A-co-lyte: n. a person who assists a celebrant in a religious service

We’ve come to part 3 in our 3 part series on the Week With All The Things. As much as I love talking about that week, I am a really slow writer, and I will be excited to move on to  other topics. For now, though, let’s talk about Vadalna Tribal Dance Co.‘s very last performance, Temple, and how it effected my art and life. Be forewarned, this one is not as cheerful as the others.

Temple poster
The poster for Temple. It was somehow even more awesome than this looks.

Frankly, I don’t even know how to begin. It was a very long, very involved process that lasted multiple days in multiple locations with many, many people. The whole thing is something of a blur. A wonderful, very emotional blur. I know I won’t be able to capture the experience in this post, but I will try my very best not to disappoint.

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Vadalna has been a group for about 7 years now. They have a long history together with lots of pictures and memories and in-jokes and all of that. I have only been dancing with them for a few months, and I was just a guest dancer, so I was unable to share any of those common memories. I was not technically a “real” member of the group, and I spent most of the experience unsure whether or not certain “Vadalna-only” activities (such as putting together the scrapbook, signing the guest book, group photos, or even going up there early) were open to me. Let me make it perfectly clear, though, that they tried their very best to make me feel cared for, welcomed, and loved, but due to my mental illnesses and my own personal insecurities, I found it very difficult to really feel like I was part of the group. I only mention this because it factored into and somewhat colored my experience of the event, and I wanted to clarify that it was through my own failings, not through any direct action on their part.

An older photo of them
We Are Shangri La
A still from the video for We Are Shangri La/Echoes, to which our Temple choreography, Wise Enough, was the sequel.

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The whole thing actually began on Thursday night when a few of the Vadalna ladies, Naraya and Sam/Belle, went up to the site as early as they could to start preparing, and also because group sleepovers are fun. I had an editing meeting that night with Wendy and Pedro, a few of the folks behind the Highlands History Project and also some good friends of mine, so I couldn’t go until Friday morning. I packed up all of my cool little knickknacks, carpooled up there with two of the Vadalna ladies, Kali and Katie,  nerded out just as hard as we could, and soon (not nearly as soon as we expected, traffic was a monster) we were at the cabin we would be staying in, a town over from the venue. The cabin was apparently owned by the same people  who owned the venue (K and Natan of Star & Snake in Center Harbor, NH) and it functioned as our “home base” of sorts while we got everything set up. We did the scrapbook work (Katie and Kali did that, actually) and I took inventory of all the things we brought (which essentially means I put stickers on everything with people’s names on them and I wrote it down in my notebook) and then we were able to go see the space for the first time.

The plan was to set up the space all day Friday and most of the day Saturday, do the show Saturday night, have a party afterward, and then I wasn’t sure what was supposed to happen after that. If I had even a little bit of foresight, I would have known that the plan was to stay Saturday night, break down on Sunday, and then spend the rest of the day hanging out before eventually leaving. I didn’t figure that out until midday Saturday. My version of the plan was to do all of those things and then leave right after the show on Saturday night. That is how I planned my whole weekend out, going as far as to make podcast editing plans for Sunday. I blame myself for not being able to piece that one together, because everyone else seemed to know that’s what was happening. It was still frustrating. But we’ll get more into that later.

[In the interest of saving time, I will attempt to not go overly into detail about the Star & Snake, but that is a task that will prove somewhat difficult for reasons that will become apparent.] After receiving us and our stuff at the cabin, Naraya and Sam took us to church. Because that is indeed what the Star & Snake is: a former (what I assume to be Catholic) church that has been renovated such that it is now a performance venue-slash-artist retreat-slash-Pagan spiritual center. It’s even intimidating from the outside. We came around the back and entered through what I guess you’d call the back doors (which were flanked with stone statues of what I thought were supposed to be hooded monks) and we entered the main performance space, the sanctuary.

I’m a little embarrassed to say, but I was kind of underwhelmed by that part. It looked exactly the way I pictured it. Wood floors and walls, with all the pews and everything cleared out, and currently full of all our stuff. It wasn’t super impressive to me, because that’s exactly what I would have thought an empty church would look like. The stained glass was gorgeous, of course, but I wasn’t immediately struck with its beauty like I had been led to believe would happen, for which I felt kind of ashamed.

Star & Snake sanctuary
The sanctuary and the choir loft, after the 5 altars were built.

But then they took us through the rest of the space. I found that my infatuation with Star & Snake crept upon me very, very slowly. So slowly I almost didn’t notice it. They took us through the parlor with the stone fireplace, the divination room with the shrine to Kali Ma to whom the space is devoted, upstairs to the shibari room, further down into the healer’s room in the basement, the tattooing room where Natan could do ritual tattooing, and then they showed us the firepit and the water shrine situated on top of their actual wellwater source outside. Everything was so overwhelmingly beautiful and intricate, and somehow more so than the last. There were so many interesting things to see that I worry I’ll try to list them all and be here all day. After we had seen more or less every space we’d be using for the show, we were brought back into the Kali room so we could eat some of the food we brought. I remember sitting there on the carpet between the two indoor flower gardens (which I still haven’t been able to figure out…), looking over at the locked up shrine, looking up at the vaulted ceiling from which cloth curtains were hanging to decorate the divination table, and thinking one thing only:

“My life plans have changed.”

Which I’m sure I’ll get to in another writing, and has been on my mind a lot lately. For now, let’s move on.

The Shrine of Kali
The shrine of Kali, next to one of K’s paintings. One of the flower gardens was located to the right of the shrine, and the divination table to the left.

