The Casting Couch – Sex as a Stepping Stone

Nearly a year has passed since… the incident. Can I now relay the event without the urge to vomit? Or disclose without demanding a power spray of bleach? Possibly. I don’t know. Pass me the Lysol.

This week: It’s All Fun-n-Games Until Someone Loses Their Dinner

More than  a year has passed since… the incident. Can I now relay the event without the urge to vomit? Or disclose without demanding a power spray of bleach? Possibly. I don’t know. Pass me the Lysol.

A ways back I met a Broadway power-player at an event in which we were both invited as guests. He with his Tonys in his back pocket. Me, with a book and blog upfront to plug. Neither of us spoke much to the other that evening. Our focus was on business with others in the room.

The next morning I received an e-mail via my web site.

“Great meeting you last night. I’d like to continue our conversation.

Q.Z.”

Q.Z was the impresario I met the evening prior. Our conversation? I didn’t know that we had had one. Beyond speculating the hits of the next season our ‘conversation’ was limited and brief.

I replied to Q.Z. in font. He then volleyed back with an invite to dinner and a show(case). Attending one of New York’s versions of possibly bad community theater was not the most promising of business evenings but I was game for building a new bridge. As the night neared of our networking a sense of dread dominated my demeanor. The cause I reasoned to be my usual case of jitters I suffer when venturing into unknown situations with strangers. Or possibly my trepidations were caused by the prospect of the showcase. Neither scenario sent me into a fevered frivolity.

The night came. We met at one of New York’s theater industry white table-cloth eateries. We spoke of our lives in the business and our professional journeys. Detailing how each of us got to be sitting at that table that summer’s eve in a room whose exposed brick walls were lined with posters from Broadway’s greatest bombs. Then came the missile.

“Do you and your partner ever play together?” he lobbed.

Huh? I must have missed a segue somewhere. Possibly between the wilted salad and buttering my dinner bun. Play? As in what? Jacks? Mario Cart Wii? Pinochle? Of course I knew what he meant. He was asking if I and the Gemini who gets lost trying to find home using his GPS ever intersected with singles or doubles.

Looking at the posters that lined the walls I shifted the conversation to something harmless and benign; Lestat – The Musical! (Bad choice. Damn Anne Rice and her homoerotic overtones.) My dinner partner – now an unexpected and unwelcome date — returned the conversation to sexual exploits. His. Not mine. I wasn’t looking forward to the next two-and-a-half hours I had remaining with this man. My claiming a sudden case of food poisoning – without evidence — would have seemed terribly trite. If only there had been a suffering of gas to put him off the scent.

After finishing our burgers and fries we walked to the theater. We were standing at the corner of Ninth and Forty-Second streets when I mentioned the name of a casting director I once worked for. As the light changed and we crossed south across Boulevard de Disney that’s when Q.Z. casually mentioned that he had had sex with my former employer. Ew. Ick. Yuck. I really didn’t want to know this. But when it came to my ex-boss and entertainment professionals I now encounter it would seem he has been as fruitful as Johnny Appleseed with regard to spreading his seed about New York. A past agent of mine informed me he performed on said same casting director fellatio in the back of a cab. And this I learned at the same restaurant from which I just left. (I try not to go back there.)

Back to Q.Z. I was, as I am oft to do when uncomfortable in social situations that are unpleasant, pulling back on chatter and becoming silent. We watched the show. Why he had chosen for us to attend this particular showcase which was a plot-less musical from the 90s, I had no idea… yet. I would soon discover the answer as the ‘curtain’ came down.

“I’m going upstairs to my office,” he began. “Care to come up?”

O.K. maybe I’m just being overly cynical. But I doubt that it was just coincidence that the showcase and his office happened to be at the same address.

I declined. Went home. For days I was a mixture of disgust, confusion, anger and sadness.

I never heard from Q.Z. again. Fine by me.

I’ve written here prior about the casting couch. And I’m sure you’re not surprised that gratuitous sex is a viral hobby in all sectors of our game that is entertainment (and life). What an odd and powerful tool that aphrodisiac of near anonymous amour.

If I were single would I have joined him upstairs? No.

If my libido were of a voracious appetite and he were remotely an enticing entrée upon my extensive buffet table of tastes would I have sampled his serving? No. Not even if he were a strawberry-n-butterscotch Oreo cookie cheesesteak. Some things are just never meant to be swallowed.

I have never and hope to never cross that threshold which is an exit from professionalism. And if a similar situation is presented to you; I would hope you have more respect for yourself than to let sex be a stepping stone for your career.

Next.

My Best,
Paul

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plus Hollywood & Broadway actors in Paul Russell’s Best-Selling Book ACTING: Make It Your Business!

Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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Sex Behind The Scenes – Actors Dating Actors

Sex: It’s the entertainment of nearly anyone involved in entertainment. It’s our hobby. If you haven’t dabbled in the backstage intrigue that is showmance, you’re either smart, a reticent recluse, or harboring halitosis that steers colleagues a good 10 feet away from your path.

 sex behind the scenes

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Ssex and actors

Showmance.

It isn’t one’s love for the latest stage hit that has developed a cult-following accompanied by a marketing campaign that includes relentless merchandising of the show on T-shirts and towels. But it’s similar to what happens between two emotionally and romantically charged people involved in a show who are attracted and then collide. And sometimes even an airbag or condom can’t provide safety.

First of all, in full disclosure, I must admit that I am not unblemished when it comes to my past sex life (no comment on the present). So no morality play here. My last showmance was over 20 years ago. It has continued ever since with my partner who I met during a national tour of “Annie” (o.k. … stop the giggles).

Sex: It’s the entertainment of nearly anyone involved in entertainment. It’s our hobby. If you haven’t dabbled in the backstage intrigue that is showmance, you’re either smart, a reticent recluse, or harboring halitosis that steers colleagues a good 10 feet away from your path.

Now why, you may be pondering, am I writing here about a sometimes salacious subject when this column is about acting and casting? Because relationships — especially intimate, when mingled with business — matter. There’s great importance of image integrity needed over intimacy when engaging in, maintaining or separating from a showmance. Your career can be greatly affected.

There’s an anecdotal punchline that’s runs rampant and rings true in our business of show: “There are only six people working in this business.” Our community, while large in hopefuls, is very small when it comes to actual participants. Rumor and “adjusted facts” are spread in our club of creatives with as much ferocity as tabloids that target a celebrity for something salacious.

You have got to be mindful of how your romantic endeavors — either sincere or temporary — are seen by others with whom you work. As I’ve written in my book, this industry is all about image, image, and image. That goes for participants on both sides of the curtain.

And it’s not only image that one must be mindful of when courting a fellow company member. Take in account how your relationship will affect the project and your peers. I worked at one summer stock company where each season the less-than-reputable producer routinely chose a chorus girl to be his behind-the-scenes playmate. One of which he married and soon thereafter divorced. Others became pregnant out of wedlock. With each fling that was flung, the company focused on generating rumors about the relationship(s). Eventually the producer’s attention of amore was ostracized. Company cohesiveness exited stage right and never came back for a curtain call.

I’m not advocating for or against following the heart or libido while you work. That’s your path to follow or ignore. Just know that outside influences (co-workers and employers) can cause action that will inhibit your new partnering and, more importantly, the design of original intent: work.

Showmance Caveats

1. Gossip

Apart from politics and tabloids, nowhere else other than in entertainment is rumor ravaging of others a joyful pursuit for those who have little substance in their own lives. If you begin any relationship, sexual or romantic (and yes there are differences between the two), you and your partner(s) would do best to keep the relationship out of sight from others. As a director, casting director and former actor, I have seen many, many companies become divided because of inter-cast/staff romances. Jealousies and alliances form. Be discrete for the success of both the relationship (or tryst) and the project.

2. Producers

Some producers, particularly among the non-union theaters, have an unspoken “morality meter” they mentally mind for their employees. They prefer that the people in their hire not utilize the workplace provided as a supermarket for sex. Keep your intimate relations far from producers. At least until a wedding or commitment ceremony; then hit them with your registry list. Producers tend to have more money than you and your out-of-suitcase peers.

Even if you believe your mating manners in a company are not excessive or are above honor, still keep it from producers and creatives who hire. At least those who are not close friends of yours. If the intimate mingling is with a producer or creative, then you really want to keep your relationship quiet. At least until you have to invite guests to the wedding/commitment ceremony. We can be jealous, bitter bitches when snubbed.

3. The Heart

For the newbies to the business and the veteran idealists (both of which I was long ago), ground yourself. Sex does not equal love. Love does not equal sex.

What intimate relations that may develop in the heightened emotional state of collaboration may not have happened elsewhere. The atmosphere of working and/or living close under stresses and adrenaline may spur attractions and situations that you would not normally follow in the “real world.”

From long ago I recall sitting in the living room of Shawnee Playhouse’s cast house as two infatuates of each other were snuggling on a couch across from me. The young lady was very much enthralled with her new beau. Then came the cold water statement from him to her: “Don’t get too cozy, honey. I’m not here for long.” Ouch. That romantically reticent actor later got his own TV series and several Spielberg films. The actress? A lost casualty of the business.

Sometimes show romances live beyond the show. Often they’re just that: show romances. Either way, go with some common sense, respect for others, and discretion. Enjoy discoveries. Carry condoms. (Some folks have on-hand assorted-sized engagement rings.)

My best,
Paul

PaulRussell.net

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Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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