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This Day in My History


The secret of acting is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made.

~ George Burns

Yesterday's Entries

2001:  Sorry, Linda Jean
2002:  The Grass is Always Greener
2003:  When Systems Crash


Venus Envy


(this is a recording!)


Gonna be sunny!



30 January 2004

I picked him out of the crowd immediately. The lobby was full of people dressed in their finery, chattering excitedly about the show they were about to see, some carried cups of wine. There were sequins and fake furs and rhinestones. The mood of anticipation was palpable.

He stood out from the crowd. He wore jeans, he looked bored, and he carried that tell-tale folder which told me that he was....a critic.

It’s an interesting job, being a critic. I just wrote my 106th review (the touring Broadway production of Dreamgirls -- good show). I earned enough money last year to think of myself as a salaried writer (I could actually live on what I earned as a writer, if I could find a place that would rent to me for $80 a month and if I gave up eating.)

I remember the first touring Broadway show I reviewed. It was Beauty and the Beast and we were seated 6th row center...we never buy seats that good expensive. I figured I’d landed a real cushy job. They give you the best seats in the house, you see all the shows that come to town, and then they pay you to write about them. What could be better?

Well, yes. It’s a good job. But it does have its downsides. Writing a bad review for a company that really has tried very hard is always difficult. But you’re asking an audience to pay big bucks to see this show and it would do the reading public a disservice to praise everything in order to get bodies in seats. Besides, nobody would ever believe what you wrote after that, if you didn’t give your honest opinion.

You see great shows, but you also see terrible shows. I will never forget one abominable show written by Frank Linville (Maj. Burns of M*A*S*H). Its premiere took place at a little theatre outside of Davis and it was a gala affair, which was attended by Linville’s family (he had died shortly before the production) and Gary Burghoff (Radar in M*A*S*H).  I wanted so much for it to be good.  It was an embarrassingly bad show. You wanted to give Linville’s family something positive, but it just was bad, bad, bad.

There was also the horrendous production of Showboat, botched by bad direction and acting so terrible by its "name star," Alan Young (foil of Mr. Ed many, many years earlier) that it was the only show I’ve ever given only one star to.

Most of the shows fall in the middle, not outstanding, not horrendous, but usually enjoyable.

I watched the people arriving at Dreamgirls the other night. They were dressed to the nines (this was in Sacramento’s big Community Center theatre, the most "posh" in town). Some came in limousines. There was a booth outside the front door where one of the radio stations was doing some promotional stuff. People were lined up to spin a wheel and win a prize. Everyone was chatting excitedly.  Opening night was a big "event."

I was thinking about how nice it would be to feel excited about getting dressed up to go to the theatre. This was my third show to review in one week, and the very last thing I wanted to do that night was to go out yet again and see a show, no matter how good it was.

There are probably critics who enjoy the whole schmoozing thing, but I don’t. I never go to the pre-show receptions or the opening night parties. I don’t chat with the director whenever he or she is in the lobby. I don’t do that whole social thing. I’m basically not a very social person, in the broad sense, and I hate feeling I need to be intermingling with a bunch of strangers.

I was remembering back to the days when "going to the theatre" was a big, exciting deal. When I got dressed up. When I had that sense of wonder about it all.

It’s funny what happens when you get involved in theatre, on whatever level. The sense of "wonder" for me passed when I became part of the backstage world. There’s something about seeing the backside of a set or watching makeup being troweled on a pock-marked face and seeing the paste sticking to a sequined piece of costume, or the sweat on the face of someone who has just come off stage which already removes a bit of "awe" from it all.

It doesn’t make it less enjoyable. In fact, when you are in the midst of it, it actually enhances your enjoyment, or moves it to a different level. You’re no longer there to see the magic come to life; you’re there to see how your friends do that night, to see how they change this or that phrase (which you know so well you could recite it in your sleep). You’re there to watch how the chorus members look at each other with unspoken messages or try to stifle smiles when something goes awry on stage.

I had a decade of enjoying The Lamplighters at that different level. Feeling like an insider. Knowing the scripts inside and out and looking for interpretation by my friends on stage. It was theatre enjoyment on a whole different level and I loved it.

Somehow when you’ve reached the place where the theatre is like a second home, you stop dressing up to go there. You stop going with a sense of wonder about it all. It’s comfortable as an old shoe and your brain functions on a completely different level.

So I understood the critic in the jeans standing underneath the crystal chandalier, surrounded by Sacramento’s "beautiful people" and looking bored. I probably looked somewhat similar. I had thrown a sweater over my t-shirt and figured my black leggings weren’t all that horrible looking. I was standing there with my own critic’s packet.

If I enjoyed schmoozing, I might have gone to talk to him, but instead I went into the theatre and pulled my book out of my purse to read until the lights went down.  Then I went to work.



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Created 1/24/04