The sad state of sexual affairs in media and art has recently been rightfully and glaringly exposed. You thought all those middle-aged men were just benevolent patrons, brilliant teachers and talented artists … but nope. They're all rapists, degenerates and human dumpster fires. Yikes.
So let's take this somewhere else. Let's reclaim the idea of love between artists. Let's go to a simpler place; a sweeter place. Let's take this to the realm of the showmance.
For those who've not set foot on a stage, the concept of a showmance is a pretty simple one: amorous feelings between members of a theatrical production. It happens a lot. Honestly, it's even a little odd if a show goes by without a showmance. It's a fact of life in theater: You're gonna get laid, and it's probably gonna be good. (Best. Hobby. Ever.)
Even at the "lowest" level of commitment (unpaid community theater shows), you're still rehearsing six or seven days a week for three to five hours a day for maybe two months. You're all artsy-types, which means you're probably passionate and a little fiery. (That's said without judgment; takes one to know one.) Then you start performing—there's that endorphin rush. After performances you'll probably go out for drinks. If nothing's happened by that point—then, well, that's what cast parties are for, right?
Even for someone like actress Tara Khozein, who defines herself as a staunch "boundaries girl" and who has never actually had a relationship with a fellow cast member, passion is inherent in the practice.
"I probably fall in love with everyone that I'm ever paired with onstage," she says. "I think about a life with that person, and all of the details of that. … But it can't happen, at least for me, if there's any sense that it will follow me out of there."
As separate as she tries to keep herself, she admits it's a slippery slope. "We're playing with fire with this craft," she continues. "It's soul stuff. It's deep, weird, mysterious heart stuff. So there needs to be an amount of sacredness around it."
And then there's Kate Chavez and Robin Holloway, two-thirds of the company Up & Down Theatre. They met while studying at the London International School of Performing Arts, and after two years, they formed Up & Down with classmate Lindsey Hope Pearlman in 2011. A year after they formed the company, Chavez and Holloway realized they were also in love. A year ago, they were married.
They have a unique love-work balance, however. "When we work together in the company, it's almost like we revert back to the collegial relationship," Chavez says. "Then we go to bed at night and it's like, 'Oh, hi!'"
If it sounds a little sterile, don't be fooled. Chavez still thinks that romance is to be expected: "There's a level of intimacy … that seems like a very natural, and almost necessary outcropping of an artistic life. For longevity, you need distance and professionalism, but you also need a certain level of intimacy. It creates a breeding ground for romance."
Holloway takes it a step further and suggests that it's even a benefit. "At this point, it's really hard for me to imagine not working with my partner." But he admits it's also weird. "When you're doing a show, it consumes your whole life," he says. "It's everything you think about, it's everything you share. … It feels like you have the world in common. But then … the show closes, and the veil drops, and you're like, 'Woah, I don't even know who you are.'"
When Janet Davidson, president of Theatre Santa Fe, responded to my query about showmance, she definitely took the cake for weirdest story: "I fell in love with the puppet while on tour with Snow White," she wrote in an email.
Okay, I thought; maybe I could roll with this. Maybe it was one of those beautiful, kinda-weirdly-sexy anthropomorphic art puppets. Then Davidson texted me a picture.
The 1968 photo showed a supple 20-year-old Davidson as the titular character, coiffed and dewy, with Sweet Pea: a burlap-clothes-wearing, glassy-eyed, plush, bulbous … well, puppet. He was a straight-up puppet.
On a tour from New York to Illinois in 1968, Davidson describes her close friendship with Bob, Sweet Pea's puppeteer. Their friendship deepened until a fellow company member had to step in.
The friend "got the two of us together and he said, 'Look, Bob is gay. Sweet Pea is not. You're falling in love with Sweet Pea. Not Bob. Bob is gay.' And then he turned to Bob and said, 'Bob. Janet's not Snow White. You're falling in love with Snow White. And you have to grow up, the two of you.' I was so confused about the whole thing. Then, do I not love Sweet Pea? Or Bob? Or what?"
It sounds silly—except for anyone who's acted with a puppet, maybe. Things get strange.
"It was my first encounter with confusing relationships," Davidson says. "I wonder to this day if there wasn't something more there that was coming out of Bob." As in every love story, there is a denouement. "As the tour went on, Bob and I got further and further apart. There was less and less kidding around," Davidson says now, 50 years later, still a little sadness in her voice. "I don't know if you can make heads or tails of that, because to this day, I can't. I never saw Bob again."
As Davidson "grew up," she learned that this was all just part of the biz. "When people are thrown into long hours of intense work, there end up being relationships, whether they're hate or love. I don't think you can get away from it," she says.
And, really, let's not get away from it. Theater is people interacting with people, and the messy realness of humanity is what makes it a living art form. And there's nothing more romantic than that.