Web Series On Theater Turns Drama Into Comedy

Submissions Only is an online comedy about young actors hoping to make it on Broadway. Star Kate Wetherhead and NPR's Scott Simon talk about the often brutal and funny world of actors, agents and casting directors.

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"Submissions Only" is a backstage comedy - in fact, it goes so far backstage, it goes into the auditions. It's the story of eager, hopeful actors, hectored and hectoring agents, and demanding casting directors who work just around the corner from Broadway.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as character) Hey, Pen, I went on theater burn and wrote I don't care who's directing "Jeremy's Fort," as long as Penny Riley is still in it. She's going to be fierce.

KATE WETHERHEAD: (as Penny) Aw. And then did everybody write Penny who?

SIMON: Well, Penny is played by Kate Wetherhead, who also co-created this online backstage comedy. It's about to begin its third season. She joins me from our studios in New York. Thanks very much for being with us.

WETHERHEAD: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: You co-created "Submissions Only" with Andrew Keenan-Bolger. How, why did you come up with it?

WETHERHEAD: Andrew and I were working in Dallas. We were doing "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman" at the Dallas Theater Center in 2010. And we started out as pals, but we also shared a sense of humor and a sort of quirky sensibility. And my husband noticed this potential collaboration and said to me in private you two should write a web series together, which is interesting, 'cause I didn't watch web series, neither did he. It had never occurred to me but it was one of those light bulb moments. It just sounded like a good idea. So, I broached the subject with Andrew the next day. And he said funny that you should say that because I was sort of thinking the same thing. And within 10 minutes we'd come up with this idea about a friendship between a casting director and his actress friend.

SIMON: I mean, this sounds like the 21st century equivalent of you look at each other and say, hey, I've got an idea. I've got a can and Pro Tools; let's make a show.

WETHERHEAD: Yes, exactly. And the stakes were very low. It didn't matter if it was good. We could just play with the idea and put it up on YouTube, which was already well saturated with content and see if our friends liked it.

SIMON: Would we be shocked by the budget?

WETHERHEAD: Yes, you would. First of all, there really wasn't one. And ultimately, I think the first season we paid out of pocket just under $2,000, and most of that money went towards renting rehearsal rooms and buying light bulbs and batteries. But that was it. Nobody made a dime.

SIMON: Yeah. And how much is drawn from your own experiences - all the characters but specifically Penny, the character you play?

WETHERHEAD: A lot of what I write about is either drawn from the headlines of my own life or just tapping into emotional experiences; you know, how I felt in the room or how I perceived a comment. Because, of course, we conflate and we exaggerate things that are said to us. And, you know, the behavior that is shown towards us in the room since all our nerves are so raw and exposed when you're in an audition situation.

SIMON: Yeah. And do you hope people can understand the life of a working actor a little better if they dip into this?

WETHERHEAD: I do. And we've had people respond to us saying, you know, you've really nailed it. You're really captured what it's like. And it also doesn't seem like we've alienated anyone with the specificity of our content. It seems like people who are not in this business - cops, lawyers, teachers - have found us and appreciate the human stories that we're telling.

SIMON: Has the series "Submissions Only" been a kind of acting resume for both of you?

WETHERHEAD: It has, and in some unexpected ways. You know, when I first started developing this with Andrew, I thought, well, maybe I'll get some more pilot auditions. Maybe I'll be considered for more on-camera work. And while that's happened to some extent, what neither one of us saw coming was a book deal with Penguin. We're writing a YA series for them because one of their editors became a fan of the show and had an idea for a series about two middle-school-age friends who do theater together, and in trying to, you know, locate the proper voice for these characters, thought of us.

SIMON: Oh, well, good for you.

WETHERHEAD: Thanks. It's really exciting.

SIMON: Kate Wetherhead, who is star, co-creator of "Submissions Only." The new season begins its run on BroadwayWorld.com on March 3rd. Thanks so much.

WETHERHEAD: Thank you.

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