Get Out of the Boom Boom Room
I was trying not to listen but you know how it is with actors, you kind of hear them no matter what. These two seemed to be meeting for the first time to work on their assigned scene for their class — a scene from David Rabe’s In the Boom Boom Room.
Do you know this play? If you’re a woman and were in an acting class, you surely encountered it at one point between its premiere in 1973 and… today, apparently. It’s the story of a dancer who finds work in a seedy nightclub. Acting teachers used to assign it a lot. Apparently they still do.
It’s kind of a terrible play. Like, really. The thing of it is, even if it was a great play — this was a terrible scene to assign to these two women across from me at the cafe. Not only would neither of them ever be cast in it or anything like it in their lifetimes, but they are pretty much guaranteed to fail at it. I listened to them struggle with the scene. They thought it was them. But I just wanted to scream –“Nah, girls. Nah. It’s not you — it’s the mantrification! (This is the word I was looking for in my previous post. Newly coined. Very useful.) It’s sexism.”
These two young women in the cafe were clearly beginning actors but eventually these ladies could be great in any number of parts. I’d like to see them play scientists, astronauts, horse trainers, accountants, courtiers, foot soldiers, etc, etc. But could they play a go go dancer and her go go boss? Nope. Never gonna happen. Not even with the best teacher in the world.
I think I know what this teacher was thinking. He was thinking, “I need to get these girls in touch with their bodies. I need to get them to open up and be able to play sexy.”
And, indeed, for the entirety of my lifetime so far, being able to play a sexy dancer who’s also an ingénue (or a seductive dominatrix or dominatrix who is also an ingénue with a heart of gold) really is going to get you the most jobs as an actress. If you can play a scientist, but sexy, or a girl next door who takes her glasses off and is suddenly hot, you’ll be much more marketable. I was given scenes like this back in my acting class days and I was also no good in them. Only a handful of people can be good in this sort of thing. We do the others no favors in repeating these same old tired tropes.
Many acting teachers think all women have a secret Christie Brinkley within — they just have to teach us how to unlock it. They feel this is their duty — to help every woman perform a certain kind of sexuality. But becoming Christie Brinkley is more than just shaking out your hair and taking your glasses off.
I’m not saying these ladies in the cafe weren’t sexy. Put them in the right context, I’m sure they could be sexy af. But that’s where the typical acting teachers’ logic is so twisted. One of the sexiest performances in 2018 by a woman was Rachel Weisz shooting pigeons in The Favorite. I can’t tell you the numbers of tweets I saw that declaimed this moment as “my sexuality.” Sexiness is not hair flipping and playing seductresses and go go dancers no matter how much the old creepy dudes who teach acting think it is.
Why on earth are people still assigning scenes from this play to young actors? Maybe in the early 70s there was something exciting and interesting about treating a go go dancer as a human being with problems and relationships but in 2019, we need more. I won’t dwell on the awfulness of this play (except to say that compelling a bunch of young actors to casually say the N-word for no good reason in the middle of it is just insult to injury) because this play is not the only guilty party in the constant objectification of actresses in training. I never had to work on this particular play myself but I certainly encountered dozens of others like it. It’s no wonder that the casting sites are full of women who list pole dancing as their special skill. If almost every woman in acting training encounters her own Boom Boom Room, it is no wonder our strength and power are much diminished by the time we reach an age wherein we could seize it.
And I know, I know, #NotAllActingClasses or at least I hope it’s not all acting classes these days but it’s clearly still #ManyActingClasses. Do a video search of In the Boom Boom Room and you will see acting showcase after acting showcase of young women in short skirts talking to each other about the hardships of the go go dancing life.
So, the vast majority of female identifying actors in this country are dealing with trying to play this sort of scene, if not this scene itself. I think that’s a problem and has an effect that reaches far beyond each individual class.
“Why?” you may ask. “Why is it a problem?”
Well — run this thought experiment. Gender switch this scene. Instead of two young women, it’s two fresh faced young men. Let’s say it’s Timothee Chalamet and Lucas Hedges before they got famous. Is this a good use of their time? Is teaching Chalamet how to flip his hair and pop his ass, to perform an exaggerated sexuality an effective way to teach acting? It is not. It’s a colossal waste of his time. And if he takes it to heart and continues to only perform in this way, it will ruin his talent entirely.
Once upon a time, there weren’t that many parts for women. We had to take what we could get. What were acting teachers to do if they had classes full of women, as they tended to have? You’ve got In the Boom Boom Room, Crimes of the Heart and The Children’s Hour, in case you felt like going classic.
But it is 2019. If In the Boom Boom Room is still in your repertoire, it’s time to let it and all the other scenes like it go. I know it’s easier to just work with the scenes you worked on when you were a student — but when you are training young actors, you aren’t just teaching them acting, you’re introducing them to the possibilities, to plays they might want to see or be a part of in the future.
I also understand that some scenes really allow you to teach certain things in a clearer fashion — there are scenes that allow you to teach objectives and obstacles and business and all sorts of stuff. So…tell me, what do you need, acting teachers? I know a lot of playwrights. I’m a playwright myself. What can we write for you to help you break out of the boom boom rut? We could start a whole thread of non boom boom two women scenes over on New Play Exchange.
Yes, too, as I’m sure many non boom boom teachers will point out, there are MANY MANY plays that have been written in the last 45 years that do a better job than In the Boom Boom Room. List them here, if you want. I don’t want to see another new actor trying to reconcile how to play these parts. It is time for them to disappear out of the repertoire and out of our lives.
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