BWW Exclusive: On the Set of SMASH- Josh Bergasse on Winning His Emmy, Choreographing for Two Musicals in Season Two & More; Plus New Photos!
SMASH makes its long-awaited return to the NBC lineup for a second season on Tuesday, February 5 (9-10 p.m. ET) and will continue in its regular time slot on Tuesday, February 12 (10-11 p.m. ET). Season 2 will feature a slew of new talent, including Jennifer Hudson, Jeremy Jordan, Andy Mientus, Krysta Rodriguez, Sean Hayes, Jesse L. Martin, Liza Minnelli, Bernadette Peters, Nikki Blonski, and more.
BroadwayWorld's own Richard Ridge was invited to the SMASH set where he got to chat with choreographer Josh Bergasse about the upcoming season. Check out what he had to say about winning his Emmy, having to choreograph for two musicals in Season two, and more, below!
Well, Season two. What can you tell us?
Well, for the choreography department, Season one was such a big undertaking. And it was so successful so it was a little daunting to figure out how we were going to make it even bigger and better for Season two. The writers have written this second show that you follow the trajectory of completely different Style choreographically than Bombshell was. Which was terrifying, because I was so comfortable with the Bombshell stuff. But it's not until a few episodes into the season that we actually start seeing choreography for the new show. So...I was so scared and I was so scared and I was so scared leading up to it and then...finally we did it and it just came pouring out of me. It's been really, really wonderful to dive into these new styles--we're doing hip hop, we're doing parkour, contemporary--yeah, it's pretty fantastic.
How did winning an Emmy change your--like, if someone wants to change the dance, do you say well, I won the Emmy?
You know, it's kind of funny. No, it's not quite like that, but it got me on a lot more conference calls which is good because I get to be more a part of the decision making at the higher levels. It also gives you confidence because last year it was scary. We have to move so fast, you make choices, try to believe in your choice and move on and go to the next thing. And I think when I did win the Emmy it kind of made me feel that I was going about it in the right way. I was at least constructing the dances and manipulating the schedule and the dancers and the actors in the right way, that it was successful.
Now you're wearing multiple hats because you're choreographing for Bombshell and HitList. If you're a choreographer for a Broadway show, you're focused on one thing, but you're choreographing Smash--what is that like wearing all these different hats and can you tell us a little bit about the genres?
Well, like I was saying before Bombshell is really classic Broadway, really based on those Jack Cole styles, jazz with Marilyn numbers and then HitList we are using parkour and hip hop and contemporary, and other styles of jazz and Broadway. And it's really kind of rock-y at time, sometimes [we use] dance music (like club music). So I've never been so forced to be creative so often. Every moment that I'm here or at home, I'm trying to figure out how am I going to make this different than the last episode or the last number in HitList? Or how do I separate this from Bombshell and make it completely different? And really, I've never used my brain quite so much as to try and figure out how to make everything new. And I thought I had to do it a lot last time, this time I feel like it's even more. But it's exhilarating because I don't spend a lot of time mulling over an idea or a number or a genre--I just keep moving forward, keep coming up with new stuff. And it's really exciting.
Tell us about the number we saw today--Krysta was telling us you recorded yesterday, talk about the structure of this number and how quick they're done.
Sometimes in a perfect world we have lots of time to put together these numbers. And something like this today, we sketched to a different version of the song last week but then we ended up not liking that--we didn't like choreography and we didn't like the version of the song. So then we had to go back and rerecord the song that came in last night and then we restaged it during the tech rehearsal last night at eight o'clock. And then we came in this morning and we found "Out There" was a new version of the song. So sometimes we have to work very quickly on our feet and luckily with this crew and this cast of dancers and principals, they're so used to that that we can just throw stuff together right there on the spot--everybody goes with you, they trust you and you get what we got today.
Because these are all theater dancers. So is it easier that way?
For the most part they are theater dancers but they're working on a TV schedule now. With theater dancers, lots of times--I know because I've done so much theater as a dancer--you can spend a few days on a number then come back to it a week later, make tiny little tweaks. But usually we're doing it a lot faster here. Because we don't have that time. We shoot an episode in eight days and sometimes we don't have the script until the night before and that's when you start choreographing the number. You get a song and they try to push shooting the dance numbers toward the end of that eight day schedule to give us time to rehearse, but sometimes you just can't, sometimes it's at the beginning. You've just gotta put it together and everybody get in this studio and we come up with whatever great stuff and we're used to it by now.