In any case, to speed things up, we spent much of the rest of the day building. There was lots of actual construction still underway that needed to be masked for the show, and we also had to build the five altars (for the four cardinal directions/elements and one in the middle for Spirit/Ether) in the sanctuary space. Vadalna assigned people to build specific altars, but I never wanted to be confined to just one. I owned a lot of really cool stuff, but I didn’t own anything that was cool enough to build one cohesive idea. So I bounced around between all of them and helped out where I could, and I’m incredibly proud of the way they all came out. That, by which I mean my taking pride in helping out, proved to be a theme of the weekend, but I wouldn’t figure that out until later.

The Fire Altar
The Fire/South Altar, built by myself and Kalidasi. And I think that person in the blindfold might be my friend Rebecca!

After a long day of building and organizing, we retired to the cabin for the night. And I do mean long. I think we all settled in to bed after midnight. In any case, the next morning, we had a ton of work ahead of us, so we went to a local café for a caffeine-fortified planning session. Which spawned one of my favorite photos from the whole experience:

Middle Finger
Naraya and Kali were very ready for the day.

Center Harbor is fucking adorable, by the way. That café was just the beginning. I would love to go back up there soon. Hopefully I’ll have the chance, because the Star & Snake will have plenty more events!

In any case. We spent most of the day of the show doing the little things. Sweeping, mopping, polishing, all the things that didn’t seem like they would be that difficult or necessary, but they took all day and really would have been missed if they hadn’t been done. Mind you, I didn’t like doing them, but I really felt like I was doing a Good Thing here by doing the little things that suck so that other people could focus on the Big Picture. The feeling persisted, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it.

Like I mentioned before, I was having a really hard time with feeling like an outsider at this event, and the more time ticked by, the deeper the feeling felt. After doing several menial tasks (that needed doing!) all day, I found myself cleaning one of the many mirrors. It was on the Fire Altar, and it was incredibly smudgy from being handled all weekend. I polished it. When I was done, I must have looked at it just right because I felt like I was looking through a window. It was really, really clear, and I was looking at an angle so I wasn’t reflected at all. It was kind of a bizarre experience, if you’ve ever had it.

When I finished with that one, for some reason, I needed to do another one. I wasn’t sure why, but I immediately grabbed my wash and my microfiber cloth, went over to the the Air Altar, and started polishing that one, too. That one was stubborn, though, so I had to do it two or three times just to get it to stop being streaky. And that’s the weird thing. I needed it not to be streaky. I needed to clean it. And then when I was done, I moved on to another one. And then another one. At one point, someone asked for a set of hands to go do another task, and I actively ignored that request so that I could keep cleaning mirrors. I can’t really describe it, but I viscerally knew in my heart that I needed to stay here and do this. To do anything else was unthinkable.

I should interrupt myself for a moment and give you a brief introduction to my history with religion and spirituality. I would consider myself to be an agnostic atheist at the moment, but that wasn’t always the case. I was raised in a Christian family, though my immediate family was terrible at practicing. I was baptized Catholic when I was 8 because my mother married someone who was Catholic (but, again, didn’t practice), but our family’s church is actually a less-crazy offshoot of the Mormon church (long story). Much like everyone who grew up in the 90’s, I started learning about alternative religions when I was about 11, and I was heavily studying witchcraft (specifically Wicca and Paganism) throughout my teens. Eventually, I decided that, even though I thought that some forms of Wicca were the set of beliefs that fit me the most accurately, I decided to stop practicing. It became clear to me that no one really has the answers, and I was frankly shocked at how many people who participated in such an open-minded belief system would regularly use definite and specific vocabulary to define the gods, magick, and the afterlife. When I made that decision, I thought of Wicca/witchcraft as being just like any other religion: a moral code to live by, a set of beliefs to make sense of the world around us, and ritual and tradition to make our brains happy, but ultimately unable to hold up under scrutiny. Which made me very, very sad and I don’t like talking about it, to the point that I am actively squicking out writing about this right now.

So fast forward to me in a Pagan spiritual center, building religious accouterments, serving as a Priestess in a “witchy-poo” show (as Naraya would call it, and being surrounded with the normalization of something that, when I practiced it, would have had to be kept very secret or hidden away. And then this feeling hits me, where I need to clean these mirrors. And I was fighting this notion (that I felt must be correct, but I was trying as hard as I could to ignore it) that maybe what was happening to me was a return to my old faith, and that feeling that something that used to be missing wasn’t missing anymore. But I was ignoring and ignoring and ignoring until I suddenly realized I was repeating the word “acolyte” to myself. Which was weird, as it’s a word that I know and have used before, but not a word I’m known for using often.

I thought the word meant “one who is training up in some art form or religious practice.” And I thought to myself, “Is that not what I am, in a sense?” After all, I was training as a dancer under the much more experienced, much more technically advanced than me Vadalna women. And after all, I was here in this temple taking care of the space before performing a sacred act in it, just like they do in monasteries and abbeys and temples from all over the world and all that I knew of religious orders from everything I’d ever read. Was I not basically, as I eventually called myself, the Work Study Priestess?

Shinto priestess sweeping
According to the Wall Street Journal, this is a Shinto priestess sweeping the grounds at Fujisan Hongu Sengentaisha shrine, Mt. Fuji’s main shrine.

From that moment, it clicked. I ran around and compulsively told all the Vadalna ladies this revelation I had (and it did indeed feel like a revelation) almost ad nauseum, but they put up with it like champs. The rest of my experience that night was seen through the eyes of the Work Study Priestess.

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The time was drawing nearer, and the preparations really kicked into gear. Performers began to arrive and I was becoming a little star-struck because they included people like Aepril Schaile and Matt (Em) Weston. We were all getting into costume and makeup (I had nothing special to put on my head in terms of jewelry or hair ornaments, which I had been feeling self-conscious about until I realized that I, as an acolyte, didn’t need to be as elaborate as the other priestesses) and doing a tech run-through and everything was running about as smoothly as anyone had any reason to expect.

