SMASH Fact or Fiction Episodes 13 and 14 ("The Producers" and "The Phenomenon")"

%%wppa%% %%photo=20%% %%size=0.5%% %%align=left%%   SMASH’s second season is winding down and we all wonder if it might be the last.  No matter, actors all over New York are thankful for another season of potential TV work, hopeful for a third and I’m delighted to host our favorite blogosphere TV gameshow.  We’d better play while we can because as we all know, SMASH is much more fun when you play Fact or Fiction.  Did you miss last week?  Go here to do your catch up reading.   Everyone, get your buzzers out.  We have big prizes behind door number one so I hope you spent your week studying up on theater facts and fictions.

Please take a moment to read the game rules before activating your buzzers.

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, tough guy, and maybe you should go here 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 seven and is probably a wrapped copy of The Great Gatsby.

My name is Sharon Wheatley, I’ve done some Broadway shows, and I will be your host. Be sure to read the comments after the blog because that’s where I will be debated and corrected by all my insider-y Broadway friends and it is half the fun.  Reminder that we keep things clean and informative here on My Own Space.

Cell phones off.  Game buzzers on.

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.  We will cover two episodes in this blog post, but they were pretty skimpy, so no need for snacks today.

1) Press is part of the actors contract.  Fact or Fiction?

Fact.  I thought this might be a good time to talk a little bit about how much press is expected of actors during the run of a show and whether or not they are paid to do it.

The answer, you do a lot of press and you are only paid for it if the press you are doing pays.  What does that mean?  For example they mention that Ivy is booked for The Tonight Show.  Since The Tonight Show is filmed on the west coast and Broadway is in New York, it is fairly rare for a Broadway actor to appear on that show.  Jimmy Fallon?  David Letterman?  Yes.  But now I am just nit picking.  THE POINT IS, you get paid to be a guest on that show, so the actor would be paid whatever the union rate is.  Same is true for all major TV shows and things like The Macy’s Day Parade and The Tony Awards.  But basic press like personal appearances and interviews (non-filmed) are un-paid.  There is an interesting rule that I didn’t know about that mandates you must be paid if you appear in costume.  It reads as follows from the Actors Equity web site:

(1) In Costume. When Actors participate in live publicity appearances in costume, the Actors shall be paid not less than one-eighth of the weekly minimum salary;

(2) No Costume. When Actors participate in live publicity appearances without costumes, no payments shall be required. T-shirts, caps and show jackets shall not be considered a costume for purposes of this provision. However, any clothing purchased by the Producer to be worn by Actor(s) in promotional events, other than T-shirts, caps or show jackets, shall be considered a costume for purposes of this provision. Producer may reasonably request that an Actor appear in Actor’s own clothing, excluding “black tie,” without incurring a payment under this provision; 

Interesting, huh?  No wonder we always do press in show t-shirts!

My friend Jimmy who is on Actors’ Equity Council would kill me if I didn’t mention the media payment, so let me make sure I explain how Equity figured out how to charge for all the new social media stuff.  It is a long rule, rule #39, and can be found HERE.  Basically (and I mean basically) actors get 2% of the minimum salary and that covers a boat load of media.  You get the pay weekly and you get it whether you ever appear on camera or not.

“This payment is in addition to contractual salary and shall be paid for Actor’s entire employment period whether or not the Actor appears in any captured material. The payment is subject to pension and dues.”

2)  Regarding Jimmy arriving at the theater at 10 minutes before curtain it was said, “You’re late.  If we were on Broadway you’d be fined.”  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  (This is a correction that came in from a former stage manager of mine.)

There is a monetary fining system for being late to a Broadway show, but more often it you will be “written up” and it will be placed in your file.  A paper trail of write ups can lead to your termination.  In addition there is a protocol for allowing an actor to appear onstage if late, but I can’t find official paperwork on it.  Here’s what I think it is, please weigh in if you know the exact rules.

I *think* that after half hour it is the stage manager’s call as to whether or not the late actor will do the show or be sent home.  After being 15 minutes late the understudy is put on automatically.  Even as I type that I can think of exceptions where stars were put on right up to curtain.

