I always try to keep tabs on Broadway shows and the creative folks behind them on Twitter, so on Monday evening, I began following producer Eileen Rand and writer Julia Houston. On Tuesday morning, I noticed that Julia had followed me back and Eileen hadn’t, so I playfully tweeted that I liked Julia more. Well, Eileen saw that and, perhaps miffed, quickly followed me as well, tweeting that she appreciates what I do for the theatre community (whatever that may be).
A bit later in the day, I saw a tweet between the women, Eileen inviting Julia to meet her at Sarabeth’s, where she’d be all day. I then wrote to Eileen, saying I could be at that restaurant in minutes to speak with her about investing in Marilyn, her new show, but she begged off, contradicting her earlier tweet about hanging out for the afternoon, claiming she had to attend a performance by her niece at NYU. That’s when I knew something was up. Most producers would sell their nieces if it meant courting a potential investor.
No, I have not fallen and hit my head, projecting myself into a fantasy version of Smash. I’ve been on Twitter, where (presumably) the new Broadway-centered program has cleverly created personas for Eileen and Julia, as well as Tom Levitt and Ellis Boyd (so far). As a result, a TV program that already toys with the apparently permeable barrier between its fictional Broadway and the real thing (by casting true-life Rialto figures like producer Manny Azenberg and Jujamcyn Theatres honcho Jordan Roth) has taken a further step through the looking glass by offering fans a chance to have “real” conversations with the TV show’s characters. They’re not tweeting out explicit promos for the show; in fact I don’t recall having seen a single one. Instead, they’re interacting with each other – and seemingly with all who reach out to them – in what would so far seem to be a bit of inspired creativity from one or more knowing social media operatives. Time Out New York’s Adam Feldman has gotten into the spirit of things already: he’s expressed concern at possibly having given offense by slamming Tom and Julia’s hit musical Heaven on Earth as Heavin’ on Earth.
Certainly the Smash doppelgangers on Twitter aren’t the first fictional figures to appear on the platform. It’s awash in feeds from false versions of public figures to anthropomorphized commentary from fauna like the briefly missing Bronx Zoo Cobra or the ambitious, theatrically wise Central Park Raccoon, who as a habitué of the Delacorte, dreams of appearing more than just accidentally in Shakespeare one day (perhaps he should be auditioning for Marilyn instead). In fact, at a time when people wonder what will happen to Facebook pages and the like after their real world creators pass on, we can still find Lysistrata Jones chatting away on Twitter, apparently unaware that Clybourne Park is taking up residence where her basketball court once stood.
I’ve seen lots of discussion online about how theatre might take advantage of social media to extend the entertainment experience, as well as conversations about whether art could be created solely on social media. While it’s far too early to say whether Smash’s efforts will rise to art, they are certainly part of an extended improv that may well grow quite rich over time. In fact, aside from the tweets, you can find “program bios” for all of the main characters on the Smash website. While they careen between amusingly fictional and patently false “real world” credits (the IBDB and these bios will be at eternal odds), the artifice only extends the concept – and we can all play along.
When I offered to meet Eileen yesterday, I didn’t really expect to find Anjelica Houston at the restaurant, although wouldn’t it have been amazing if I had? I even briefly worried about how I was dressed, as I wasn’t really prepared for meetings. But of course I was testing the tweeters behind the curtain to see how they’d respond, and while I caught them out, they’ve only had two days to work up their act. My main advice to them is to not create too elaborate a fantasy that they can’t make good on, and to remember the first rule of improv: never say ‘no.’
I am genuinely looking forward to more conversation with the characters of Smash online, just as I occasionally chat with some of the show’s creative artists in the same forum, notably writer Jason Grote and actor Brian D’Arcy James. The fact that I’ve never met the former, but chat cordially with the latter when we see each other, only adds to the meta-world that’s developing. After all, how do I know that Jason Grote really is a playwright named Jason Grote and, if he’s not who he says he is in the corporeal world, then who’s getting that writing credit and being interviewed by The Washington Post?
On Twitter, the line between real and imaginary is breaking down bit by bit (wouldn’t it be brilliant if Julia, Eileen and Tom all got “verified” as being who they claim to be; conversely, this is all vastly more labyrinthine if the tweeting characters aren’t via NBC, but are creative fans). So maybe by playing along, I’ll cross over from my theatrical world into theirs at some point, just like Manny and Jordan, occupying parallel worlds like my youthful science fiction heroes, even while I stay fully entrenched in the universe of theatre. My final word on the subject? Eileen/Anjelica/Theresa: call me! I’m waiting to get Smashed.
[Update: 2/8/12 at 2:45 pm Since I posted the above at 11:15 this morning, I have heard from Jason Grote, who informs me that he is in fact fictional. In addition, the character of Ivy Lynn has joined Twitter. Curiouser and curiouser.]