After tech, we had about an hour until we expected to be able to start. I had brought two bottles of Viniq that someone bought me for my birthday but that I had never opened and I intended to share it as a toast with the Vadalna chicks. On a whim, I decided to go around to all the altars with the wine (I thought it was wine; I didn’t realize until later that it actually had liquor in it, and boy did I feel silly when I figured that out) and have it blessed, all the while kicking myself for how stupid an idea I imagined that to be, being an atheist. In any case, I called together the Vadalna women, I poured us all a very sparkly toast, and then I took the opportunity to invoke the god Dionysus (god of both wine and the theatre) before we drank it.

Viniq GIF
Literally us.

And then before I knew it, the show was ready to begin.

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First, the guests were led through the front door to the donation jar, then led through a set of sheer curtains and blindfolded by priestesses in order to participate in the opening ritual. They were then led through another set of curtains and walked, still blindfolded, to each of the five altars, where they would be able to remove their blindfold and meditate on the meaning of what they saw. Some of the altars were even interactive.

Opening Ritual
Writing down wishes to hang on the Tree of Life at the Spirit altar. With special guest appearance by my friend James!

After all this, they were led to another priestess who took their blindfolds and asked them to draw a card which would have a symbol on it. She would cryptically tell them to find their symbol and off they would go on their own. They would be led to one of the three rooms I already mentioned, where there would be a practitioner waiting to receive them. After roughly an hour, a priestess came around with a drum to lead them back to the sanctuary space for the dance performance.

The show was structured in the same way that many Wiccan rituals are: There was the consecration of the space which we had already done before everyone got there, Aepril’s invocation of the divine, and Aria Michaels Paradise called the corners and began to raise the energy. The energy and power would continue to be raised through the next few performers and then culminated with Vadalna’s performance, which was more or less all spinning, meant to evoke the spiral dance and be the spark which would ignite the world. Our song is also one of the only ones that used lyrics in English, which in my opinion would also make it the intention part of the ritual.

Are we not wise enough to give all we are?
Surely we’re bright enough to outshine the stars
But humankind gets so lost in finding its way
We have our chance to make a difference til our dying day

I do want to say one notable thing that happened to me during our performance. There was one segment of the song where we were supposed to “strike a pose,” so to speak. The lyric was “no one else can play your part” and we were to take up a pose that represented our priestess. In all of the rehearsals, I had been doing this kind of abstract tree thing because, where many people have adopted a “spirit animal,” I have apparently adopted tree imagery. But during our performance, I was all of a sudden struck with new imagery. Instead of going into my tree pose, I leaned over and held my hands as though I were holding a broomstick. Work Study Priestess struck again, and it felt really, really correct.

Wise Enough
The only Vadalna performance shot I have seen so far.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but unlike the ritual observance and silence that followed every other performance, Vadalna received a few light “woo”s, one woman saying “we do, we do,” and one notable and poignant “Amen.”

Our performance was followed by Jaylee, who, like us, spun and spun and spun until she couldn’t spin no more, followed by Aepril Schaile one more time. This time, she was formally invoking the goddess Kali, and in doing so, she actually stabbed herself in the leg with her own sword. We all worried for her, but at the same time none of us were really that surprised that blood was shed during Kali’s arrival.

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When the show had officially ended, everyone was invited to party. There  were enough libations to go around, and we all ended up staying well into the night. I got to try K’s homemade blueberry mead (which was awesome!), watch some more shibari bondage, and watch everyone else have a great time. I ended up missing out on a lot of the fun social stuff because I went into a mental valley, but I stuck with it as long as I could. After all, I was a priestess and this was my temple. But around 1:00AM, I had kind of reached the end of my spoons, so my fella and my best friend, who had come all the way up just to see the show, helped me gather as much of my things off the altars as we could find, and then helped me find people to say goodbye to. It was at that point that I realized that they had mostly all gone back to the cabin already, and no one had told me. I was a little upset by that, but they were all adults, so independence is expected.

We left and made our way to the cabin. When I got there, only Katie and her dude were in sight. I hastily gathered up the rest of my things and packed them in the car. I had hoped to say goodbye to the Vadalna ladies before I left, but they were nowhere to be found. I awkwardly said goodbye to Katie, asked her to give them my love, got in the car, and went home.

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I would like to just say some final thoughts on the matter before I close the book on Temple for good.

  • The experience, quite literally, changed my life.
  • I learned that I’m not as well-adjusted as I thought I was, and that I have a lot more work to do.
  • I am a person who is full of fear.
  • I hope I can find another group of people as loving, talented, tight-knit, and visionary as Vadalna, and then swindle them into letting me hang out with them.
  • The world needs more beauty in it. Sometimes, beauty is painful.
  • I ended up looking up the word “acolyte” later and learned its real meaning. An acolyte isn’t a total novice who is lucky to be sweeping the floors. An acolyte is one who assists. I am not unworthy. I am that which makes things possible.

A presto,

JW

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Part 1: The Wizard and 14 Year-Old I

Part 2: 6 Things Never to Do as a Film Extra

6 Things Never To Do As A Film Extra

Welcome to part 2 of the 3 part blog posts I’ve been writing about the Week With All The Things! I’m your host, Jackie, and I have got even more fun perform-y type stories to spin you.  If you missed part 1, the entry about that time I auditioned for Wicked on Broadway, check it out here.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society...

I call this story…That Time I Worked on a Kevin Hart Film.

Stay tuned for part 3 after this!

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One of the projects I worked on recently was the upcoming Kevin Hart film, Central Intelligence. I was so grateful to be working on it, too, because I hadn’t done any film work through Boston Casting in something like 2 years. This opportunity was a couple of firsts for me:

  • My first big budget film
  • My first multi-day shoot
  • The first time I was given hair/makeup/wardrobe as an extra. In my experience, that’s highly unusual, especially with how many of us there were, which I’m told was about 400.
  • And my first time shooting in a location I was already familiar with (my old high school, which brought with it all sorts of feelings).
  • It was not actually the first shoot I had with a famous person, as I did an ESPN commercial with Macklemore a few years back, but with this shoot I was situated much closer to Kevin, and our interactions with him were somewhat different, so I’d say this one is more “official” than the other, even though they were both in a crowd setting.

