestly?  We loved it.  We got Charlotte registered and uniformed up for her private school (are you keeping track of the money we are blowing to live here?  Two cars, private school…keep counting).  But things weren’t just different at home.  Work was a whole different world.  Let’s start with the rules and regulations of working at a Casino.
I don’t remember them because there were so many that it overwhelmed me.  We had our normal “let’s take a tour of the stage” meeting, but before that, we had to go to security, get Casino employee passes, and sit through an orientation about the rules and regulations of the casino.  Things like, you have to park at the parking lot a million miles away. You have to enter and exit through the employee door and have your bag searched upon entrance and exit.  You can not have any alcohol.  There are cameras everywhere (immediately hands shot up–“Including in the dressing rooms?” Not in the dressing rooms, but in the hallways around the dressing rooms).  No one who is not an employee of the casino can be backstage at anytime because it is a restricted area.  The list goes on and on.

So what were perks?
One major perk. Free, unlimited food at the staff dining room (called the sdr) 24 hours a day.  Other casinos limited

An actress who plays a food stealing actress.

An actress who plays a food stealing actress.

the employee food with employee card that had to be swiped and restricted access, but not us.  We had free reign of the place.  We literally could eat there 24 house a day if we’d wanted to.  Free food is very exciting to a group of actors.  Perhaps you remember the scene in the movie TOOTSIE where Teri Garr shoves food in her purse for later?  That is how we were, but everything went into a plastic cup.  Need some ice cream but you only have a 5 minute break?  Put it in a plastic cup and sneak it out.  Hankering for a hotdog?  Oh yeah, you can totally shove it in a plastic cup.  We were masters at sneaking food out.  Usually though, we ate in.  We had breaks between shows (there were two a night) so we’d all line up and eat together (at first).  Eventually after the show opened each cast would eat while the other cast was performing their show.  The food was better than standard casino fare because (apparently) Steve Wynn is a health nut.  They had a great salad bar and fresh fruit and lean meats while those poor suckers down at Mamma Mia suffered through rationed portions of various fried foods and chip bags.

Update: It is now 2:34 and I am getting my hair done at my favorite place, The Timothy John Salon (53rd between 8th and 9th avenue).

Another perk?  The backstage area was beautiful.  Let me talk you through this.  Backstage on Broadway is crowded and moldy and cramped and uncomfortable.  The “green room” people so often talk about is a rare occurrence on Broadway.  In fact, at Les Miz at The Imperial, quarters were so cramped in the women’s dressing room that there was a shelf that you had to fold and latch up if you wanted to open the door–this “shelf” also doubled as a dressing room table for one of the girls, so imagine what a pain it was.  At the fancy Wynn, the theater had been built specifically to house AVENUE Q.  The theater was beautiful and plush and spacious for the audience AND for us.  We had a real live green room with a black leather sectional couch and a flat screen TV with a DVD player.  I mean…..this is like moving from a skate board to a Rolls Royce.  Cushy.  Fun.  We ate free meals and watched the entire first season of LOST while being paid.  Astoundingly fun.

So let’s get back to what it was like to have two casts. First of all, it was handy.  Seriously.  The longest and most hated

Michelle and Rita, freezing during tech.

Michelle and Rita, freezing during tech.

part of getting any show up on its feet is the long technical rehearsal process.  In this case, all we had to do was half of it, and then out cast counterparts would jump in and do more while we sat in the theater covered in blankets (it was FREEZING) and watched.  Again–cushy.  In fact, it was so well done that when I cast AVENUE ZOO this spring, I copied the model and double cast it.  If you miss a show, the other cast member goes on for you.  There is a rolling “company” of players available to do the show.
But.  It does have a down side, and I’ll bet you can guess what it is.
Let’s do a less obvious one first.  It is hard to watch someone else do your part.  It is easy to be judgmental and start a cast vs. cast rivalry.  Who is better?  Who sings better?  Who is a better puppeteer?  All we did for weeks was sit and watch each other work.  It got tiring and hard.
Here is the more obvious problem.  If you have two casts and only one opening night, who gets to do the opening night.  Right?  Right.  That was a huge issue.
If you can remember back to the start of this blog, I talked about how they brought two of the original cast members from Broadway, John Tartaglia and Rick Lyon.  They were both in the same cast (also called the Blue Bear cast) and that cast did almost all of the press and were slated from the beginning were slated to do the opening night.  We in the Yellow Bear cast (which we privately called the “Ghetto Bear” cast knew we were second choice and we…..well honestly….we kind of bonded over it.  As we watched LOST and ate free food and lived in our free housing and drove our company cars and remembered that people work in coal mines.  Seriously, not a lot to complain about. We opened the show and all was chugging along well.

But trouble was right around the corner.

(To read the next post in this 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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One Response to Broadway West -The Vegas Edition (Blogisode Four)

  1. Eloise akehurst says:

    You finish there? You do realise some of us are living vicariously through the stories from your life, right? This got me through a rather boring morning stewarding for music exams. More soon please,

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