Archive for January, 2009



I’m the Last To Face It-The Holidays Are Really Over

Got a call yesterday for an audition. Yesterday was New Year’s. Have been making cookies, eating cookies and avoiding the artic vortex.

The message says: “Must do a monologue plus sides.” That seems excessive. Can’t they just choose one? My mind was like, “You want me to do what? You want me to go where?”

I’m in the final stage of holiday mode. As an introvert, I need a gradual transition from inside mode to world mode.

There are three stages of holiday head:
Anticipation of holidays. There are days before the official holidays when nothing is happening audition wise, so holiday head has expanded. Sort of extra parenthetical holiday days surrounding the actual holiday days. So the actor’s holiday is a little longer. It’s a nice break. No pressure. No making impressions. No lines to learn. No outfit to pick out.

The second stage is questioning. These are the actual days off, which in the beginning seem so quiet, you ask yourself why you looked forward to this. How many dishes can we dirty in a day? How much chocolate can we eat? Will my husband ever stop asking what are we going to eat for the next meal?
The third stage is acceptance. You settle into a routine something like this:
Wake up. Put on velour lounge outfit. Eat muesli and watch “Morning Joe”. Check email, check Facebook. Play Pathwords. Spend fifteen minutes watching a video of puppies falling asleep on Youtube. Sit on sofa with Grandma’s afghan across lap and read. Surprise! It’s lunchtime already!
The third stage:
After this has gone one for a little while, I don’t want to get out of my velour lounge outfit. I don’t want to put on makeup. I want to just sit on the couch and write. Like I’m doing right now. But if I never leave the house, I will have nothing to write ABOUT. This is a problem.

In the words of a dear friend, “Honey, let’s face it. If we could figure out a way to sit home and get food delivered and watch TV and get paid for it, we’d never leave the fucking house.”

I’m so lucky to have a friend who understands. Don’tcha think?

So I have to go back out into the world now. I have to pick a comedic monologue and an outfit. I have to change my morning routine so it won’t take me four hours to get out of the house. (No more puppies?)

Maybe I’ll start my reintroduction into the world with a trip to Trader Joes- the happy place.

Suffering For Your Art

I once lived in a seventh floor walkup in the Village. Yeah, seven floors. And I was lucky to find it. When my brother who lives in Texas first saw it he said it was the size of his Jacuzzi. Thanks Richie. My roommate and I lived on the salad bar in the Korean deli downstairs. Much easier than carrying groceries. There was a mouse who only seemed to appear when there was company. Which wasn’t very often, because who wants to walk up seven flights of stairs? When I moved in, my father said, “Only your best friends are going to visit you.” Thanks Harry.

One winter it got really bad when the heat was turned off. So I had no heat and no stove. I had a job standing at the front door of a trendy place on the Upper East Side. I was checking coats and also supposed to keep out undesirables. So I was frozen all night with the door opening and closing. I wore silk long underwear under my nice Upper East Side look outfit. But still, by the end of the night, my body was cold to the bone after standing at the door all night saying, “Sorry we have a private party tonight,” to anyone who looked bridge and tunnel or was carrying a Duane Reade bag. So during the no heat siege, I created a system for falling asleep in my freezing apartment. I would take a cab home and go directly to the Korean Deli on the corner. I would buy a hot soup. I would take the soup home and put it on my night table. Then I would get into the bed and cover myself with every blanket I owned and on top I would put this big lime green terry cloth robe that was once my best friend’s father’s. For some reason the weight of the robe really helped. Then I would get into bed and eat the soup, which would warm me up enough on the inside so I could fall asleep. This went on for days. I depended on that soup.

One night, when I asked for the soup, the guy behind the counter said, “Oh, we ran outta soup already.” My lower lip started to tremble. Tears came to my eyes. I stood there and said, “Oh.” I must’ve had some look on my face because the guy said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry ‘ bout it. Wait. Wait. I’ll heat a can up for you.” He went and took a can of Campbell’s off the shelf and heated it up for me and put it in a container. All I had said was, “Oh.” How perceptive of him, huh? He was the New Yorker I love to the bone. I felt life my life depended on that soup. I carried it home and was able to fall asleep once more. My savior.

So it was very La Boheme and all. I can laugh now looking back on it. Not so much then.

The Money Gig

Actors do weird jobs. Temp work to pay the bills while they work on their art. I know a Tony-winning actress who still, when she is not working, does telephone soliciting. She created roles for Edward Albee. And she still does the money gig.

