Friday Briefing: Doing away with Faye Dunaway on Broadway, and the continued curse of mobiles in the theatre
Doing Away with Dunaway
Sometimes there's more drama offstage than onstage. In the latest example, Faye Dunaway was this week fired from a new one-woman play Tea at Five - which she has just starred in the Boston premiere of - supposedly en route to Broadway.
According to a terse statement: "The producers of Tea at Five announced today that they have terminated their relationship with Faye Dunaway. Plans are in development for the play to have its West End debut early next year with a new actress to play the role of Katharine Hepburn." So Dunaway's - and Broadway's - loss may yet be London's gain.
But this isn't the first time Dunaway has been let go from a theatrical project: in 1994, she was due to take over from Glenn Close in the original Los Angeles premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard. On that occasion, it was the specific demands of the role that were cited: "It was concluded after several weeks of rehearsals and vocal preparation that the musical demands of the role were such that it was not possible for (Dunaway) to perform as scheduled."
Of course, Dunaway was, on that occasion, not the first actor to be fired from Sunset Boulevard: after originating the role in London, Patti LuPone was released from her contract to reprise the role on Broadway (and replaced by Close), which led to a settlement for LuPone that funded what she has called "The Andrew Lloyd Webber Memorial Pool" at her Connecticut home.
In a 1996 interview in the New York Times, she said: "On blissfully sunny days in the woods, we toast Andrew Lloyd Webber by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Memorial Pool. The best thing that could have happened was getting fired from that show.''
But in her autobiography, she admitted, "Sunset Boulevard was a devastating experience, and it had nothing to do with theatre, nothing to do with the reason I perform onstage. It was something else altogether - one man's megalomania and insecurity crushing an actor behind deceit and greed."
The story emerging of Dunaway's latest removal, however, cites the actor's own behaviour. According to a report in the New York Post, "The July 10 performance was cancelled moments before curtain because Dunaway slapped and threw things at crew members who were trying to put on her wig, sources say. Enraged at the cancellation, Dunaway began 'verbally abusing' the crew. They were 'fearful for their safety,' said one source."
Already Dunaway's long-term London representatives have told The Independent: "With certain artists, there is always more drama off-stage than on, which is unfortunate. We did not work with Ms Dunaway on Tea at Five as we represent European projects and therefore have not been in touch with either the producers or indeed Ms Dunaway regarding this recent event. If however physical abuse against hard-working theatre personnel has taken place as alleged then we will no longer be in a position to represent Ms Dunaway."
So it seems they, too, maybe firing her on the basis of what they've heard but not yet confirmed.
As Lee Seymour has written in Forbes, "It falls into an established narrative of Dunaway as an infamously 'difficult' actor... However, the narrative has come under deserved scrutiny in a post-MeToo world. 'Difficult' has long been a moniker attached to women who refuse to kowtow to male higher-ups, then used as an excuse to stymie careers, especially in Hollywood. Since Harvey Weinstein’s predatory abuses were exposed, scores of women have spoken about the ways in which they were undermined, threatened, blackballed, and otherwise impeded for standing their ground when pressured by male colleagues."
As always, there's likely more than meets the eye to this story. In a world of fast social media judgements, perhaps we need to wait for the full facts to emerge before we rush to judgement.
The continuing curse of the mobile phone in the theatre
It is, these days, literally impossible to go to theatre without a mobile phone (or three) making an unscheduled interruption in a performance.
Mostly, this is just inadvertent; despite regular announcements before the show and reminders after the interval, people still forget to switch off or silence their phones again. (And yes, I've been that person, too - and just last week, my theatre guest was the offender, who I could not be directly responsible for.)
It's one thing being caught out, but it's another entirely to deliberately flout the rules and regulations, which are there for everyone's enjoyment. I've written frequently in the past of my encounters with amateur photographers who are determined to record parts of the show on their mobile device, from Bianca Jagger (at the Barbican Centre in 2012) to the sister of a performer in the show (at the Union Theatre in 2016).
Astonishingly, I've also had cause to protest allegedly professional photographers who are licensed by the management to cause a disruption: in 2016 I attended a performance at New York City Center of a staged concert version of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas that was accompanied by the constant clicking of a camera shutter, being used without a muffler.
It turned out that the offending photographer was shooting for none other than the New York Times. As I wrote at the time, "Never mind that an apparently professional photographer came to a job ill-equipped to fulfil it at a public performance. The failure is first and foremost one of poor house management, and a venue that seems to value an archival picture in the so-called ‘paper of record’ above the enjoyment and respect of its paying patrons."
But sometimes photographers, whether professional or amateur, cross another line to a personal invasion of privacy.
Last Sunday Audra McDonald, currently starring in a revival of Terrence McNally's Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune on Broadway, tweeted: "To whoever it was in the audience that took a flash photo during our nude scene today: Not cool. Not cool at all."
Amongst the countless supportive replies, I loved this one: "'Not cool' is the understatement of the year. Where are the consequences for these individuals?! This has to violate something more than human decency and copyright laws."
In an interview in the New York Times last month, McDonald spoke of the sense of exposure, in every sense, to appearing nude on stage: "Maybe strippers get real used to it. but for me there’s nothing normal about that. So there’s nowhere in my mind that I can drift off and let this just kind of happen, because everything about it is demanding that you be present."
A photographic intrusion like this upsets not just the equilibrium of the actor's performance and safety, but also of the rest of the audience watching.