Here is the rule book guidelines from Actors’ Equity, brought to you by the excellent stage manager, Tom Taylor.  I’d written you could not be fined, but I was (in fact) wrong!  

According to the Production Contract – Rule 50 (G)

(G) Lateness. If Actor is late for “half-hour” more than twice within any six month period, Actor will be fined the following amounts for each lateness 
commencing with Actor’s third lateness: 
(a) $75 for Actors earning $2,500 per week or less; 
(b) $150 for Actors earning more than $2,500. 
All fines will be remitted by the Producer to the Actors’ Equity Foundation and will 
be deducted from Actor’s salary on a pre-tax basis. An official and accurate clock 
will be designated. Written notice of lateness will be given to both Actor and Equity. This rule shall apply uniformly. If it is determined in grievance or arbitration 
that the rule has not been applied uniformly, Producer must remit all fines assessed 
within the six months prior to the fine that is challenged. 
It is understood that this will not affect Producer’s right to send Actor home and 
reduce salary accordingly. However, if Producer does send Actor home, Producer 
cannot also fine Actor. The foregoing does not waive or alter the Producer’s right to 
terminate Actor for just cause in the event of chronic lateness, including any 
lateness for half-hour or rehearsal. 
(H) Where practicable, Producer shall endeavor to provide advance notice to 
Actors of their required attendance at a rehearsal to be conducted during a 
performance.

3)  They dim the lights on Broadway after the death of a Broadway veteran.  Fact or Fiction?

Fact.

Robert Simonson just wrote a terrific piece about this on Playbill.com, so I will link to the article.

http://www.playbill.com/features/article/142873-ASK-PLAYBILLCOM-The-Dimming-of-Broadways-Lights-

So that’s it.  I didn’t have a lot to write about in these two episodes, but I wanted to talk about a few things, so here you go.  I still haven’t heard SMASH got its notice, but I am assuming it has?  Anyone know for sure?

I can give my cancellation notice for sure.  Even if there is a SMASH next year, there will be no SMASH Fact or Fiction.  Even so, I’ll finish out this season,  and maybe we’ll talk a little about what caused the show’s demise (in my opinion).

See you next week!

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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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18 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction Episodes 13 and 14 ("The Producers" and "The Phenomenon")"

  1. Iris says:

    I was wondering why they made such a big deal at Hitlist whether they should go on that night or not. I've heard of shows where somebody in the cast died unexpectedly (I think Epic Proportions?) and even they went on that night with the understudy and only let the audience know after the show…
    Also, regarding the fight between Julia and Tom… couldn't they have agreed to do Gatsby as a musical instead of a play but still do it at the Manhattan Theatre Workshop with Scott? That way both promised could have been kept.
    Overall I found both episodes pretty meh…

    • Amanda says:

      They could not because Jesse L. Martin did not want a musical and he was the one who agreed to produce Gatsby at MTW.

      Also, the point was that Tom didn't want to do Gatsby yet and Julia would have needed Tom in order to do a musical, regardless.

  2. Craig says:

    Also, in deciding to do the show concert-style, only to perform the full piece…pretty much exactly what happened with Rent at NYTW after Jonathan Larson died.

  3. Michael says:

    Question for you — When is a show locked down? I can understand Derek still being involved with Hit List while they consider a potential transfer to Broadway, but Tom is still making changes in Bombshell? Is that allowed after it opens?

    • Claudia says:

      There is a longstanding myth that a show is "frozen" at a certain point and no changes can be allowed, but that is not always the case. In 2010, The Lion King cut an entire song from the show. I believe any changes that will require extra rehearsal or tech time need approval from the union, not to mention extra pay for the actors, but there is really no rule or deadline about making changes after a certain point.