Most of these money gigs suck. Here is a sampling of various jobs I’ve had:

Cocktail waitress on Wall Street.

Did the 4 to 8 shift. Monday through Friday. Had to wear a truly horrible short red dress trimmed with black lace. Said I was cold all the time, and wore a green corduroy blazer over it. Towards the end, resorted to wearing fake horn rim glasses because I didn’t want to be hit on anymore. One night when I was wearing the Point Dexter glasses a drunk guy looked at me close and said, “I bet under those glasses you are real pretty.” I was thrilled.

Best part of the job was working with Cathy from the Bronx who looked like a cupie doll and whose husband was in prison for pleading the fifth. She had a thick Bronx accent. To make things bearable, we drank booze out of coffee cups on Friday nights. When Cathy started saying, “NOT FOR NOTHIN’” every five seconds, you knew she was drunk. One night we smoked pot in the ladies room and Cathy kept pointing at me saying, “YOU’RE LIT!” I loved her. She went through a big guilt thing when she met a friend of her incarcerated husband at a motel on day to fool around. But she got philosophical about it and decided, “Oh fuck it.” As a little escapee from Westchester, I loved this crap. Her daughter was named after her favorite perfume, Replique. I still have a bottle of it on my dressing table even though they don’t make it anymore.

I used to do crossword puzzles on my cocktail tray to keep from being bored. Had to leave when the management wanted us to wear giant strawberry pins on our uniforms to push the dessert and the men found them sexually symbolic in nature. I refused to wear it and was fired. Bye Bye Cathy. X

Bookkeeper for a Brazilian store.

Found out Brazil runs on nepotism. Every time there was a new president of Brazil, everyone lost their jobs and new “friends” were hired. My boss was someone important’s girlfriend and a total ditz. But fun. My OCD caused me to do all the work on a pittance salary while she shopped Fifth Avenue all day. Store went out of business because mass amounts of broken furniture was shipped from Brazil and no one noticed until it got to a customer’s house and they sat in a chair and they landed on their butts on the floor.

Bartender at a trendy Italian place in the village.

The place was loaded with celebrities every night. The owner a wild man from Northern Italy. Earring in one ear. Talked very fast. Often emerged from the bathroom with white powder on his nose. I was the only woman working there. Oh oh. When the owner in a crazed state came behind the bar and touched me, I walked out in the middle of the dinner rush. The mayor of New York City was there that night. Should I have complained to him? The owner phoned me to come back. “Pleasa, I was just trying to pass by you,” he said. Dai basta dude.

Assistant for a talent negotiator.

He used to sit at his desk and snort coke all day and then he started getting weird and saying I was making him paranoid and that I was looking at him with disgust. He had a poodle named Mitzi who used to hunt for the coke when he left her alone. You could always tell if she’d found it, she’d be like shivering and yipping around the office. Yip! Yip! When he wasn’t being paranoid he was trying to get me to go out with him. Which I’m sorry, was never going to happen because he wore white shoes and a big gold chain on his hairy chest with the gray hairs that you could see every day because he never buttoned his goddamned shirt. I used to just laugh when he asked me out, but one day I’d had it, and I told him I was never, never, ever going to go out with him. He fired me the next day.

Assistant in a real estate office.

I was copying listings out of the newspaper on to index cards. My boss kept complaining that my ones looked like sevens and sevens like ones. She wanted me to write the European seven with the little line through it, but I could never remember. Every time I forgot she would get up from her desk with the index card walk over to my desk and say; “ I can’t read this. What does it say?” And I’d go; “Um, ah…seven, no, one, no, no it’s definitely a seven. And then I’d have to write the stupid card all over again. The boss was absurdly cranky. But I felt sorry for her when she confided in me that she had low blood sugar problems.

Assistant for another real estate firm.

Part of the job consisted of droving around the city in a painted bus advertising the firm. The other peon, an actor, looked at me and said; “Isn’t this the best job?” And I thought, “I’m shoving fucking balloons through the window of an RV on Fifth Avenue which is blasting that Macarena music for blocks and blowing bubbles from the roof – NO! IT’S NOT! Couldn’t deal. Never returned.

Paralegal for a law firm.