Central Intelligence

I just want to take a moment to gush about the shoot before I focus on the main thesis of this entry, so bear with me. I know it’s one of those actor-y things to say, but it’s true: I feel so fortunate to have been able to work on Central Intelligence, and in my own hometown, too. When I was growing up as a poor, frustrated theatre kid with nowhere to learn or explore, all I wanted was for there to be more performance opportunities in Lynn. Now look at it. Major films are shooting there, not a mile from the house I grew up in. How unbelievably fortunate I am for that to be the case. I hope it continues on that way.

Even though we had two 14 hour days together, the production company and PA’s were so professional toward us and very well-organized. The food they gave us was delicious and there was plenty of it for everybody, which can be a problem when trying to feed 400 actors plus crew twice a day. Kevin was hilarious, and what I saw of the film is looking really great so far. We didn’t get to read the script or anything, of course, but based on context clues I assume that we were in some kind of opening sequence. And, blessings on their house, they tried their very hardest to pump in as much air conditioning as they could, which was awesome because it hit 90°F outside during one of the shoot dates.

According to the email that I got (at 1:30AM, but I’m not complaining) on the morning of the shoot, we were all to dress as though we were high school students in 1996. If I had been able to hit the store, I would have been able to come up with something much better looking, but I worked with what I had. (If you’re on the hunt for me in the film, look for the chick wearing purple leopard print leggings, red knee-high Doc Martens, blue plaid flannel, and a black lace skirt. Oh, and a bow. But we’ll get to that in a minute.)

I super loved seeing everyone else in their 90’s fashion. I personally loved that era’s style (except the part about being stick thin, naturally, as I never fit into that particular aesthetic, or the part where you were only beautiful so long as you were white and blonde), probably because that’s the decade I grew up in. I just couldn’t stop staring at all the scrunchies and overalls and plaid flannel. It made me want to go home and watch nothing but Clueless, The Craft, and Buffy until my eyes fell out.

I think my favorite parts of the shooting process all involved crew members, though. One PA insisted we knew each other and tried desperately to figure it out, but he never did. Another made a point to tell me how great I did right at the end of the second day. But probably my very favorite moment was at the top of the first day, when one of the hair stylists told me that if I came back for the second day without my hair freshly washed, he wouldn’t allow me on set. Why did I like that part, you may wonder? Because I like being held to a higher standard. It gives me a very specific set of goals at the end of which I can feel like I’m a better performer. And also? I think he was being hard on me because he liked me and wanted me to succeed. I think that because he gave me a hair bow that was kind of big and noticeable (black and white polka dots and so big and floppy that it almost covered my whole head) and he said “That’s ok, I want you to stand out a little.” It’s things like that that remind me that I really might have a solid shot at succeeding out there.

90's high school kids
Us, but with less plaid.

There were, however, some parts of the process that were less than stellar.

  • We were basically sitting on hard surfaces for 14 hours straight both days, whether it be in the gym where filming was, or in extras holding which was the cafeteria. I was, and am still a bit, in an unfathomable amount of pain. My ass was literally calloused and bruised from the experience for about a week. To top that part off, I also have a bad back, so when I tried to ease my butt a little by changing my position, my lower back would smart and seize up, and then I’d try to overcompensate for that and the rest of my back muscles would get tired and we wouldn’t have even gone to lunch yet. I never thought I would complain so hard about sitting down too much.
  • It was a closed set, so we weren’t allowed to have our phones. Makes sense. Kevin Hart is super famous and probably hates people snapping pictures of him all the time. There’s probably copyright issues with behind-the-scenes filming. Not to mention there was a naked man on set (guess you’d better see the film to figure that one out!) Knowing how much downtime we’d have, I brought my Kindle, so I wasn’t terribly bored (and I finished Witches Abroad! If you know me, you know how slow I read). But I did have a show, a film meeting, and an editing session to prepare for, not to mention I had a boatload of emails to send, so two 14 hour days without my phone was a bit of a set back for me. Also also, I had to miss a work study session at the Dance Complex and I couldn’t even call them because I never had my phone for any of the hours they were open after I booked the gig. Super frustrating.
  • I had also brought my new juggling balls with me, because hours of downtime would be the perfect time to grind away at my new skills. The only problem with that is that there were people everywhere, all the time. And these were social actor-y people. I knew that if I started practicing in extra’s holding that people would come over and try to talk to me, or ask if they could play with them, or just stare at me. I did eventually find a quiet place to go, the auditorium (also known as “the place I spent my entire high school career because of course I was a drama club addict”), but I only managed to sneak out there for like 15 minutes and when I tried to go back later on in the day, they kicked me out. It was only for people to make emergency calls on one of the crew’s cell phones, so I can understand the need for privacy. But still. That place used to be my home. If anyone shouldn’t have to ask to go in there, it would be me. Not that anyone was in a position to care about that sort of thing.
  • And once again. I love my work and I hope to get more work than I can handle, but…14 hours. That’s a long fucking day. I really can’t emphasize what that’s like.
High School Gym with Audience
Not actually us, but pretty darn close.

And with that, I wrap up the gushing over the experience and we get to the meat of the matter: being an extra.

Let’s begin with what an extra does. According to Wikipedia, an “extra” or a “background actor” is:

A performer in a film, television show, stage, musical, opera or ballet production, who appears in a nonspeaking or nonsinging (silent) capacity, usually in the background (for example, in an audience or busy street scene). War films and epic films often employ background actors in large numbers: some films have featured hundreds or even thousands of paid background actors as cast members (hence the term ‘cast of thousands’). Likewise, grand opera can involve many background actors appearing in spectacular productions.

