In the third episode of the second season of Slings & Arrows, the curse claims more and more victims. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Slings & Arrows.
Damn, this episode is intense. LET’S TALK.
You know that aphorism, “A broken clock is right twice a day”? I feel like that’s a perfect summation of Sanjay as a character. Every so often, he’s not wrong, and some of what he says touches on an actual truth. The problem is that literally everything else about him is an utter disaster. At the heart of the campaign that he launches for the New Burbage Festival—which he doesn’t tell Richard about at all—is an irony that could work in terms of advertising and re-branding. I think we’ve all seen successful advertising in which negative reviews are used in an ironic and positive angle. The problem, though, is that while Sanjay and his team might understand that, they think that being ironic is all they need. If they can offensively poke fun at the fact that the majority of the festival’s subscribers are both older and closer to death, then they can do whatever they want in the next prong of ads! In a weird way, I might be able to see how this works, and there’s a part of me that thinks the writers’ll go that way because it’s funny as hell.
But I come at this knowing that at its heart, a lot of theater struggles with the idea of access. Theater is expensive to put on, and that makes the cost of attending live theater prohibitive, too. In this sense, directly insulting the people with the time and the money to invest in theater is… a really bad idea. Look, I spent a portion of my life working a soul-sucking job at Ticketmaster in their theater subscription department. There is perhaps not a more entitled, eager-to-complain group of people than old white folks who buy theater tickets. After I got moved to customer service, I spent a mind-numbing three months being yelled at by people just like those who call into the festival offices. These people had the fucking time to devote hours and hours to complaining about things that, in the long run, did not matter. We had a legacy system set in place so that the best seats could go to longtime supporters, and if someone lapsed on payments or gave up their subscription, they were put at the back of the line in terms of availability.
I can’t even count how many of these people would call up, say they hadn’t been a member for years, and expect me to give them their old seats back. I do recall a conversation I once had that felt like I was the star of one of those old school prank shows, and it went thus:
Me: Hi, this is Mark, thank you for calling the Broadway subscription line.*
Person: Hi, I am a longtime supporter of the seasons at the Pantages Theater**, and I would like to purchase my seats for this years’ season.
Me, opening up the script for a renewal process: Absolutely, and thank you so much for your patronage! Can I get the name for your account?
Person: (Gives their name.)
Me: I’m having trouble finding your current subscription. Is it perhaps under another name? Am I spelling it correctly?
Person: Oh, I don’t have a subscription now.
Me: Oh, well you said you were a longtime supporter. My apologies, I would love to get you started on a new subscription. Can I open an account under that name?
Person: We were located in Orchestra Row x, with seats y and z. Can I get those seats back?
Me, quietly looking at the seat map, despite knowing that all but about 15 seats are accounted for, and the only open subscriptions are in the Balcony section: I would love to help you get the best seats possible for the upcoming season!
Person: So can you get me those seats again?
Me: I’m sorry, the season starts in two weeks, so most of our seats are already taken. How would you like Balcony Row a, seats b and c?
Person: But I was in those seats for 23 years. Can’t I have them back?
Me: I’m sorry, but those seats are already allocated to another party.
Person: Is it Rachel? Did Rachel take them?
Me: I cannot give that information over the phone.
Person: Can’t you just give them other seats? We supported the theater longer.
Me: When did you last participate in the subscription program?
Person: That’s not relevant information. Can I get those seats, please?
Me, having looked up the old accounts that expired and discovering that she had not paid for six years: Well, since it has been a few years since your last subscription, we cannot bump you up in line. You’ll have to purchase what you can this year, and then when renewals open next year, you can upgrade your seats.
Person: Are you even from this country? Do you even know how important the theater is?
Me: I am based out of Los Angeles. I am sorry you are dissatisfied. Would you like to purchase the Balcony tickets for this year?
Person: The people in those seats don’t even like the theater. They don’t deserve them. Can’t you just accidentally delete them and put me in them?
Me: I’m sorry, but that would not be fair, since they have already paid for a full season of tickets. Would you like the Balcony tickets?
Person: You lowlife trash, you probably haven’t been to the theater. What do you watch? Do you even know what the theater is?
Me: So, are the Balcony seats fine?
Person: Can I speak to your supervisor? Maybe they actually speak English.
They bought the balcony seats, for the record.
I find the whole intern economy shaky at best, especially since it’s one of the most acceptable forms of free labor in our world. It teaches people some pretty terrible things about self worth and how much they should be paid for what they do, and on an even more horrendous level, it’s a way for companies to exploit labor for their own end. I don’t think it’s entirely unethical, and the idea of having people intern somewhere to get an idea of what a profession is like is a brilliant notion. It’s like a trial run at a career, and that aspect of it is something that could be very rewarding for people who aren’t sure what they want to do with their life. (I mean, I also have THOUGHTS on the notion that here in America, we basically ask a teenager to plot out their whole life before they’ve barely lived their own.)
All that being said: oh my god, the depiction of interns here is SO CRUSHINGLY REAL. Look, if you didn’t understand why Anna despised the idea of having interns, here you go! THEY ARE A DISASTER. It’s what you get when you’ve got disinterested people not being paid for a job that should be paid. It literally creates more work for Anna, just as she said it would! I WEEP FOR ANNA.
The Creative Process
I still enjoy that Oliver works both as a means of presenting Geoffrey’s mental illness to the audience and can give us an insight into how his internal creative process operates. I’m also maintaining that the major problem here is that Geoffrey still hasn’t found a way to make Macbeth his own. Indeed, he does his best to work through Oliver’s massive cache of notes and produce a coherent vision out of them. But it’s Oliver’s vision. It’s not bad, mind you, and there’s some genuinely fascinating shit here that provides a new means of understanding this play.
However, there’s a pivotal moment towards the end of “Rarer Monsters” where Geoffrey finally breaks through Oliver’s interpretation and offers his own insight. He suggests that Macbeth will be more effective and more haunting if the audience is reminded that Macbeth is human. Which is in direct contradiction to Oliver’s idea that Macbeth has to be quintessentially evil throughout, that he’s almost like a force of nature. I like Geoffrey’s interpretation a lot, though! It’s a really fascinating interpretation, and as the director, that’s what he is supposed to do. Except Oliver is shadow directing this play from beyond the grave, and the result is… well, it’s a mess. AND HENRY BREEDLOVE IS CERTAINLY NOT HELPING MATTERS. Geoffrey has to make this production his own, or he’ll never escape Oliver.
Which does not mean that Geoffrey is above reproach. The episode strives to balance his creative struggle with the emotional one between him and Ellen. Both characters are shown to be deeply flawed, and I don’t want to ignore those elements. Henry is right that Geoffrey often can’t see the little details that do matter when putting on a play. Ellen is absolutely justified in feeling like Geoffrey doesn’t spend any time with her. She gives him so many signs that she just wants company, and he’s so wrapped up in this play and pleasing everyone that he doesn’t see them at all. Does that mean it’s fair for her to seek out Henry’s comfort? Or tell Henry things that Henry can use to sabotage Geoffrey? BECAUSE THAT’S HAPPENING, TOO. Henry is also manipulating Ellen, and I DON’T LIKE HIM. IT’S REALLY GROSS.
Honestly, this wasn’t how I saw these two separating, even though I anticipated that this relationship wouldn’t last. Ellen needs more support than she’s getting; Geoffrey needs a support that she can’t provide. This play might not be cursed, but it’s absolutely ripping the two of them apart. Well, it also seems to have brought in Darren Nicholes (I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE ABSURDITY HE WILL CREATE) after the director for Romeo & Juliet broke her neck. At the same time… this is kind of what the New Burbage Festival is like ALL THE TIME. Chaos. Beautiful, aching chaos.
*That is not what it was called, but you get the idea.
**I’m pretty sure I didn’t handle this theater’s subscriptions, but I’m just using a recognizable name.
The video for “Rarer Monsters” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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