Dream Role

In mid-January, I had an audition for a theatre season. This theatre is about an hour away from where I live, between Philadelphia and my hometown, and it is non-paying. Usually, these auditions are the kinds I don’t- or rather, can’t- attend, because in my position (poor), I really can’t afford to do non-paying theatre. But I went anyway, and for one reason only: they were doing Brighton Beach Memoirs.

Brighton Beach Memoirs is an old favorite of mine. Actually, it’s an old obsession of mine, and no matter how much my college advisor teases me about my love for Neil Simon, I still love the playwright and his work, Brighton Beach Memoirs in particular. Maybe it’s my love of family dramas, maybe because it takes place in the 1940s, or maybe because sixteen year-old Nora and I are almost the same person, especially when I was sixteen. Whatever the reason, it has always been a goal of mine to play her. So even though the audition at this theatre was for a whole season (and a good one at that, with many parts appropriate for me), I was there to get a callback for BBM.

My audition went very, very well, and finally, at the very beginning of February, I got the call I’d been waiting for: I was called back for the role of Nora. But as with most acting situations, the moment you get what you want, you start freaking out about all the ways you could mess it up. In fact, the morning of the callback, the ninth, I woke up nervous and thought that I’d rather skip the audition and fail like that, then try and get rejected again. Because this is not the first time I’ve tried out for this role. No, this callback would be attempt #3 at getting the part. One of those attempts was for the Broadway show. The first time I lost the part, it was an issue of height- I am 5’3″, and the girl they wanted for Laurie (the younger sister) was taller than I was, so they went with the other girl. It was a huge fear of mine that I would walk into this callback and see all of these 5’6″ Lauries and I’d be cut on sight.

The idea of being cut on sight is not a completely unfounded one. With family dramas like this one, it’s at least a little important that the family members look alike. In fact, the first thing they did when the callback began at 11:45 that day was herd all twenty of us into the room, split us into character groups, and have us line up in one long, straight line. Then the director called out the name of one actor per character and had that smaller group stand in front of him as he looked them over as a family. I was relieved to see that all of the Lauries were 5′ or under, but I still tried to stand up really straight when put next to one of them. After doing this for awhile, the director paired up Noras and Lauries and sent us out of the room to read over the scenes.

When my Laurie and I were called in, I was actually pretty relaxed. The scene involved a big Nora monologue, but I just reminded myself to take my time and focus on the work, not getting the part. I had an idea of how I wanted the scene to end- on a funny note- and  we were rewarded with a hearty laugh from the director when we reached the conclusion: exactly what I had been going for. After that, it was a lot of the waiting game. I tried to read my book while the mothers went in and read a scene, but all I could focus on was the fact that the Lauries were being sent home and all the Noras were being paired off with mothers for their next scene… except me. Reading my book was impossible; I just sat there bouncing my legs up and down and hoping I hadn’t been cut- or worse, forgotten. Finally, the assistant came out and paired me with a woman named Robin, handing us our scripts and giving us the page numbers. I knew what scene it was: the big blow-up between Nora and Blanche, my favorite scene in the show.

Robin and I took it down the hall to work on it. I was really worried about over-rehearsing it. The scene is a doozy, involving an argument and a lot of tears on Nora’s part. I wasn’t so much worried about getting the tears, because I understand Nora completely and feel her pain in that scene, but about crying myself out before actually getting into the room. But the scene gets me every time. Even when I was sitting there earlier listening to the other Noras read the part, I was crying. So even though I wanted to save my tears for the room, I still cried. After the first read through, Robin asked me if I was okay and I said, “Yes. I just love this scene. I really want this part,” and she said, “I know. I can tell,” and gave me a hug. I think she and I were well-matched; we had similar styles and she understood my fear of over-rehearsal.

We were called in and read through the scene and I think I was way too concentrated on getting it “right”; at one point, I had to pull myself back from being too over-dramatic, or maybe just too dramatic, too soon. In the end, I cried more than I had during rehearsal, but instead of feeling overdone or out of place, like I was afraid it might, it felt really good. The director looked really, really happy when we finished and handed him our scripts. He told us that we might not know about casting for a few weeks- they had another round of callbacks the next weekend. This was even more nervous-making than the callback I’d just attended; at least at that one, I could size everyone up, and they could pull us in to assess our chemistry and looks against each other. But a whole weekend of callbacks where they might forget about us?

Now it’s April and I haven’t heard a peep about this show. Lately this theatre has taken to posting the cast lists on Facebook, but the one for BBM isn’t there. At this point, I’m assuming I don’t have the part, but I want it so badly that there’s a tiny part of me that is still waiting for the phone to ring. The show is in July, so there IS time for them to still call, even though it’s unlikely. I wish they would post the list so I would know for sure. I’m quite upset that I didn’t have the part. The callback went SO well, well enough that I actually expected to get the role. Time is running out for me to play Nora and I wish this time, it was my turn.

