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6 in the Six: The Greatest Showmance

iPhoto caption: Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen

Intermission is officially 6! Six exciting and unpredictable years of fostering connections between artists and audiences, of encouraging and curating discussions about the great landscape of Canadian theatre. To celebrate our journey, we’re bringing back our top six performing articles from the past six years, released monthly for the next six months, to remind our audiences of how far we’ve all come.

This month, we’re looking back on our top article of 2019: Steffi DiDomenicantonio’s reflection on past showmances, the difficulties of navigating workplace relationships, and the blurred lines between character and person.

Hi, my name is Steffi and I’m a showmanceaholic (Hi, Steffi.)

I live my life mostly addiction and vice free. I’ve never smoked, I don’t drink much, I don’t do drugs (except for that one time in college I ate too many pot cookies) and I’m naturally a caffeinated person so I have no use for coffee. The only thing I’m addicted to is falling in love with my co-stars. The showmance has been the personal epidemic of my love life. Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? For me, the latter has been true. I’ve tried time and time again to address this issue, but history has kept repeating itself in spite of my best efforts. The problem is, there’s no support group for theatre nerds who obsessively fall in love with each other. 

“Showmance” is not a real word; it was invented by people in the acting industry. For those of you not familiar with the term, this is how DiDomenicantonio’s dictionary defines the word: two co-stars are working together in a show and are playing love interests. Time passes and the onstage feelings get confused for real-life feelings. An ex-boyfriend of mine once affectionately called this phenomenon “the Bleed.” Onstage feelings slowly start bleeding into real life. You think you’ve found something special because you share a theatrical experience every night. Adrenaline is running high and sparks are flying, but all too often the relationship falls apart in the real world without the glue of the show to hold you together.

In the moment, the showmance sounds cute. It sounds fun. It sounds really comforting, especially when you’re in Winnipeg in the middle of the cold, hard winter and your lonely heart is freezing in minus forty degree Celsius weather. But will it be worth it if (and when) it all comes crashing down and falls apart? Should you shit where you eat? Have I learned from my mistakes? Let’s find out. 

Photo by John Watson

People who know me (and unfortunately also people who don’t) know that I’ve had a long line of beau’s in the industry. I’ve kissed a lot of frogs. Sometimes I walk into a room at an opening night or an event like the Dora Awards and I wonder, “How many people in this room have I dated?” My choice in men over the years has gone from bad to worse. I am at a precarious time in my life where I need to take a good hard look in the mirror and wonder why I’ve had so many failed relationships. I just turned thirty, most of my friends are getting engaged or married or making babies, and I wonder why I keep having the shittiest luck finding a man who will just agree to watch the third Fifty Shades of Grey movie with me.

The last bit of my life has gone a little something like this: last summer, I went through a nasty breakup. At Christmas, my grandfather offered me five thousand dollars if I got pregnant in the next three months (I respectfully declined the offer). In January, I thought: “this is going to be my year.” A couple of weeks later, a truck ran over my seafoam-green bicycle and destroyed it. In February, the only Valentine I got was from my mom and it said “You’re purrrrfect” with a cat on it. I’m allergic to cats. (Thanks, Ma!) In March, I found two grey hairs on my head. In April, one of my ex-boyfriends released a song that I suspect had a little something to do with me and a mere three days before my birthday, I opened a fortune cookie that had no fortune in it. If that’s not a metaphor for my personal life being an on-running joke, I don’t know what is. 

My exes are the metaphorical lemons in my life and thanks to this article, I’m finally ready to make some lemonade. (Hi, guys!) I decided it was time to reassess my need for the onstage romance and finally kick this addiction to the curb. I should mention that the showmance doesn’t only apply to the theatre world bubble, office romances are alive and well. I’ve watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to know that for a fact. I hope my personal journey will encourage you and other young professionals in any field to always check-in and be honest with yourselves about understanding the trials and tribulations of getting into a relationship with a coworker.  

I, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, acknowledge that the above and below statements and information are true and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief. Please note that the information provided by me in this article includes, and is limited to, my personal and professional experiences.

You can’t plant a flower in the desert. My heart shattered and reality came back into sobering focus.

With the ghosts of Showmances Past, let’s make a few stops and take a look at the pivotal moments in my life that made me the way I am today. In the beginning, I was the tender age of sixteen performing on Canadian Idol when I had my first taste of the showmance. I had a big crush on a fellow competitor. A couple of weeks after sharing our first few kisses, he invited me to his room to tell me that he didn’t want to be romantically involved with me anymore. He said that he was going to close his eyes and count to ten and by the time he was done, he wanted me to be out of his room and gone. I awkwardly excused myself. 