I had to get dressed up everyday. So, between buying a wardrobe and dry cleaning, I don’t think I made very much. But was nice to be able to use my brain because I actually do have one. One of the partners found out I was an actress and that I was doing a Shakespeare play at night. He would occasionally ask me into his office and read me these Shakespearean style poems he had written. It was nice. He was like ancient. His office had sixties décor.   He had an orange shag rug. He had had his own television show that I never heard of. What a nice change after the coke men.   He sometimes sat with me at lunch in the cafeteria. Partners do not sit with paralegals. People kept asking me how I knew him, was he a friend of my family’s? My direct boss was an ex Guru Rashneesh devotee who learned paralegaling from working on all the cases against him. Once again the universe gave me a boss who did no work and let me carry the day. She played with her little sculpture projects (her favorite – the phallus) all day while I did all the work for an hourly wage. I was so exhausted my husband begged me to leave.

I’m getting tired just thinking about it. I have to go lie down now.

Watch Out For Those Snarky Actresses At Auditions

You gotta be really careful who you talk to at auditions. Seemingly innocent inquiries can turn into vicious attacks in a second. For instance, the question; “Which part are you auditioning for? When answered, is met with a snarling, “Oh, I’m too young for THAT ROLE.” Nice. Said to me at a callback by one of the barracuda type actresses you have to stay clear of.

Yes, at auditions and callbacks there are actresses who scan the room with evil eyes for whoever they think is their biggest competition and then set out to destroy them. It’s pretty weird.

I was once waiting in an auditorium for my turn to go in and read, and I watched an actress walk up and down the aisle scanning the competition. She picked me out to say something mean to. I guess I should have been flattered, if she thought I looked like her stiffest competition who needed to be torpedoed. She tossed her long blond hair over her shoulder and let the insults fly. “Did your agent send you here?” This for some non-union piece of crap open call early in my career. Her “agent” didn’t send her either, but she’s making believe he did. Then she asks me if I know “Chuck”. “You know, Chuck? The director? You’ve never met him?” She’s talking like they are old friends. When I see her go in it’s apparent they’ve never met. Cuckoo cuckoo.

I find this behavior really bizarre.   I once read in The Times that actors have a higher level of testosterone than the general population, maybe actresses do too.   Not that I’m a saint or anything.   I mean I just don’t give a crap about anybody else but myself at an audition. I’m all about preparing my Zen head before I go in, so why would I want to talk to anybody else?   Unless I’m waiting too long and then it’s all about the jokes.

I’ve actually befriended an actress who I’m consistently up against for the same role. We fill the same niche. She’s a doll. And when I’ve gotten to read with her, I love her work. She’s big time talented.   We laugh about how soon we’ll run into each other again. We once both got cast in a production and talked on the phone and decided the director had his head up his ass and we dropped out together. So it doesn’t have to be a barracuda business. If I can’t do something I’ve been offered, I tell them about her and visa versa.

I recently ran into an appointment a bit tardy. There was another actress in the waiting area. She gave me the slit eye stare. She said, “Ah, excuse me? Ah, you were late for your time, so they took me instead.” Delivered to make me nervous. I shrugged my shoulders and didn’t answer. She hated me more for that. Went in and got the part just for revenge.

A couple of months ago I read for a soap opera. The high-pitched tension in the area where the actors were waiting was like a force or something. I settled into my own headspace. Then it happened. An actress asked me for a tissue. I have to respond. I’m not rude. But I know what’s coming. THE INNOCUOUS FOLLOWED BY THE VICIOUS. As I’m handing her the tissue she glances at me and says, “You’re still looking at the script? I don’t need to.   I MEMORIZED MINE.” Please stick that tissue up your ass.

I have a veteran actress friend in my apartment building. Love her. She is an awesome sounding board if I am ever going crazy or anything. (EVER?) She’s done it all. Even married a director/acting teacher. Dated a very very famous actor in her youth. And her over-arching description of the business is, “It’s a blood bath darling. Darling, it’s a blood bath.”

Actor Speak 101

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO AN ACTOR:

 

  1. Have I seen you in anything?”

OBVIOUSLY NOT IF YOU’RE ASKING THIS QUESTION! The only excuse for this phraseology is if the speaker is a genuine Alzheimer’s or dementia patient and can’t remember things they HAVE SEEN. The subtext to this question being, “How dare you call yourself an actress if you’re not famous?

 

  1. “Do you get paid for the acting work you do?”

Asking anybody’s salary except an actor’s is considered tres gauche. Can you imagine someone at a party asking a banker, “So, um, what kind of money do you make working at that bank?”

 

  1. Oh! You’re an actor! My personal trainer does Community Theater.”

 

The subtext is the hidden insult of grouping me with someone who does Community Theater when I am on IMDB, and am a member of all the unions and have worked hard to get here. Thank you!

 

  1. “How do you handle the rejection?”

Usually said by someone who wants to appear as if they know all about what it’s like to be an actor. YOU DON’T, so shut your trap.