When you look back on Season one, do you have a favorite memory and then a "What was I thinking" memory?
You know, it's funny I do have a favorite memory--I would say "Let's Be Bad" is my favorite. It just clicked choreographically, it clicked lighting-wise, the camera work and the editing and Megan was just born to do that. So it was fantastic--that's probably my favorite memory. As far as my "why did I do that" memories, I have a bunch of those. I actually went back and watched some of the stuff from last season and was like, "Oh no..."
It was all spectacular last year what did you see that we didn't see?
You know how when you look back on your work, especially after coming to the second season and doing more work and feeling like you're growing as an artist, you go back and think...I do, I always do.
I assume--everyone talks about Bollywood...
For me that's one of--I'm very proud of the Bollywood number, I thought it was great. I understand that it was very polarizing from the story point but also I am proud of the fact that it made EW's top ten moments of television in 2012. So I'm very proud of that. In the same issue that someone was complaining about the Bollywood number. I really loved it. I'm not totally responsible for the transitions in and out of the numbers.
I loved it, I thought it was fine to have it in a restaurant, it was cool to see...
I think that's what great about this show, I think if you box us in, you're always going to be critical. Because we're not a Broadway show, and we're not a straight television series. We're our own thing and we're gonna make our own rules about how we get into these numbers. We get into fantasies all the time, and sometimes they're bumpy and sometimes you get it. I think the great thing about the show is that you do get these big numbers. I think that's why people find it interesting.
With the next season now, what's changing, how does that affect you as choreographer? If you're told that you can't do a Time Square, does that...?
You know, it all comes from the scripts. So they figure that out, they go in the writers' room and they figure that out. And the the script comes out and I do my thing to whatever they've written. So it doesn't affect me too much, I still get to do what I do.
...see a lot of those in the rehearsal room and then all of a sudden it's materializing as you're rehearsing into a full-fledged number...
You know what, we don't have that happening quite that much--we have a lot of rehearsals, you get to see a lot of rehearsals of HitList, you get to see the process through real basic rehearsals and then there are some fantasies. But then they perform at the festival and they go off-Broadway, so you see different stages of the musical. And then with Bombshell, we've gotten some different ways of going into fantasy, kind of almost like double fantasy where you're seeing a rehearsal but then you're seeing a fantasy within that rehearsal, but not necessarily the number staged in the rehearsal. Because [unintelligible] 9:50 was so successful last year--we can't repeat that, we can't do that. So we have to find new ways of using our numbers for different kinds of story telling.
Is the feeling different this year? Because we've seen three episodes--we've seen one, two and four and the whole tone of the show--I love the tone, it's so different. How do you describe the tone of Season two, as opposed to Season one, from your standpoint?
I think it's a younger tone, a little sexier, I think that's what they were going for. I think choreographically, it's more broad. And I think that with the new characters involved you're also seeing a Broadway show start from the beginning and then go through its growing pains again. Like you did with Bombshell, but Bombshell now, the journey, it's already written, it's "How do you get it from out of town to Broadway?" I think the audience is still interested in finding out out how does a Broadway show really spark and then grow from just that idea. So we get to see that again with HitList and I think that's great. And I think the tone is a little more broad and hopeful that's gonna get a bigger audience.
Is there a particular actor that for whatever reason you have fun choreographing for, you like to test their limits or someone that you really like?
I have to say these guys work so hard, the principals on our show work so hard, especially Megan and Kat and Jeremy, I can't imagine how they do it. They're in the chair at the crack of dawn, they're in the recording studio, they're shooting twelve hours a day and then somebody tells them they have to go to dance rehearsal. But the amazing thing is that when they get into rehearsal we have so much fun. You see how tired but you see them just brighten up, and we're just jumping around in a studio together. I think it's a real release for them--they're not standing around in front of the camera, they're not memorizing lines or in the makeup chair--they're with a bunch of other people their age, and we're just having a great time. So I love to see that, I love to see people come into my studio and their attitude change.
Photo Credit: Will Hart/NBC