He was eliminated the week after.  

But my real showmance journey began about ten years ago. I was nineteen years old, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I got my Equity card on the first national tour of Spring Awakening, right out my first year of college at George Brown Theatre School. I was young, impressionable and going on the road for the first time (no parents or chaperones, hashtag blessed, hashtag party time). A couple of months into the contract, I fell in love with one of the leads in the show (we were not playing love interests) and we began seeing each other. A year into the contract, after an evening of partying I can’t publicly discuss, he lost interest and ran after another actress in the show (his love interest in the musical) and broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. 

The aftermath of my first showmance was messy, messy, messy. After a very public hacking of his love interests’ email, suddenly my heartbreak was news for everyone to read. Him and I still had to work together for another few months after our breakup and it was a not-so-quiet kind of torture. Lyrics from the show rang true: 

“Oh, I’m gonna be wounded

Oh, you’re gonna be my bruise” 

I suspect that this event set the scene for how tumultuous my romantic life was going to become from then on. After touring, I wasn’t in a relationship for a long, long time. I chose to be celibate for over two years. I stayed away from men and held off for as long as I could to heal my very broken, betrayed, and sad little heart. 

One of the next shows I did taught me a very valuable lesson: location, location, location. Our jobs as theatre performers often take us all over the country. For years, I was barely home in my apartment and was always hitting the road for a new contract. When you’re out of town and your show has a total cast count of two people and you’re playing love interests, you have no chance in hell even if that person is totally wrong for you. The onstage tenderness and affection felt natural and confused with my own but once the illusion of the show started to dissipate after closing night, I didn’t know who I was dealing with in the real world.

There is a broken heart in this chest, but I’ll tell you what, it is still beating. And it is resilient.

After getting dumped, I ended up in Calgary during the fall/winter living in an apartment with a broken heater, a wall-destroying leak beside my bed and a basement fit for a serial killer. Oh, the glamorous life. Alone and heartbroken in my empty apartment, with a tub of cookie dough ice cream close by, I thought it would be a great idea to try out online dating for the first time to cheer myself up and avoid dating fellow actors. After long, grueling hours spent setting up my OkCupid account and answering complex compatibility questions, my profile was ready to take on the Internet. 

The notifications started pouring in and up went my self-esteem: “Dragon_Of_Bacon69 is checking you out!” I was in potential Mr. Right (or Mr. Right Now) heaven, until I stopped cold while looking at my computer screen. The OkCupid website was littered with banner ads that read: “Now playing: Nameless Show! Starring Steffi D from Canadian Idol!” with my headshot staring right back at me. In a cold sweat, I deleted my account right then and there and moved on…to another actor. It was complicated. And how it unfolded is a story for another day.

In 2015, I ended up playing one of my dream roles in my dream show and I unexpectedly, surprisingly, and very quietly fell in love with my co-star. And I thought: this is it. It felt different than it had before. But here’s a first: I fell in love with another actor on this contract who, like me, had a long line of exes in the industry. Finally, someone who understood me! But the thing about dating another showmancaholic is that there’s a question that constantly pesters you: am I going to be the last? But once a showmancer, always a showmancer. We parted ways for many reasons and tried to come back to each other multiple times but it never ended well.

Him and I recently became Facebook friends again. I told him I was writing an article about showmances and he winced. He’s a (jokingly) self-proclaimed industry expert himself and self-deprecatingly said to me that they asked him to write it but that he was too busy.

Photo courtesy of New Eternity Productions.

My best friend always repeats this mantra to me: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” In the summer of 2017, I fell in love with a castmate who played a lying, cheating sack of garbage on TV and he was good at it, so I should’ve taken that as a sign. Mercury was in retrograde (fuck you, Mercury), so is anyone really surprised it all went to shit? When he told me he loved me during a tequila-infused night where I sang my go-to karaoke song (“Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia), I should have known the complications and obstacles ahead. I went to see a psychic for my twenty-ninth birthday that year and as she pulled the Devil card, Natalie’s lyrics echoed in my mind:

“So I guess the fortune teller’s right

Should’ve seen just what was there 

And not some holy light”

And now here we are, it’s time for the ghost of Showmances Present to take the wheel. It’s 2019, it’s August. Since I started writing this article over eight months ago after the above breakup, so much has happened. I tried not to date at all (impossible), I tried online dating (I matched with Red Lobster on Tinder and it’s the only good thing that came out of that app), I tried to date people from other shows (hello, Tony Nominated Ain’t Too Proud and Phantom of the Opera), I tried to go back to people I had already dated, I finally turned the dreaded big 3-0 and hit the six hundred show mark on my current contract.