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Filming a Hostage Situation

In addition to my million jobs, I agreed in March to take a role in a student film being done this month. It was a straight offer, no audition, and besides being flattered to be asked, I liked the director’s writing and him in general, so I said yes.

Filming is always kind of hard just because the hurry-up-and-wait of it all is exhausting. This factor was doubled for this film because the on-set hours were 10 pm- 6:30 am. I came to the set at 11 pm after ASMing a show beforehand and auditioning earlier that day. I had meant to take a nap during the day, but never got around to it, so I knew I was in for a rough night.

Even though I arrived on the diner set an hour late, they hadn’t filmed anything. I was pleased to find that one of the actors on the project was the guy who had played my love interest in the last film I did. We get along really well, so I knew that my downtime would be fun. The crew got me working fairly soon after I arrived, giving me my character’s waitress apron and nametag. For the first 45 minutes of filming, I said one line and poured coffee. Even so, it was fun because the people from this university are so great to be around. The film is essentially a Sherlock Holmes-inspired story, and I was geekily thrilled when, after noting that I poured the coffee left-handed, the director added a line of the Sherlock Holmes character’s about it.

After filming that scene, I and a few of the other actors ordered food while the three main actors and the crew did some close-ups. At that point, it was one in the morning. It would be another hour or so before I filmed anything, but when we finally were summoned, it was for a long time.

The film, besides being Sherlock Holmes-inspired, is also a hostage situation, and we were doing a large part of those scenes that night. The scene involved six of sitting against the wall, our wrists zip-tied, figuring out before actual filming how to get to a standing position without full use of our hands (it’s really hard.) It should also be noted that while the crew tried their hardest to keep the bindings as loose as possible, the zip ties were still pretty painful. At one point, trying to loosen mine with my teeth, I accidentally tightened it, and it took less than five minutes for my hands to go numb. By the end of the shoot, my wrists were raw and they were still sore the next day. 

I’d never shot anything like a hostage scene before, and it was really interesting. A part of me was legitimately scared; the gun that was being used, though it was an orange toy gun painted black, looked very real. It also felt very real during the part of the scene where it was pressed against my temple. It didn’t take much acting during that part to seem terrified. You always hear horror stories of fake weapons being mixed up with real ones and actors sustaining injuries, so each time the actor holding the gun would absentmindedly flick the trigger, I’d flinch. 

To work on these scenes was a great, different acting exercise. Usually when doing a scene, I look my scene partner in the eye, unless my character has a reason not to do so. In these scenes, I found myself looking not at the guy holding the gun, but the gun itself as it was waved around and pointed at people and sometimes at me. It was a different kind of focus that I’d never exercised during a scene.

It was a long time before that scene was over, but when I did get breaks, I attempted to sleep in one of the diner booths. It wasn’t easy, but right before my last shot, I must have drifted off, because the producer had to wake me up to film it. I was so tired and couldn’t even keep my vision straight during the twenty minutes or so it took to shoot the scene; I’m sure I look totally spaced out in that scene.

But as tiring as it was and will be this weekend, I really enjoyed it. I also got a really sweet email from the director yesterday, thanking me for my good work on the film and saying how happy they were to have me. This weekend will be our last shoot, and while I’ll be happy to sleep again, I’ll miss it, and these people.

The Way to Live (or Not)

It’s exactly a week (almost to the minute) that I was fired from my hostessing job. As I wrote, I was inconsolable right afterward and felt like a failure for many days afterward.

But here’s the thing: now, just a week afterward, I am so much happier. My stress level is down, I actually have some free hours (I even had  free DAY on Tuesday), and in general, life is just better. Even with the knowledge that I AM going to have to replace the job eventually, because I don’t have enough money without it, I still have a sunnier outlook than I had for the last month.

After I was fired and got over the sadness of that, I started realizing what my life had been like while having that job (and many others.) I hated my ASMing job with a passion. I didn’t have time to eat square meals; instead, I lived on granola bars, or, if I had a rare extra five minutes, a sandwich here and there. I hadn’t seen my friends in months. I was crying every day. I was, in short, miserable. As soon as I realized how much more time I had, I saw what a detriment my hostessing job had been to my schedule. Without it, I ate better. On the free Tuesday I had this past Tuesday, I did my laundry and met up with not only my former thesis mentor about a project, but with my friend Nicole, with whom I hadn’t spent more than 15 minutes with since December. And it was wonderful. I was smiling for the first time in awhile. I had hope again.

What this has taught me is that the cliche is true- money can’t buy everything. I spent a month entirely focused on earning money, and it was one of the worst months of my life. Living a life without friends and square meals, overstressed by work and commitments is not a life. It’s just misery.

So as it happens, something that seems like the worst thing in the world can be a blessing in disguise.

