In For a Penny: The Numbers Game

Charles Lewis III, ranking it up.

We’ve all done it.

We’ve all done it.

It should come as no surprise that as much as I detest reductive labelling in this business we call “play-acting”, I’m not above sharing in some backstage gossip during my off hours. I’m only human. I find it both a great bonding experience with theatre colleagues as well as an incredibly cathartic way for us to air all of our frustrations. And as we snipe and snark in private, away from the sensitive ears of those who’d recoil in terror if we said these things on the record, I also find it a way to learn more about Bay Area talent beyond what I’ve read off of resumes. I hear about rehearsal showmances fizzling out on opening night, actors with poor personal hygiene making backstage a biohazard, and I get to tell about the time I was kicked on stage during a show by an actor throwing a tantrum.

That’s what I call a “10”.

You see, I have personal scale that I use for theatre folk based on how much they irritate me. It goes from folks whom I consider human mosquito bites to folks whom I will – over drinks with close colleagues – refer to as “everything wrong with the contemporary performing arts scene”. My list has no regard for race, gender, or position in the theatre community: a respected actor can be in the same category as an overworked concessions manager.
And since I know I’m on similar lists for other people (a producer once tried to threaten me by saying aloud “We [producers] talk to each other, y’know!”), I feel no guilt about having my own personal reference guide for folks I see on a regular basis. In fact, I’d dare say my list has been invaluable in creating pleasant work experiences, as many people I respect tend to avoid the same people I do.

But, as the increasingly irrelevant MPAA has proven, a rating scale that fails to adapt will eventually become obsolete. With that in mind, I looked at the categories on my list and reflected on an incredibly busy year of theatre to see if my scale needed adjusting.

1 – Lovably annoying
These folks are just as likely to be on my list of my favorite theatre folks, they just have quirks that get to me. Maybe they have short attention spans that can slow rehearsal, maybe they won’t turn off their phone, maybe they start to strip off all their clothes to make everyone pay attention. But I love them. This number has the most names because it’s full of all the best people.

2 – Pebble in my shoe
These are the folks I really like, but seem to think I’m a walking, talking font of intimate knowledge of the entire Bay Area theatre scene. When they find out I’m not, they get annoyed. Nice folks, but they have no reason to complain about me lacking knowledge they could look up themselves.

3 – If it weren’t me…
In the first episode of Atlanta, Earn (Donald Glover) suppresses his rage in the company of a White friend who casually says “nigga” around him. That’s how I feel about local actors, producers, and directors who think they JUST HAVE TO touch my hair. I try my best to explain it to these otherwise nice, talented folks, but it never gets through. Way too many people in this category.

4 – The “Well Actuallys”
These folks are smarter than you. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s true, they feel their purpose in life is to be the Big Brain in the room showing off to everyone. No matter how good you thought a show was, they could have done it sooooo much better, y’see? If it weren’t for the fact that they actually have talent, I’d cut them all out of my life like a pre-cancerous mole (alcohol is the sunscreen that makes them tolerable). Thankfully, I’ve cut down on these folks, but I can still think of about seven off the top of my head.

5 – The 50/50
This is the sort of theatre person for whom there is no question of his/her talent and his intelligence, but there’s a loooooong list of folks who’ve sworn never to work with him/her again. I’ve worked with them enough to know why others swear them off (conversations about them usually have me nodding my head and sighing “I know… I know.”), but I don’t think they’re lost causes. I have only one person in this category.

We’ve all been there.

We’ve all been there.

6 – The Insurrectionist
Unlike the folks in No.4 who feel the need to voice their opinions, but still respect the hierarchy of production roles, the Insurrectionists will do their damndest to take over a show. They’ll tell the music director/production composer/professional music teacher “That’s not a ‘G’, that’s a ‘D’.” They’ll ignore the choreographer’s work and tell their fellow actors to move in a way the Insurrectionist thought up on the bus to rehearsal. They’ll overstep their role as artistic director and attempt to act as, well, director, despite having hired someone else for that very role. Ours is a collaborative art form, but the Insurrectionist sees each production as potential coup d’état.

7 – The Drag-Ass
The prima donna actor who doesn’t bother to show up on time, let alone be off-book by the specified date. The conceited costumer who can’t be bothered to either wash the costumes or suggest to the actors how to care for them. The sound designer insisting s/he is put-upon because the director asked for specific cues rather than stock F/X. The casting director who doesn’t get back to you in time, then gets angry when you stop waiting and accept a role in another show. I’m really glad to only know a handful of these folks by name (especially tech folk, who are usually rock stars in this business).

8 – The Obliviods
Audience members who constantly talk and take photos. Also directors and actors who think an entire production should adjust to their personal “process”. Yet they wonder why no one wants to work with them anymore. If you think they’re disrespectful, well then it’s actually YOU who fails to respect the master craftsmanship they’re applying to this black box production of Seussical that’s oh-so-sure to be written about in Playbill and American Theater.

9 – The Stairmasters
Both you and this production are just a way to kill time until they move to NY/LA/Narnia and get to do “real acting”.

10 – Just… no.
The casting director who sleeps with actresses he never casts.
The actors who physically attack you on-stage and/or off.
The directors and producers who go out of their way to slander your name so you never work again.
The actors (male or female) who can’t keep their hands off their fellow actors.
The stage manager who shows up drunk.

I’ve known people who have done each and every one of these terrible things, so I keep a list. Anyone above a “6” I make it a point never to work with again. Anyone who’s a “9” or “10”, I dislike for personal reasons in addition to their lack of respect for this art form and business.

Looking at the categories above, I can see some parameters I could adjust, but the scale continues to serve me well. As I said above, I know I’m on other people’s personal lists, but I won’t lose any sleep as to who or what category. Instead, I’ll continue to hang out with the ones I genuinely like and respect as we gossip about and avoid working with people who think the world revolves around them.

Charles Lewis III was once told he would never get cast again. That was two years ago… two of the busiest years he’s ever had performing theatre.