  4. Thomas says:

    I can answer Michael's question. Changes are constantly made to shows. Even shows like Lion King and Wicked still have changes made to them. Les Miz went through a lot of changes during its run as well. Some times the changes are relatively minor, sometimes the changes are made to accomodate an actor (A Chorus Line had an entire scene re-staged so that Mario Lopez would be seen on stage, since 90% of his role was off-stage). Sometimes the changes are noticed during a simple re-visit, but often changes are made during the mounting of a new production, when the creative team reassemble for that new production. Changes only stop when the authors and director decide to stop making changes.

  5. Steve says:

    Hello, Sharon! I found your blog through SMASH: Fact Or Fiction (I'm one of the folks who watched/loved the pilot 5 times), read your book, loved it to pieces, would love to get your take on The Smushing of SMASH. That's right – SMASH has officially been put out to pasture. Alas.

  6. rose says:

    I have many opinions on why Smash failed – starting with the stupid subplots and the casting of the wooden and thin-voiced Katherine McPhee. Did anyone take her seriously when she was in the Marilyn wardrobe and hair? She looked like a kid playing dress-up. The entire story of girl from Nebraska could only have been sold by a strong and confident performer – a real knock out. McPhee was never that – not for one moment.

    It is too bad they didn't cast a real singer/actress. It is too bad they didn't just focus on the making of the show which would have been fascinating. I also would have enjoyed a show like friends about the actors all working together on the show and their relationships. Too much focus on the boring lives of the writers who it turns out are not very likable or even talented. Did we care about the affair or the adoption? No we needed to see the performers working on the show.

    I will really miss Megan Hilty. She has been a bright spot with a terrible role from day one. They seemed to make violent changes in her character from the first week. But she killed it very time. So much talent. ( and the last show… she's pregnant? Is there a single stereotype they haven't made her play? Only one – the girl with so much talent and charm that she is a natural star – that is the role Megan Hilty should have played.

  7. Sheila York says:

    Sharon, I just wanted to say — as Smash winds down — how much I have enjoyed your Smash blog these last two seasons. I'm a mystery writer and have just joined the bloggers at Crime Writers' Chronicle. Tuesday, I'll be mentioning you in my blog. All the best in California!

  8. ToscasKiss says:

    Tiny note: You fell into a common slip-up, when you referred to "Macy's Day Parade," which is of course, "Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade." Whatever it's called, we all know the only real reason to watch it is to see the performances by companies of theater folk. Well, OK, maybe there are sometimes a few other reasons, but that's the big one.

  9. heather23renae says:

    Curious if you're going to Keep up the blogs for the last few episodes. I've enjoyed these posts and hope the last few episodes, some of the best of both seasons, still get discussed despite the shows death. Thanks for all your enlightenment and laughs!

  10. Dave says:

    So SMASH is over and yes, I have some thoughts about it. First, though, let me say how much I have enjoyed your comments about each episode. They were factual, they were focused, and they were very, very funny.
    The many departures from reality that you chronicled in your column are not, however, what I think contributed to the show’s demise. I am sure that cops howl at the idiocies in police dramas, lawyers cringe at the inaccuracies in courtroom scenes, and doctors shake their heads in disbelief as the patients are wheeled into TV hospitals. Even so, many of those shows have healthy runs. And I am also sure that the vast majority of Americans would have never noticed any of the howlers you so humorously skewered in SMASH. So where did SMASH miss the boat?
    I think the biggest problems for SMASH occurred in two areas – execution of the story and some of the casting choices. Let’s start with the execution, which I think was the most serious problem.
    (continued in next message)

  11. Dave says:

    (Continued from previous message)
    I do not have any strong concerns about the story line – it functioned as a relatively standard prime-time soap (just the setting was new) and adequately covered most of the important bases in that form. What I think was available to the creators, however, and was only intermittently seen from week to week, was an exciting and engaging method of harnessing the magic of theatre to convey the story.
    The greater American audience does not already have the connection to the theatre world that we do. They understand and can support programs about the world of movies and television because they live in those worlds. The ratio of time most people spend in a theatre compared to the time they spend at the movies or in front of the TV is extremely lopsided (what do you think – 200+ to 1?). So SMASH had the burden of bringing them into that world – showing them its mysteries and glories – in order to tell its story. And here I think it failed. (continued in next message)

  12. Dave says:

    Continued from previous message) Not only were the scenes between actors filmed in standard formula methods (not necessarily a death penalty offense), but even the musical scenes were usually filmed flatly, without any theatrical inspiration or style. Nothing to grab, captivate, or surprise an audience looking for a new adventure. There were exceptional moments to be sure, and I am sure each of us has her/his favorites (ready and willing to swap favorite highlights with any and all!), but they were too dispersed and infrequent to hold an audience looking to find the hook to keep them watching.
    As filmed (in most cases), the choreography looked flat, the songs seemed old-fashioned and “stagy,” the immediacy and excitement of live performance was un-translated and therefore lost. And it is not because the creators are untalented or couldn’t achieve this idea. Many times I felt they were on the right road (the strong opening of the second hour of the finale when the leading characters gathered in the empty theatre to sing comes to mind as an example) but each time the moment was lost as the show quickly moved back to standard dramatic formats. (continued in next message)

  13. Dave says:

    (Continued from previous message) I think the viewers needed more of this creative storytelling style to bring them into this new world of the theatre that we know so well but they have probably never seen or experienced. It was the missing hook that kept the show from building an audience.
    Secondly, and here I am on trickier ground and will try to be clear and specific, several key casting choices did not work. I have done enough theatre to know that very good actors can still do work that does not show them well, so please understand I am not saying any of the performers were untalented. They have resumes and experiences that far exceed my own and can point to solid careers of excellent performances. But not every actor is right for every part (though most actors I know will vigorously and personally dispute this!), and usually a weak performance from a good actor is a result of choices made that are out of their control (choices made by directors, producers, designers, etc.). (continued in next message)

  14. Dave says:

    (Continued from previous message) For me, the most successful actors in SMASH were those who could create and develop over time an intriguing, sexy, unpredictable, invigorating character – the life-blood of any prime time soap. Jack Davenport (Derek) had the advantage of playing the is-he-or-isn’t-he-a villain role (a plum assignment) and he built the strongest, most interesting character in the show. Megan Hilty (Ivy) and Katharine McPhee (Karen) filled out the characters they were given successfully, though they were not always given solid writing or story lines. And Anjelica Huston (Eileen) personified the larger than life producer SMASH wanted to celebrate even when the story gave her little to do. But strong performers like Christian Borle (Tom), Jeremy Jordan (Jimmy), and Debra Messing (Julia) were given characters that were better conceived than written (Jeremy), or characters that were sent in so many unproductive directions that the audience could never find something to embrace (Tom & Julia). Many other strong performers were lost in quick scenes that never built toward any substantial character revelation.
    (continued in next message)

  15. Dave says:

    (contined from previous message) So why is this a casting problem and not a problem of writing/directing/etc. choices? Because plenty of night-time soaps survive these problems and go on to long runs. I believe they do so because the actors may not be the best actors in the business, but because they innately and strongly convey the choices that the directors and writers are making, or they are able to overcome the chaos and ineptitude around them and shine forth anyway. Sometimes it is luck, sometimes it is skill, but any director in the business will tell you that casting is 90% of the work, and you don’t get points for casting the best actors, you win the game by casting the right actor.
    How do you know if someone is the right actor for the part? The right actor works in the situation that is before him. Period. Talent plays a role. Experience, temperament, luck – many things come into play. But it has to work. And many of the actors in SMASH could not make the connections with an audience necessary to create a long running soap. And usually, it was not their fault. That’s casting. (continued in next message)

  16. Dave says:

    (Continued from previous message) I will miss this show. I loved seeing my beloved theatre world each week on my TV screen (even on the weeks when it was unrecognizable!). I deeply hope NBC or another network will not take SMASH as some sort of poison pill and shy away from more programs about Broadway and the big theatre world out there. The magic and the passion are waiting to be showcased.
    And thank you again, Sharon, for adding so much pleasure to the last two seasons.

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