Thursday, October 3, 2013

Coming Soon: More SUBMISSIONS ONLY Episodes!

There are a lot of web series out there about show biz, probably because actors are so often out of work, so they're looking for something to do. Creating a series for the web means they can play whatever they want and build their career frustrations right into the story. That means there's a sameness to the storylines -- terrible auditions, vain and crazy theater folk, terrible luck getting a break -- but also some funny, talented people who really do deserve that break.

Submissions Only is the cream of the backstage web series crop, or the cream of the ones I've found, anyway. It involves a hapless actress named Penny Reilly, whose best friend is a casting director. That means Penny, who is played by Submissions Only co-creator Kate Wetherhead, frequently sits in on auditions as a reader when she's in need of a buck between gigs. That means we run into all sorts of Broadway stars who are supposedly auditioning for thing, and there are running gags about the insanity of the audition process in general. Penny has romantic problems, too, as does her friend the casting director, whose ex is Penny's agent, as both the casting guy and his ex match up with new boyrfriends. The adorable Santino Fontana, the new "It" boy of the American stage, plays Aaron, also an aspiring actor and a romantic interest for Penny, although they have never really been in the same place at the same time to make the connection.

Others in the regular cast include Colin Hanlon as Tim, Penny's best friend; Stephen Bienskie as her agent Steven; Asmeret Ghebremichael as her supportive roommate Raina; Randall Moody as a cheerful newcomer to the audition business; Max Von Essen as Steven's gorgeous new boyfriend, and Donna Vivino as Serena, a self-absorbed actress who has been Aaron's girlfriend and is now starring in a new show with Penny.

We've seen two "seasons" of Submissions Only so far, with six episodes in the first bunch, and eight in the second. Guest stars have included people like Kerry Butler, Bobby Cannavale, Rachel Dratch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Harvey Fierstein, Joanna Gleason, Joel Grey, Nick Jonas, Jeremy Jordan, Linda Lavin, Judith Light, Audra McDonald, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Laura Osnes, Adam Pascal, Roger Rees, Chita Rivera, Tony Roberts and Michael Urie.

And now it's time for Season 3. Well, almost. A trailer has been released, with the tease that new episodes will be coming soon, but no exact timetable. Come on, Submissions Only! Get those new episodes here now!

In the meantime, you can watch the trailer here or catch up on the other 14 episodes if you haven't seen them yet.

Here's how Kate Wetherhead and her partner in the series, Andrew Keenan-Bolger, describe their show:
Created in 2010 by New York actors Kate Wetherhead and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, "Submissions Only" is a grassroots web sitcom that shows viewers what really goes on off stage. Following the friendship of two theater professionals, an actress (Kate Wetherhead as Penny Reilly) and a casting director (Colin Hanlon as Tim Trull), as they try to build careers in the notoriously tricky and often absurd world of Broadway theatrics, "Submissions Only" proves there's a whole lot of comedy in all the drama.
Submissions Only is far and away the best of the web series devoted to theater, but there are others. If you want to try some out, or if you're desperate for something to see while you wait for Submissions Only to get back, you might try:

It Could Be Worse. A scatalogical look at the seamy underside of going for a career in theater in New York, It Could Be Worse stars Wesley Taylor, who played Bobby on the TV show Smash and also appeared as the nice boyfriend in The Addams Family musical. I hated it. Its focus on bathrooms and bad behavior is just not me.

City of Dreams. Come on, kids, let's put on a show! Three plucky kids hit NYC but never get cast, so they fake a musical called The Ballad of Ovagina. "Oh, vagina, oh, won't you cry for me, cause I've come from Alabama with my banjo on my knee..." No, that's not what they perform. Instead, they get Laura Osnes to sing a song (something about windows) and shed a single tear perfectly on cue. Osnes is lovely, but the rest of the show... The three main children are annoying with no redeeming qualities that I can see, and, as the friend who told me about this series said, it's about "Young kids trying to make it, and I'm thinking, maybe not everybody SHOULD make it."

Theater People. Set in the theater-crazy world of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Theater People uses all kinds of talented Twin Cities actors to fill out plots that seem like it was inspired by the Canadian series Slings and Arrow, with its messy romances and insane directors. There's no ghost, however, and most of the characters are really, really annoying. Especially serial cheater David, whose ex-wife is directing him as Romeo (a really old Romeo) in a misguided production of Romeo and Juliet. There's an awesome cat video if you get all the way to the end, however.