One Job Fewer

This past month has been one of the worst and hardest of my life. Between working so many jobs (most of which aren’t terribly fulfilling) and not seeing much of a change in my bank account, to having a lot of upsetting arguments with my parents, to being artistically frustrating, to dealing with my emotional problems on their own and relating to all those other things, it has been an awful whirlwind that left me miserable pretty much all the time.

I tried not to let my misery affect the work part of my life, and most of the time, I succeeded. Sometimes, though, it didn’t work. Twice, my anxiety showed at my hostessing job, and I could feel the managers watching me. But I wasn’t worried- people have bad days, and anyway, I didn’t need ANOTHER thing to worry about. The anxiety wasn’t just affecting me mentally, it was affecting my physically- I was dizzy, sick, and tired, sometimes to the point where I couldn’t even see straight.

Then came this week. I didn’t get my schedule for the week until Sunday night after work, and discovered that I was scheduled to work on a day that a surprise rehearsal had been scheduled for the show I was ASMing, less than two days later. That gave me about 24 hours to find a cover… and of course, no one was picking up their phones and I had a rehearsal for my children’s show, giving me no time to be on the phone all night. Finally, though, I found a cover and told her that I was sorry, but I couldn’t take her Thursday shift due to working two other jobs that day.

So I went to my ASM job feeling happy that I didn’t have to rush around. Then came Thursday. While I was still at job #1 for the day, my phone started ringing off the hook. It was on vibrate in my pocket, and it was hard to ignore the fact that someone obviously needed to talk to me while trying to pay attention to the boss right in front of me. I stepped out for a minute to call the person back, and five minutes later, I was sitting on the floor of my boss’ lobby, crying because apparently, I hadn’t shown up for my hostessing job… the one I wasn’t supposed to be working that day.

I apologized profusely and the girl who was originally supposed to work was able to go. I had to write the manager an e-mail with my conflicts anyway, so I included a lengthy apology. But even with all of that, I got a call on Friday asking me to come in for a “talk.” I’ve never been fired, but I knew what that meant. Not only did it mean I was going to lose my steadiest job, but it meant that in order to get the news, I had to miss my roommate’s thesis show. It was suckage all around.

Sure enough, at 3 pm on Saturday, I was told they were letting me go. I was pretty emotional about it in the moment, but even without my emotional instability, I think I would have reacted the same way, because my (former) manager was completely condescending. He said I had a lot on my plate, which is true, and if that were the reason I was fired, I would have understood. But he kept going. “If you need a letter of recommendation, I’d be more than happy to write you one. I’m not even supposed to do that, but you’re a really sweet girl, so just… let me know. But I do need to let you go, and all of the other managers agreed. They’ve had some problems, too.” This last part was not only hurtful, but confusing. I knew that one of the other managers had witnessed one of my bad days, but I also know that she had been genuinely sympathetic when I explained to her upon arriving at work that I had had a really bad day before arriving. And as for the other two managers… I can’t think of a single thing they’d take issue with.

But as I’ve said to the few people I’ve told, this was going to happen eventually. Even though this job was basically forced on me, they were obviously growing to hate my schedule. At the interview, they said they were happy to accommodate an actor’s schedule that might require me to basically take two months off. They also said it was fine that I had two other jobs. I tried my best to accommodate right back: though my therapy sessions are in the middle of the day, my therapist and I have worked together to schedule them as early as possible so that I could be available to work seven or eight hours as my hostessing job. But rather than taking advantage of that, every week I was scheduled for the afternoon shift, requiring me to remind them each Monday that I had to leave early, after two hours of work at the most. It was frustrating even to me to do this every week.

When I accepted my job as an ASM, I actually asked permission to take it from all of my jobs to take it. The ASM job does not pay much at all ($200 for a month of work), but it has career benefits that make it worth the small pay. But money IS important to life, so I wanted to make sure that my paying jobs were fine with me devoting a ton of time to the theatre. All of them said yes.

And yes- this show has eaten my life. I’m not a backstage person, and sometimes I wish I could devote more time to jobs that paid me more. But theatre waits for no one, and so I am working this show every day they need me. I gave my manager the show schedule weeks before the show started, and it was pronounced fine.

But then came the confusion of this past week, and it all culminated in my being terminated. I was hysterical. I was humiliated at being fired after only one month and I reached a low, low point. Hours later, though, when I had calmed down a little, I realized that I felt weird. Well, not weird, but different than I had felt for the past month. The pokey wire ball of anxiety that had been lodged in my chest was no longer there. I felt like I could breathe again. I had been afraid to check my email for weeks because there was always some new, overwhelming addition to my schedule, but now, I could look. In short, my stress level had gone down significantly.

It’s hard to believe that losing my job, after the initial mourning period, has actually made me happier. I feel terrible for feeling this way, but I think that in this case, my sanity was worth more than a job like that.