 

  1. “Oh, that’s so competitive.” (See #3)

 

  1. “I wanted to do that, but I felt that actors are all dumb.”

 

Actually said to me at my husband’s boss’s house at brunch so I couldn’t tell the blond who hated me at first sight to fuck off. She works in advertising-obviously not a lack of stupid people there. Subtext: jealous and bitter because she gave up.

 

  1. “Are you working on anything now?”

Subtext: There is an inherent challenge in this question because everyone assumes all actors are unemployed. Believe me, if an actor is working on a project they’re going to tell you about it. A friend of mine was once sitting Shiva for his father and while there his actress/cousin passed out flyers for her latest show.

 

  1. “What theaters have you worked in?”

Once again a question that would be gauche in the business sector. Akin to asking to see someone’s resume in a social situation. Subtext: The same as #1 and #2. (“You’re a banker? What banks have you worked for?”)

 

  1. “You should meet my nephew he just did “Guys and Dolls” at his high school.”

Oh yes, I’m sure we’d have tons in common. Subtext: Acting an OK activity for a high school sophomore, but preposterous for an adult.

 

WHAT IS LEFT TO SAY:

Ummm …. I have to think about that. Can I get back to you? There must be something appropriate to say to an actor? Ah……..

How about:

“Great Hors d’oeurves. Huh?”

Or:

“I found a place to buy great clothes for no money.” BARGAIN SHOPPING! A topic of great interest among artistic people. A painter friend and I actually feel that Trader Joes moving into our neighborhood has been a life changing experience. And we have figured out how to wear designer clothes by shopping at church jumble sales in upscale neighborhoods and trolling EBay.

 

Your favorite actor and why. Also good.

Or if you know anything about: differing acting methods. Most actors love discussing their training. English versus American. Stanislavski versus Meisner. Marlon Brando versus Lawrence Olivier. Early Robert De Niro versus his present self.

 

“Do you work in film or theater?” is a great question and can open up a discussion of the merits of either discipline.

 

And remember, ACTORS ARE PEOPLE TOO. They not only express feelings THEY ACTUALLY HAVE THEM.

The Torturous Location

Low budget films have to cut out everything but the necessities. So any basic comforts for the actors are out. There is no space, no privacy, sometimes no air. After a long day of filming, I often feel like I have a hangover from being in stifling spaces for long hours. Or freezing ones.

I worked on a film that rented a house for a location. The owners left for the day and figured they’d save money, so they turned the heat down to like 40 or something when they left. It was a frigid winter day in the flat barrens of Long Island. When the actors weren’t filming we were huddled together on a leather sectional under a pile of everyone’s coats.

The director seemed oblivious, as he was probably high on hormones or something. He was in the midst of transitioning from a man to a woman. Everyone had a different pronoun for him/her. I was careful when talking about the director to only use his NAME, as I was afraid of making a pronoun faux pas. When exactly does a he become a she? No one seemed sure.

The owners of the house also left their dog. Were they nuts? Crews are all about their equipment and I doubt if they would have noticed if that dog had slipped out of the house while they were loading in and was never seen again. But Saint Cranky of the animals was there, and I took care of the dog all day. We had nice little walks in the neighborhood together. And the dog was a great belly warmer among the coats.

It was a challenge slipping out from under the pile of coats to go do a scene. From a frozen fetal position to drama in minutes.

Greta Garbo once said, “I WANT TO BE ALONE.” I’m with you sister. I have always found like total utter joy in being absolutely quietly ALONE. Even as a kid, I remember reading books in the living room when no one was home and it slowly slowly got dark outside. I felt utterly content. So being crammed in a room with a bunch of people is not my idea of a good time. But when there are no trailers, no money, this is what happens.   You are all stuck in the one room they are not filming in at that time.

One film I worked on took place in a one-bedroom apartment. So at certain points, there were eight of us in the tiny bedroom together. AND the makeup artist and her table.   I ended up lying on the bed next to a really fun Palestinian actor staring at the ceiling and talking. He made it bearable. He had taught me the Arabic I needed to speak in the film. He was funny. He went on to do a lot of film and episodic television, including the program “24”, a must for any actor who can play a terrorist. He was proof that all struggling actors are really one job away from fame. I saw him in an absolutely terrible show at The Producer’s Club and the next thing I knew he was starring in a film.