On a film or TV set, background actors are usually referred to as “background talent”, “background performers”, “background artists”, “background cast members” or simply “background” while the term “extra” is rarely used. In a stage production, background actors are commonly referred to as “supernumeraries“. In opera and ballet, they are called either “extras” or “supers”.

Indeed. Not that difficult. As an extra or background actor, you are literally paid to stand there and do nothing, or next to nothing. We were hired to play high school students during a pep rally where we would cheer, laugh, and go “aww” at appropriate moments. It doesn’t sound particularly difficult or like it requires spending $12,000 on it (we did the math and it would have cost them at least that for all of use for two days, not counting union labor or any other consideration), but our presence was necessary in order for the movie to seem believable. It’s an important job, is what I’m saying. One worth taking seriously.

Naturally, basically no one took it seriously.

I don’t want to name names or anything (which would be difficult anyway because I didn’t really learn any), but I observed a lot of unprofessional, and at some points downright offensive, behavior on the set and I decided to put together as comprehensive a list as I could of everything I think you shouldn’t do on a film set. I’m sure I’ll leave something out.

Let’s begin.

  • Don’t talk. Pretty much ever. Socializing is a tricky subject on the set, as we are all actors and we could all use the contacts. You meet all sorts of new and interesting people during a shoot, and you may not want to pass up the opportunity to make a new friend or gain a few Twitter followers. But do keep in mind that there are 400 of us. We are basically a Hydra. If we all start talking (hell, even whispering) at the same time, we are already louder and more disruptive than anything else going on on set. Not to mention we waste precious shoot time. How, you ask? I’ll tell you.
    • The 2nd AD has to use a bullhorn to shout directions over everyone, and it usually takes several minutes to get us all paying attention and quiet.
    • The PA’s have to constantly be reminding us to shut up, and they’ve already got plenty to do without babysitting us.
    • In one particularly egregious example of this, one of the AD’s had to give us the exact same direction 5 times because half of us would do it wrong. In our case, he asked us to pantomime pantomime pantomime then laugh, yet every time they called action, half of us just started laughing right away. It’s not funny, it’s not cute, and I don’t care if you’re sorry.
  • Which feeds really well into my next point: pay attention. While paying attention and being quiet have a lot to do with each other, they are not the same thing. Know what is going on around you. Know what group you are in. Listen when they tell someone else how to fill out their paperwork so that they won’t have to repeat themselves. Don’t ask over and over and over again which group they just called. Don’t be the guy who’s group left 20 minutes ago. Don’t ask to go to the bathroom when you know we’re about to set up a take. Just…don’t.
  • Absolutely don’t do this next thing. During one of our long breaks when they kept us in extras holding, I was sitting at a table with a handful of people I didn’t know and they were chatting about where they had been sitting during the shoot. I didn’t tell them this, but I had actually been sorted into the wrong group by accident (their accident, not mine), so I got placed front and center near the teachers, the lettermen, and other specific-looking extras. Because of that, you may actually see me in the film. Hooray! But these people weren’t quite so lucky. They were sorted into the blue or the green group, which were on the other side of the gym, and more than likely on the outskirts of the crowd. They were apparently not content with their placement. “You know what I do?” said one young man in a blue shirt. “I just go and sit where the cameras are pointing. They film over there, I sit over there. I don’t care, I just want to be in the movie.” At this point, I looked up from my book in horror. He concluded with “No one has stopped me yet.” The young man next to him, who appeared to be of Asian descent, nodded, then said “Pretty much. I mean, they won’t even notice until they’re editing anyway.”
    • I hope I don’t have to explain to you why I find that kind of behavior disgusting. I will just assume that you know why I, someone who have worked behind the scenes on films before, am outraged at such a thing. Don’t do it, ever. Sit where you’re told to sit, do what you’re told to do, and never say anything you aren’t given express permission to say. There’s a special place in hell for people who make editing harder than it already is.
    • And by the way, I saw one of them trying that later that same day. They put the camera up really close to my group (so close that I was actually not going to be in the shot) and the young man in the blue shirt tried to work his way into some else’s seat. She had gone to the bathroom (another reason not to go to the bathroom if you can help it!) and he sat down in her spot. When someone else turned to look at him, he said “I don’t know where I’m supposed to sit…” At which point I was prepared to go off on him something fierce. Luckily I didn’t have to, because the girl next to him simply said “Not here.” And he was forced to get up and go somewhere else. I consider it a moral victory.

[A lot of this advice, you’ll find, stems from the same place: an actor’s desire for fame. Not because he worked hard or because he takes his craft seriously, or even because of his networking acumen. No, a lot of obnoxious things actors do on set is done because they wants their face to be seen clearly in the film. Which I understand. Hell, I want my face seen in the film, too. That is not an excuse to behave unprofessionally, nor is it an excuse to tamper with a film that has a net worth greater than your life.

Not to mention that your actions have far reaching consequences. Do you want to work ever again? Do you want Boston Casting to lose their contracts because of one too many incidents with unprofessional extras? Do you want the film industry to stop coming to Boston because we’re hard to work with? No, of course you don’t. So get your shit together.

Moving on.]

