I once did an informal survey, by which I mean I asked around, to try and determine which of the arts inspires the most vicious behavior. Which field is the most venomous – the theater, literary fiction, dance, opera, painting, you name it. Before I reveal my inarguable conclusion, here are some observations:
1. Novelists, because they spend the most time alone, tend to nurture the most paranoid fantasies. Novelists will assume that their editors hate them, that their publishers are about to revoke their contracts, and that all of their most unpleasant reviews on Amazon and Goodreads are actually the work of a rival, scheming novelist.
2. Theater people, including actors, playwrights, designers and directors are often very supportive of one another. This is because it’s pretty much impossible to make a living in the theater, so friendships become both honest and necessary. Also, when you’re working on a production, everyone tends to hang out together, so backbiting is counter-productive.
Of course, there are monsters: the director who makes people cry, the playwright who refuses to change a word, and the actor who feigns friendship, but once he or she is onstage, all bets are off. An actress and I once founded the Devils Island Repertory Company, where all of the actors with the worst reputations would be marooned, and forced to perform shows with each other.
3. Painters, sculptors and other visual artists are the most skilled at faking distant, genius-like eccentricity. They’ll wander around at art openings, as if their brilliance prevents them from speaking any known language. When these people are accused of being haughty or snobbish, they will always insist that they’re just painfully shy. No one is more conscious of their place in the pecking order than someone who creates well-funded installations involving folding chairs, video monitors, stuffed animals and used condoms.
4. Movie people are a breed unto themselves, and their behavior can often be predicted by the movie’s budget. If you’re working on an indie, where no one’s getting paid, people tend to be friendlier. On big-budget movies, a caste system rules: everyone’s aware of which star is getting paid the most, and therefore has the most clout.
5. The dance world requires enormous dedication from an extremely young age, so dancers can become like Olympic athletes: they’re trusting and strangely innocent and not very socialized. Dancers are also most often sexier than the artists in all of the other disciplines. Audience members rarely fantasize about an especially yummy lyricist.
6. While the word diva is a staple of the operatic world, that world itself is very corporate. Schedules are set years in advance, and entourages are essential. Unlike with, say, theater people or writers, there aren’t that many bars where sopranos hang out.
7. And now for my rigorously researched final judgement: from talking to cellists and oboists and conductors, it seems like classical music is hell on earth. I’m not sure why, but raging jealousies and homicidal infighting prevail. So the next time you’re listening to a symphony, remember: you’re hearing the sound of inhuman evil.