For some reason, the director cast me as Middle Eastern. I even had a stone in my forehead. I pretty much look Irish, but she was Japanese, and maybe we all look the same to her. It was a job. I’m not gonna argue. As a side note, everyone was impressed that her Dad was a Zen monk. I was too until I thought about it and realized that in the West it is the equivalent of having your Dad drop out of society and become a fisherman.

Another torturous location is the outdoor shoot. The first time I worked outdoors, I was costarring with a little kid. His Dad showed up with two beach chairs. I thought that was peculiar, until six hours later when we were still there and I was trying to rest by leaning on a stonewall. Smart Dad.

I know none of this sounds hard. But everything in film TAKES FOREVER. So being huddled on a coach for an hour isn’t bad. But being there from 9am until 1am is a different story.

A great actor once said, “ I get paid to wait. The acting I do for free.

Vermin On My Resume

The most outstanding difference between professional theater and black boxes, beside the production value, is vermin. They should put “VERMIN FREE” on the marquees on Broadway. I’d be impressed.

The first show I ever did was at a black box on 22nd Street. The theater was up one long, long, long flight of stairs. There was no elevator.

I was told that when my father came to the show he yelled at my stepmother, “Jumpin Joseph, don’t sit near the wall!” He knew the decrepitude of the place meant vermin, and he was sure something was gonna crawl up the wall and jump in his pocket and he would bring it home and his entire life would be ruined.

I was really happy about being in this show.

I had to learn a Southern accent. I worked on it for days. I listened to it as I walked up Sixth Avenue on the way to the audition. I read for the director and felt I had done my best accent. The director said, “Go outside and wait and I want you to come back and read it again and THIS TIME I WANT YOU TO DO IT WITH AN SOUTHERN ACCENT.” Huh? I somehow got cast.

I was so excited with my first job, that I offered to help with things for the set. I brought half of my tiny apartment. Lamps, pillows, throws and a rug. The rug got smaller everyday as the mice were eating it at night. There was a box of chocolates in the show. They ate the chocolates. And, they were individually wrapped. By the end of the show my rectangular oriental rug was an octagon with long sad strings protruding from every corner. It was useless and got pitched.

On to roaches. The biggest roach fest I worked at was a storefront theater on the lower east side. It was next door to a fish distributor, so if the temperature went above sixty-five, the smell was horrendous. The manager’s office had them crawling all over everything, even in daylight.

There was a kitty litter box in the bathroom. We were once looking for a flashlight and someone said, “We can’t find anything, the only thing I can easily find is cat turds.” There were always plenty of those on hand. On opening night I actually put on rubber gloves and cleaned the bathroom. The litter box had to stay, but I flushed the offending turds.   I couldn’t have my husband’s aunt from Sutton Place use a filthy bathroom with stinking turds.

The most remarkable vermin fest was a theater near Eleventh Avenue, which I dubbed “The Mouse Festival”. I have never seen anything like it. There were pipes running around the walls of the dressing room, which we called “the mouse highway”. It was pretty much non-stop. The first rehearsal at the theater, an actress left an open container of dried fruit on her dressing table, and when she came off stage there was a mouse in it. From then on, when we could, we hung anything edible. I was afraid to touch the rug in the dressing room. This made changing a challenge. The vacuum cleaner didn’t work, and I was sure the rug was full of ancestral mouse poop. I quarantined any clothing I wore to the theater when I got home.

The dressing room had large windows with deep concrete sills outside. The owner of the theater had placed a large plastic bin full of water and an algae (more vermin) covered rock on the sill. This was for the pigeons. The Pigeon Spa. And mounds of birdseed were supplied everyday, the excess that fell on the floor being eaten by the mice. The room was it’s own ecosystem.

The denouement occurred one night when I was in the wings sitting in a folding chair waiting for my final entrance. It was a dramatic scene. There were guns. There was death. And I felt something on my toes. Yes, a mouse on my toes. I let out a high pitched scream which sent the rest of the cast into the giggles so we did most of the final scene with our faces turned away from the audience to hide the hilarity. And yes, the audience wasn’t immune. A gigantic one was running around the bleachers under the audience’s feet one night. A friend in the audience insisted that it was a rat, but I won’t admit that.

Now this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me. In my life.   I had an audition at a place on Eighth Avenue. I used the ladies room, which looked pretty skuzzy. When I got home, I took my coat off and went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and there was a HUGE WATERBUG ON MY SHOULDER. My husband said when I took my coat off he noticed something on my shoulder, but he thought it was an epaulet. An epaulet? Like it was so big he saw it across the room? And it had rode home on the train with me. Under my coat. No!!! This is the most horrifying thing ever.

My father was right.


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