Cute kitten
Here’s an adorable kitten to soften the blow of that rant.
  • I hinted at this earlier, but this is an even bigger issue than it seems. Do not change anything. By which I mean:
    • Clothes that wardrobe has ok’d you to wear.
    • Lines you’ve been authorized to say.
    • Your physical location.
    • Even down to the smallest facial feature and gesture, if you can help it.
  • The reason I bring this one up is because it came up at a different shoot I was a part of years ago for a film called Crooked Arrows. We were playing a crowd at a lacrosse game, and they put me on Team White Kid (the crowd cheering for the white prep school, which were the bad team in this film). We were authorized to wear Reebok clothing (they were a sponsor), clap, cheer, go “wooo!” and even chant at one point. One young man, however, kept shouting “Go, blue and white! Yeah blue and white!” Which I would have thought wouldn’t have caused any harm, but I was proven wrong when a PA pulled him aside and explained why he needed to cut it out. Apparently, if they caught that line during a take, it would render the take unusable. Why? Because that would technically make him a featured extra with a line, and they would have had to pay him more. A lot more. Not to mention the legal repercussions of if they got the take, couldn’t find him, and weren’t able to pay him more. Or if the precedent was set that you pay more to extras who don’t follow the rules. Imagine the Bedlam that would cause.
    • And if you’re reading this thinking that that’s just more reason to do it, then I frankly don’t know what to say to you.

[Prepare yourselves, folks. If you thought I was ranting before, wait until you see what’s coming up.]

Bunny kiss
Here’s a preemptive bunny kiss.

Now I’m going to talk about the famous people.

  • Please don’t applaud at every little thing they do. I find it obnoxious, and I’m not even a little famous. The extras on set had this nasty habit where they would try to endear themselves to Kevin by applauding when he entered the room, when he left the room, and when he hung up his phone (I don’t know why, but someone kept trying to video call with him between takes, which is a really bad time to do that). He and a friend of his (I didn’t know him, but I suspect he was famous, too) would play basketball between takes during slower parts of the day, and the extras would try to act like a sports crowd, cheering or booing where appropriate. (Please see my very first point if you want to know what I thought of that.) It’s fine to do it once, maybe twice, maybe even three times. But their celebrity does not mean that you need to wipe their ass for them. In fact, when Kevin finally hung up with whoever was trying to video chat with him, the crowd clapped (of course) and he smiled and said “Man, y’all will clap for anything, huh?” And a few people laughed. I didn’t laugh. He was smiling, but he didn’t seem to be joking.
  • And here it is, the part that offended me the most: please, please, please don’t ever, ever touch the talent. This one requires a little bit of a backstory, so bear with me. When Kevin picture wrapped (when they had shot the last scene they needed him for), we applauded for him (that time it was appropriate!) and he chose to make a little speech. He wanted to thank a bunch of people (specifically the 2nd AD for “taking the most shit,” which I thought was very cool of him) and then he insisted that “[he] wouldn’t be [him]” if he didn’t do what he was going to do next. He pulled out his phone and said he was going to make a video of himself for social media. He was going to start facing us (so we couldn’t be seen) and then at a certain point, he would turn around and reveal all of us in the stands, and then we would cheer real loud and that would be it. I repeat, that would be it. So he went about making the video, he said things like “I just wrapped on Central Intelligence, come see it next summer, etc etc etc.” (and some people started shouting early! Because who gives a fuck about direction, intent, and creating a moment, when you have “easily pointing your own voice out to your friends later” to think about?!) and then he turned around. And there was absolute fucking Bedlam. We stood up, we cheered, there was stomping, and then all of a sudden before I quite knew what was happening, half the crow rushed Kevin. They rushed him. They ran up behind him when he wasn’t looking, put their hands on his body, and stuck their head into his video without his permission.
    • I’m still kind of horrified that they did that. Is your desire to meet a famous person/have your 15 minutes of fame/be seen in something viral more important than this man’s bodily integrity? How dare you violate his space and his body like that? Are we animals? To be clear, I’m sure that he didn’t think of it that way. I don’t know what he was thinking at all. All I know is that I saw a crowd of people run at full speed at a black man and put their hands on him, and I was absolutely sickened. I don’t care that they didn’t do anything to him, or that no one was harmed. That’s not the point.

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Thanks for sticking around until the end! Stay tuned for the third installment in the 3 part series on the Week With All The Things, hopefully coming at you pretty soon.

A presto,

JW

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Part 1: The Wizard and 14 Year-Old I

Part 3: A-co-lyte: n. One Who Assists A Celebrant In a Religious Service

The Wizard and 14 Year Old I

[If you want to skip the backstory and just jump straight to the bit about the day of the audition, jump forward to the black line. If you want to skip even further and only read about the actual audition, skip even further to the part where it says “Scroll Here” and then read through to the other black line.]

I’ve been away for awhile. I’m 100% certain that I don’t have a following, so I’m sure it made no difference at all that my posts weren’t coming, but I like to at least be consistent. In any case, lots of stuff has been going on over the last few months. Lots of show prep, lots of trying out new jobs, lots of seeing shows, and yet not much to actually sit down and write about. It was more or less (stagnating) business as usual. And yet, out of the fog, there came this one week where I had three wonderful experiences which will be the subject of this and the following two blog entries. It’s the kind of week that makes you say “By the grace of whoever, let me be always this busy.”

I’d like to begin with that time I auditioned for Wicked on Broadway.

Wicked on Broadway
Yes, that one.

I found out about it on Playbill. Strictly speaking, I found out about it on Facebook, but it was hosted on Playbill. There was apparently going to be an open call for the understudy for Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West, the main character of the show) and the person who got it would be in the ensemble until they were needed to fill in. What struck me most was that the date (just 4 days away from the day I found it), address (somewhere I’d actually passed by a million times in New York City and never noticed), time (1:30PM on a Monday, the exact right time for a day trip), and music cut (the end of “The Wizard and I”) were written right there on the (free) article, highly unusual in a world where you need to be subscribed to things and pay someone money just to get in the door. Yet here it was.

Here I am, the page seemed to say. A role you can play, a show you know, and the one thing 14 year old Jackie would have wanted. And what are you going to do about it?

I’m going to go, I said back.

Of course, it did have to come right just on the one day of the week where Patrick and I had no extra money to throw at it, and it was too soon to justify him taking the day off to come with me. I couldn’t afford to drive in, and I could have just barely afforded the Lucky Star bus. In short, it was the best show for me to audition for, but at exactly the wrong time. And yet I still wanted to go.