The Reel Housewives of Theatre West. Did you know there's also theater in LA? I mean, not just movies, but also theater? The Reel Housewives of Theatre West takes you there, looking at actresses who've gotten too old to get roles but are still working at a mediocre theater. There's a ventriloquist character who always carries a puppet and talks to and through it, which I almost always hate. But if you can't get enough of Nunsense and Menopause the Musical, this just may be the show for you.

Backstage Drama. This one involves a framing device of a cute New Jersey guy who gets put in witness protection as a janitor at a small regional theater in "Grand River, Michigan" with a boatload of crazy people working in their version of show business. This series was created to benefit regional theaters, and only the first few episodes are available for free. I'm sorry because its heart is in the right place, but it's terrible. The acting is awful, the editing is amateurish and confused, and the writing is just beyond sad.

If you've found a backstage web series I should see, let me know. Otherwise I'll just bide my time and wait for Submissions Only.


  1. Thanks for putting all this together, Julie! Very informative and fun.

    I do agree about "Submissions Only" being the cream. There's such a sparkle about it, and the acting can be first-rate (when the Santino Fontana character jumps out of his role as "reader" to hit the auditioning actor with a full-fledged emotional scene partner, it's just as jaw-dropping as the story needs it to be).

    Plus, many of these web series have original songs as part of the milieu, but the ones in "Submissions Only" really stick in the memory from "Nobody does 'mean' like me!" (from "Mean Girls: The Musical") to "Put Your Two Cents In," suavely rendered by Gavin Creel.

  2. I'm proud I recognized Gavin Creel's voice on Put Your Two Cents In. It was really charming, too.

    I know I'm a sucker for romance, but the Penny/Aaron thing really hooked me. Also... Is Max Von Essen absolutely perfect-looking or what? I mean, Santino Fontana is more attractive to me, because he isn't perfect, but Max Von Essen looks like he should be modeling for Versace or something.

    In terms of the guest stars, that was the list attached to the video on Youtube. I cut a few when I alphabetized them, just because I was tired of typing. I don't know if they're all from previous episodes or some are coming up.

  3. I'm proud of you for recognizing the Creel voice, too. That was more than I managed -- well done! And the list means we have some exciting new names to look forward to this season. (I'm tempted to name some of the exciting pre-credits cameos, but it's more fun if viewers encounter them as surprises.)

    Max von Essen is definitely very striking-looking, maybe more so in video close-up (I've seen him onstage twice in musicals, and enjoyed him greatly, but he didn't make this kind of visual impression). The two stage actors who have come across to me and my theatergoing companions as stunningly perfect visually have been Vanessa Williams and Cheyenne Jackson.

    On this series, I also love Anne L. Nathan (remembered as Thoroughly Modern Millie's tap-dancing secretarial-pool supervisor), who plays a director with an inopportune sense of humor and the world's worst gaydar. And Jeff Blumenkrantz as a snarky rehearsal pianist who always seems to be around the corner with a muttered comment. And Annaleigh Ashford as "Adorable Girl #1", forever rushing down a corridor on the way to a callback but stopping off to greet a female acquaintance and exclaim about how pretty and successful and thin she is.

  4. Correction: the pianist in my last paragraph is played by Jeffrey Kuhn. (I recalled the wrong Jeff Name-with-K-in-it.)

    The show's ability to order up good-looking men as needed is maybe best shown in the "Miller-Hennigan Act" episode, in which Penny's determined to avoid hookups with actors, goes in to work as a reader, and immediately finds herself playing hot scenes opposite Jeremy Jordan, Matt Cavanaugh, and Steven Pasquale, one after the other.

    I also love Beth Leavel as Penny's mother. And Kevin Pariseau as a recurring auditioner who never uses 3 words when he can use 200 pretentious ones. And Rick Elice as Penny's cheerful but clueless stepfather.

  5. I had no idea Anne L. Nathan was the leader of the steno pool in MILLIE. I loved that "Forget About the Boy" number and her performance. I'll have to check my Playbill to see if it was still her when I saw it, because I really thought it was someone different, someone more like... Jackie Hoffman? So I'm either misremembering in a major way or Anne L. Nathan is very versatile!