I’m not surprised the article didn’t get published right away, because the universe was telling me “wait, there is so much more relevant and entertaining information coming your way.” When I started writing, I was hell-bent on NEVER having a showmance ever again. I made a rule, I believed it, I stood by it. And then, I went off the map for a while and avoided my editor’s emails. I finally called her and said: “Hey… so, I need to rewrite the ending.” You guessed it: I fell in love with my gosh darn castmate. It made me realize something: I’m just human and love happens when it happens. It’s not about the room you’re in but who’s in the room with you. You can make rules, but they will probably make you miserable and you will break them. It’s not about where you are, but “when” you are and with who. It’s about what you need to learn about yourself. And it really hurts to learn something because you feel like you’ve lost something. 

Photo by Matthew Murphy

And just like that, it was over. All of the expectations, all of the plans, all of the promises. You can’t plant a flower in the desert. My heart shattered and reality came back into sobering focus. The rug was pulled out from under my feet and the void got so much bigger than it was. I felt like that nineteen-year-old girl all over again: lied to, betrayed, dismissed, raw and helpless. He was a showmance virgin. The last time I spoke to him, he told me he doesn’t recommend it and regrets ever getting involved in the showmance in the first place. And you know what I think? I’m getting too old for this shit. 

Thirty so far has not been my favourite. This breakup was truly one of the cruellest of them all. Out of every love story I’ve had (and I’ve got enough to fill a Lord of the Rings-long trilogy, except none of these stories end with “one ring to rule them all,” if you know what I mean) this one takes the first prize at the Nailed It heartbreak cake competition. When your therapist tells you the story sounds a little too unhinged to be true, you have to breathe that in. My mother is a woman who never swears. On the phone with her the other day she said to me: “Aren’t you getting tired of all of the bullshit?” Yeah, Mom, I am.

I, Steffi DiDomenicantonio, acknowledge that the above statements and information are true and complete to the best of my knowledge and belief.

Two breakups in one year is a lot to handle and leaves me thinking: is romance possible outside of the workplace? It is, after all, where we spend the majority of our lives. There is a broken heart in this chest, but I’ll tell you what, it is still beating. And it is resilient. I’m not dead yet! The universe has kept sending me the same lesson over and over again and the lessons just got harder and harder. It’s time for me to take responsibility for finally learning the lesson. I visited my Italian nonna recently and after hearing about my latest breakup, she told me to stop being so picky because I’m getting old. But perhaps the truth is that I haven’t been picky enough. I’m seeing how I have abandoned myself to make the same mistake a million times over and I’m learning how to forgive myself for that. This show is going to run for a long time and perhaps this is a blessing in disguise for my painful growth into adulthood.

After hearing about this ordeal, a good friend of mine compared the situation to two fish swimming in the water looking at the same fishing hook. One fish is aware it’s a hook and that it’s harmful and stays away. The other fish also knows it’s a hook but nevertheless decides to get closer and closer just to get a better look. Feeling more and more curious and confident that the hook won’t hurt her, she eventually gets caught. Even if she’s released and thrown back, the damage has already been done.

I’ve always been more of a Sally Bowles in Cabaret singing “Maybe This Time” in my romantic life, but perhaps it’s time for me to be more of a Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls singing “I’ll Know”. My list of blocked accounts on Instagram is getting a little longer than I would’ve hoped or expected. After the breakup, my eyes were so puffy from crying the facial recognition on my phone stopped working. But now, time has passed, my facial recognition is working again, I’m avoiding actors (and vegans) on the dating apps, and my therapist is very well paid. 

Steffi DiDomenicantonio

Steffi DiDomenicantonio

Pronounced Dee-doh-men-ee-can-toe-nee-oh, Steffi is a Dora-nominated performer based in Toronto who has acted and sung on stages across North America. She’s your average Italian French Canadian musical theatre–nerd slash Liza Minnelli–lookalike who loves cats, karaoke, eyeliner, sushi, Lady Gaga, and poutine. (All at once or separately and in no particular order.)



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