I’d like to unpack that last thought for just a moment. Unlike many theatre kids, Broadway was never my endgame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of like my Mecca, in that I will spend way too much time and money to go see a show there, and I admire their spectacle and their technical superiority to most shows you’ll see anywhere else. And wow, would I love a steady run on Broadway (not to mention that sweet Broadway paycheck). It would keep me in top performing shape, and providing for my family, while doing the thing I love. But. Moving to NYC and throwing myself up against the audition wall was never my immediate goal. Truthfully, I wanted to open my own theatre company in Boston (probably more like Lynn or Salem) and do edgy fringe theatre. I wanted to make art. That’s not to say that Broadway isn’t art, of course. What I wanted was different. More new work. More adaptations of fairy tales and Greek myths. More innovative technical choices. More poor theatre. More art.

And then here was this NYC cattle call that probably thousands of girls would turn up to (and by extension, make it well nigh impossible for me to actually have a shot in the world at getting the gig), and everything I am was burning to go. I thought I might actually die if I didn’t go. What am I to make of that?

Broadway cattle call
Like this, but 100x longer, all women, and outside in direct sunlight on a 90° day.

Anyway. The logistics were looking really bad, even before I went. Pat and I had maybe $30 between us, which would be just enough for a bus ticket (I thought; more on that in a second), but nothing else.

In order to be at the top of my game, I would have needed:

  • To get a coaching session during the weekend leading up to it (both to ensure that my voice was in good shape and to make sure  I was reading the music correctly) – $50/half hour
  • Make sure I had enough food and water to get through the day – anywhere between $10 and $30
  • Pat insisted that someone come with me because he’d heard too many horror stories about the bus ride, but despite my asking around, it was simply too close for anyone to take the day off.

Of course, I could afford none of those things. And then, if you can believe it, everything got better, and worse.

My voice teacher invited me to come in for a coaching. When I couldn’t pay, she insisted I come anyway. [Jackie’s advice: never expect free lessons from your voice teacher, ever, but treasure them if they come.] With her help, not only was I feeling much better about the caliber of my voice, but also I was able to learn that the way Idina Menzel sings the song in the OBCR, is almost completely not the way the song is written, at least at the end (which is actually fairly standard for belty songs like that; singers hardly ever do the exact correct notes). That was a very helpful tip to learn, because I could have sang it her way, done amazing, and have them think of me as unoriginal, or I could learn it the way it was written, which may be less entertaining but ultimately prove that I actually studied the song.

The only setback to this lesson, which otherwise went amazingly, was that my teacher accidentally started me in the wrong place in the music. We were told to start at measure 117, but in my copy of the music, that was halfway through a phrase. I figured we should start from the key change (“And I’ll stand there with the Wizard…”) but she thought that was ridiculous because that would be a supremely difficult place to begin, not to mention that she assumed they wouldn’t want more than 16 bars, so she started me a bit later (“And so it will be for the rest of my life…”). This will come into play later.

On top of that, one friend insisted I borrow the bus fare from her. She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and I was so incredibly grateful for it. (Don’t tell her, but I might have cried.) There were two problems with that. The first is that I looked more closely into buying the bus ticket because I haven’t taken it in years, and I came to find out that the ticket is actually much more expensive than I originally thought. What I thought was a $15 one way/$30 round trip turned out to be more like $25 one way/$50 round trip, unless you happen to order unpopular times and maybe also you’ll get lucky and your ticket will be $1. It was a whole big mess for which I was not prepared. I had to crawl back to my friend and tell her the amount just got higher. I was actually mortified. Luckily for me, she was perfectly fine with the price change. The second problem, though, is that she gave me a check the day before I went, which happened to be a Sunday, when my bank was closed. I tried to deposit it by the sorcery that is my smart phone’s banking app, but even then, the deposit took until Tuesday morning to actually go through. So I technically possessed the money, but I had no way to access it or use it when I needed it. This would prove to be a major problem.

In the days leading up to Monday, like I mentioned before, I asked around as hard as I could for anyone who would be willing to go with me. On a whim, I asked a friend who I had gone to the city with before, but that I hadn’t ever gone with alone. I said the same thing I said to everyone I asked: “Skip work on Monday and go to NYC with me?” Weirdly enough, her response was “I can’t promise anything right now, but I’m going to say yes.” Which made me pee myself a little. The only condition was that she was just as broke as I was, so she said she would drive me down there and handle gas and tolls and stuff, but that I had to pay for parking, which would be between $28-$35. That, I could handle. But again, she said she couldn’t promise anything, so I tried not to get my hopes up.

It wasn’t until Sunday that she was able to confirm for the following day, and I absolutely lost my damn mind. I was going! I’d have more money than I thought (even though it hadn’t come through yet, but surely it would come before the end of the day, right?)! I was auditioning on Broadway! What in the world was my life coming to?!

Thus it was that Monday morning, at 6:45AM, my friend and I loaded the car up with water and snacks and made our four and a half hour trek down to the Great White Way.

Broadway
But during the day, of course.

____________________________________________________________________________

The plan was simple. Park, locate the place, go fuck around until it was time to check in (this being the part where I changed my shoes and did my hair and makeup), check in/wait/audition, [probably some combination of pee self/cry/vomit,] wander the area for a bit, then leave. The day went more or less exactly like that, but with a few minor differences, which I discuss later.

