Mel Gibson’s name has been buzzing around Broadway circles in the last few months, and it’s not because he’s trying to repair his image by coming to the Great White Way. Instead, in the PR scheme of the century, Gibson has become the boyfriend of Billy Green, an overly ambitious actor with no talent who is the focus of the web series Billy Green, a satiric take on the entertainment industry created by Broadway actors Wesley Taylor and Mitchell Jarvis. “Billy represents all the things that bother us about this industry,” says Jarvis. “He allows us to comment on and get out our frustrations inherent in dealing with art in entertainment.”
Taylor, who is currently starring as Lucas Beineke in The Addams Family wrote the first episode for his senior thesis at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. After meeting Jarvis when they were cast in Rock of Ages (in which Jarvis is expected to return to after the show’s temporary hiatus), they decided to film it for the web. “The repetitive nature of a long running Broadway show can be tedious to a creative artist,” explains Jarvis. “I feel like Billy Green satisfies my desire to create new and interesting work.”
While Gibson never actually appears onscreen in Billy Green, which will conclude its first 11-episode season shortly, Taylor and Jarvis have convinced everyone from Patrick Wilson to Kristin Chenoweth to Nathan Lane to make an appearance. “I must admit I have become a whore for cameos,” Taylor jokes. “At auditions, readings, industry events — no one is safe. They probably see me now and try to run the other way.” But he does have his limits. “I almost asked Jake Gyllenhaal on the train the other day, but he was reading, so Mitch held me back.”
Taylor and Jarvis aren’t the only actors using their cameras to offer comedic commentary on the entertainment industry in the past few months. Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead began their web series Submissions Only, an insider look at the casting process, after becoming friends during the production of It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman at Dallas Theater Center last summer. Keenan-Bolger films and edits the episodes between performances of Mary Poppins while Wetherhead writes most of the script and stars as the show’s protagonist, Penny Reilly, a struggling actress working part-time as an audition reader for her casting-director best friend.
“I moved here almost twelve years ago and back then if you wanted to do something on your own, it usually took the form of a one-woman show, writing a play or trying to get something in a festival,” says Wetherhead. “All those things still exist but they take money, a publicist and time and space. This is a way to be creative quickly, and we can share it with a lot more people with a lot less money and time.” Adds Keenan-Bolger: “When you’re an actor there are so many opportunities that are not in your control. This is one thing where we get to make our own hours and employ our awesome friends.”
Like Taylor and Jarvis, the pair use the Broadway community as their casting pool. “We’ll say, ‘We need a sassy blond girl,’ and we’ll scroll through the list of Kate and my mutual friends on Facebook,” says Keenan-Bolger. But they also have to take into account their friends’ unpredictable schedules. “We think about who would be right for the part and then weigh the varying factors, like, not only is he or she a good choice but they happen to be in a show that’s going to be running for awhile,” says Wetherhead.
So far, Asmeret Ghebremichael, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Stephen Bienskie, Colin Hanlon, Santino Fontana, and Patrick Heusinger have appeared on Submissions Only. Working around Heusinger’s schedule can be especially tricky, since he’s often filming his regular role on USA’s Royal Pains and making frequent trips to L.A., but Heusinger is committed to the show.
“Sometimes acting is a job, but when I get to do the thing that I love with friends that I love, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting paid,” says Heusinger. “I’m also really passionate about developing projects and helping people get things cooking.”
Many other actors have caught the web series bug. For example, Jackie Hoffman, Mary Testa, and Alison Fraser have all appeared in Jack in the Box, a popular web series created by and starring Michael Cyril Creighton, who manages the Playwrights Horizons box office while continuing to audition as an actor.
As it happens, filming Jack in a Box proved to be a help to Creighton when he landed a guest spot on NBC’s hit comedy 30 Rock last month. “I had no idea what was happening when the cameras were off and a million people were floating around moving things,” he says. “But at least when the cameras were on and we were doing the scenes, I felt more comfortable.”