Sunday, January 27, 2013

You think you have problems...

One of the problems with doing theater is that a considerable percentage of actors are horrible people - when they aren't raging alcoholics. I've certainly had my own problems with  them.

Probably the worst was an incredibly arrogant and manipulative female actor: when she wasn't trying to undermine my relationships with everybody else in the production (I was directing my own play) or insulting the stage crew, she was trying to direct my play for me. This in spite of the fact that she herself had no directing experience. And she was so unashamed of her behavior that when I blogged about my disgust with her (but not by name), after the show closed, she emailed a whole bunch of people to tell them to go and read my blog. She actually wanted people to know that I thought she was an asshole.

Once I realized what she had been up to, I said to a friend of mine: "I bet she's going around telling people that the real reason I don't like her is because I'm jealous of her beauty." I know this sounds absurd, but that's how fucked in the head I thought she was. And what's more, I was right. Years later a friend of hers emailed me and said:
"...your jealousy when you have maligned female actress friends of mine, thinking they were treated better than you because of their looks..."
I knew exactly who was meant because the email writer and I only had one female actress acquaintance in common.

The email was good for a laugh, since I was not nearly as impressed with the female actress friend's appearance as she was herself.

So she was an asshole - but at least she wasn't an alcoholic. Otherwise I could have had a situation like Paul Rudnick's in the premiere of his I HATE HAMLET in his dealings with Nicol Williamson. According to Rudnick, Williamson:
...began murmuring directions, while onstage, to other cast members: “Is that what you’re doing?,” “God, that’s awful,” and worse. During scenes in which the script called for him to hover, as a ghost, and eavesdrop on the action, he would leave the stage.
I have kicked myself since my production with the female actor friend because I didn't fire her immediately after she tried to direct my play, but Williamson wasn't fired either:
In the Post’s weekend edition, a photograph of the duel filled the entire front page, under the headline “‘Hamlet’ actor storms off stage after co-star whacks him in butt.” There was coverage all over the world, and TV news crews stood outside the theatre every night. I learned to say “No comment” in many languages. 
Evan Handler wanted to bring Nicol and the production up on charges. A meeting was called, and the producers and I tried to determine a course of action. Should we fire Nicol? We realized that he had been brilliantly, maliciously sly: because of all the publicity, he now was the show, and no other star in his right mind would step into his role.
So your alcoholic asshole actors are worse than your non-alcoholic asshole actors. Although in either case, the assholes don't take any responsibility for their bad behavior - and don't even feel bad about it:
After the final performance, I had no intention of talking to Nicol. I was still too angry. As I was heading upstairs, to bid farewell to the more lucid actors, the door to Nicol’s dressing room swung open. He stood there, a soused, lunatic, fifty-two-year-old Hamlet. We stared at each other. Nicol finally spoke, and his tone was both kind and accusing. He said, “You knew this was going to happen.” And then he smiled and shut the door. 
So with all this mishegas, why bother to do theater? Aren't people in the financial services industry crazy enough for one lifetime?

I can't speak for Rudnick, but for me one of the reasons that I want to do my own work, in particular JULIA & BUDDY, is because it's the kind of play I want to see - and there are so few plays written that are the kind I want to see. Maybe it's Shakespeare's fault - I got turned onto theater through the BBC's production of AS YOU LIKE IT, with Helen Mirren in the lead, and not only are so few playwrights close to Shakespeare's level, they don't even try to do the kind of plays he did. How many plays about a pair of female cousins who go off to have funny/romantic adventures are even produced in contemporary theater? Pretty much none.

And pulling off a successful theater production - even if it is an off-off Broadway Showcase Code production - in spite of the expense and the hassle is in itself a great accomplishment.

Fun fact - Helen Mirren hated Nicol Williamson too:
When Williamson appeared in the 1981 film Excalibur, director John Boorman cast him as Merlin opposite Helen Mirren as Morgana over the protests of both actors; the two had previously appeared together in Macbeth, with disastrous results, and disliked each other intensely.