My friend found a really great garage not far from the area (and she brought a coupon, which is why you should always surround yourself with people who are prepared to go on adventures), and it took us maybe a half hour to find the place. It was about 12:00PM and maybe 90°F at this point. Upon locating the building, I couldn’t help but notice the handfuls of attractive, well-dressed young women lining the street. Maybe “lining” isn’t the right word, because if I didn’t know that the audition were happening, I wouldn’t have even noticed them. They were standing on both sides of the street in small groups, acting casual. I figured (and I wasn’t wrong) that they were just there really early (we weren’t supposed to be there until 1:30, if you recall) and that they were going to just stand there and wait. I decided that was probably a good idea. So I told my friend that I thought I ought to go get dressed right away and then come right back. We found a McDonald’s around the corner and camped out there. [The beautiful thing about that area of the city is that there are maybe a dozen McDonald’s in the Times Square neighborhood alone, and they all let you sit in them or use their bathroom without buying anything. That is a useful tidbit for NY daytrips.]

There was a whole big snafu with the bathrooms not being nearly big enough for me to comfortably change (if you thought I wasn’t going to try to dress the part with an all black outfit and black and white striped stockings, you must not know bout me) and not having a mirror in which to do my makeup, but I solved that problem by proceeding to not give a single fuck. My friend and I parked at a table near the window and I just tried to do my makeup in my phone’s camera. I’m pretty sure it didn’t come out as good as it could have, but I did my best. My friend didn’t even laugh. Progress! [Jackie’s advice: bring your own mirror. Maybe even do your hair and makeup in the car before you get there. The only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t want it to melt off before the audition.]

We then went back to where we had gone before, across the street from the building, under some scaffolding. By then, more people had turned up, such that they were much more obvious now. By happenstance, right at the exact moment I found a place to stand, a young man had come out from the building and started talking to us. He was saying (in what I imagine was his “trying very hard to be polite” voice) that he appreciated that we had come all the way out just for the call, and he appreciated that we were excited and had arrived early, but could we please go away? We weren’t supposed to be there for another hour or so, and not only was it boiling out, but also we could get in trouble for loitering. Needing little more than “go away” as impetus, my friend and I went away. Weirdly enough, many of the other women didn’t leave right away. [Jackie’s advice: leave right away. Do what the casting people say. No, not to endear yourself to them or brown nose, although I suppose it would have similar results. But rather because this is their job. This may be a huge, once-in-a-lifetime thing for you, but this is what they do every single day. They do not have time for your bullshit. They wouldn’t be coming out here and telling you to do something unless someone else were telling them to tell you to do something. Make a PA’s life easier. Just shut up and do what they say. This will be touched on in more detail in the next blog entry.]

My friend and I went for a stroll. We didn’t have anywhere in mind. As she said when we were originally making plans, “It’s New York! How boring could it be?” We found ourselves all over. The Toy’s R Us, a Payless (she used to work at one and she has two weddings coming up, so shoes were on her mind), a few dorky souvenir shops. The really weird thing is, it felt like the entire city was singing the same song. Everywhere we went, there would be a beautiful girl on a street corning, and if you leaned in close, you’d hear her singing the end of the Wizard and I. I found myself looking around at all the people (and there were so many people!) that we passed, and wondered how they could possibly go about their day. Didn’t they know there was an open call for a Broadway show? Why weren’t they there?! And then, of course, I remembered that I wasn’t even there, and that, even in New York, people do occasionally do other things with their lives.

I decided I wanted to return a little early, so we went back to the building. I very distinctly recall that it was 1:26PM when I got back to where I was supposed to be, because that’s when the doors to the building opened and a small group of people carried out some tables. It was around this point that it occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it living in New York. I don’t know why, but I expected an orderly queue to go down the street, complete with PA’s running up and down the line giving out name/number tags and collecting resumes.

That’s not what happened.

Instead, like some kind of herd, all the women at the exact same time, darted across the street (which was live, with cars actively driving down it!) and formed a mob around the table. I was kind of impressed, actually. After a moment of hesitation, I joined them.

Artist’s rendering.

This next part is one of the most interesting facets of the audition process, in my opinion. It made me wish I had majored in sociology. As I joined the mob group, I noticed that among the women literally pushing and shoving each other to get to the table, there was barely any sound. Oh, the women were grunting, of course, but there was no intermittent “move,” or “watch it,” or “get out of my way,” as I expected. There was instead a very delicate, very feminine symphony of “ouchies,” and “excuse me,” and “wow, so many people!” I almost laughed out loud. Here was this unruly mass of wriggling bodies fighting to get the center just to grab a little slip of paper and fight their way back out again, at an event that many would consider one of the highlights of their lives, and all the could do was fall into that learned pattern of submission and politeness? Mind you, I’m non-violent. Even if I thought it would win me the role, I wouldn’t harm a hair on any of their heads, or even start being rude to them. That’s just not how I do it. (Another good reason why I probably wouldn’t make it in the Big City.) But I’m frankly shocked that there weren’t fistfights breaking out, or at the very least some pointed threats. It gave me a lot to think about. [In case you were curious, the girl-itude that stuck out to me the hardest was when one particular young woman fought her way to the center of the group but then couldn’t find her way out again. In a moment of what I assume was frustration, she burst out into song with “Let me out! Let me out!” to the tune of “Let It Go.” I felt a strange mixture of feelings at that moment.] [Jackie’s advice: just get in and get out. Don’t push, don’t shove, don’t say anything (unless it’s “Sorry” for when you step on someone’s foot or something). Just get your slip and get the hell out of the way. It isn’t about you.]

Guess what you can do about people getting in your way in line?

As it turns out, I got an amazing time slot, 2:50PM, which made me feel much better about the parking situation (they charge by a certain number of hours; if my slot was too late, we wouldn’t have been able to use the coupon and the price of parking would nearly triple). My friend and I went away again. We stopped at yet another McDonald’s and filled out my paperwork [Jackie’s advice: neatly, with a fine ballpoint pen, and in all capital letters, with an asterisk next to anything confusing]. Upon closer inspection of my paperwork, I noticed that they clarified what the music cut was. It was not only a different place in the music (measure 138, not measure 117), but it was also a different lyric, which ended up being, you guessed it, what I originally thought it was. