OnStage New York Columnist
It is well known that show-mances suck and they tend to be completely unavoidable at one point in a performer’s life. To clarify – a “Show-mance” is a romantic relationship between two crew or actors during the run of a play that traditionally lasts until the final curtain call. If you are only starting forward with your career in Theatre, at some point you will probably work with someone who just clicks. You’re both single, you both have a passion for the arts, it just seems like you were meant to play these parts together (usually in a part where your characters are supposed to fall in love) and you grow attached to them. It’s kind of inevitable that at some point you get too attached.
We as actors often immerse ourselves in the roles – it’s necessary for a more perfect performance. For a while each night we lose ourselves in the life of this character who is, at least in the world of the play, actually experiencing all these emotions for the first time every time they’re on stage. So when a beginner actor (or even an experienced but young one) goes through the process the first few times it can be hard not to. Despite what every other actor will ever warns them, it happens. But here are some great reasons to keep it platonic around the stage.
1.) It Gets Awkward
It’s actually pretty natural to get involved with people during the run of a show. Theatre people tend to be the kind of folks who feel everything and they’re people persons. So it feels great in the moment. You’re probably running on all-cylinders, you’re pumped to go do the show and connect again with this person.
Then the show ends.
The Theatre world is pretty small – you might end up working with that person again, possibly multiple times. And unless you have miraculously found your soul-mate, the end of the show-mance is going to get ugly. As fabulous as you feel when it starts, the opposite is true for the end of it. At the end of the production’s run, you might have a few weeks before things start to fall apart. You realize that you both actually have a lot of difference that don’t really mesh but those were kind of overlooked because you drop them when you go to perform. You probably start fighting a lot – but neither of you will want to admit it was a bad decision so you’ll try for a little longer. And then one or the other is going to realize it was and drop everything one way or another. And even if neither of you are upset it will be awkward.
So the next time you perform with them it’ll be weird, especially because you might wind up playing romantic partners in a new show (there’s a reason you were cast to play opposite each other). Both your circles of friends are probably wound together now, so they’ll unintentionally be picking sides. Especially if you end with emotional yelling and blaming (it happens, unfortunately). So your career with these people will be irreparably weird for a long time.
2.) It’s Unprofessional
No matter how well you handle it, others are going to look down on your decision to get into a Show-mance. I’ve done shows before where the couple in question were completely ridiculous. They made-out during intermission, fought in urgent whispers during scene changes, and went out of their way to avoid social interactions after performances. Obviously not everyone does this, and it’s a pretty extreme example. However it happens often enough that the already negative stigma on these relationships can color everyone else’s reactions to you – which inevitably translates to whether or not they want to work with you.
It’s a delicate dance to perform but keeping positive relations with anyone who might hire you is important. Showing that you’re going to alienate your cast-mates in any way immediately makes you look less professional and difficult. As much money and effort that goes into productions, that’s something producers can’t take a risk on.
3.) It Affects Your Performance
Once again, actors and techies tend to be emotional people. We are, after all, artists. So different feelings will enhance or take away from a performance. Being aggressively tired from last night’s date with your new temporary sweetheart is going to detract from the next day when you have a show for both of you. On the other hand it might also improve your scene with them.
Again, the character feels in the moment. It’s new to them every time. So you’ll have new moments of realization. Suddenly you know why your character falls in love with their other. But if anything goes wrong and interferes with that happiness you’re feeling it works the other way. Maybe you both had a fight and now neither of you are really interested in making nice – so now your scene is going to look forced. It’s unfortunate, but it can happen. And you have no idea how it will profoundly affect you or your work.
4.) It’s Gonna Hurt
Different personalities are going to mesh differently. You might feel intensely for your new partner, and maybe they reciprocate on the same level. But as fleeting as it ultimately is, the more attached you get the worse it’s going to feel when it fails.
I learned this the hard way when I was in undergrad. The both of us were playing opposite in a musical – there was a gorgeous duet, a dance between the two of us, and a really emotional scene where one gave up everything for the other. During this time we got into a relationship and it actually made our performance cuter. Everything seemed to be going great. And then towards the end of the performance we both went to a cast party. Things were said, alcohol was drunk, and suddenly everything fell apart. Luckily there was only one performance left in our run and it was wonderful. Afterwards it felt like my heart got ripped out.
The point is that when the relationships fall, they fall hard. It is fragile. It will probably break. And I never wish that feeling on anyone.
5.) It’s Going To Happen Anyway!
If you ever get the chance to read or watch “The Understudy” by Theresa Rebeck do it. It’s a great show and it features the life of actors fantastically. It also perfectly captures the dangers of a Show-mance at the worst possible scenario. Two of the characters in the play were set to get married before one runs off. They end up working on a show together where one of them has become the stage manager and the other one really needs the job. It’s a beautiful, Kafkaesque show and it showcases one of the few constants in Theatre.
You will probably get into a show-mance at some point no matter what happens. You will tell yourself you never have an interest, strive for it… and then you’ll do it anyway. Because Theatre makes connections, show folk are weird, and we all tend to meet that one person within where you are positive it’s going to be different with. It probably won’t be – but enjoy the experience and learn from it. It will at least be an emotional ride and there’s likely nothing you can do about it so you may as well have the happy moments with the bad. Even the most professional actors occasionally fall into it. You’ll emerge a more wise person for it.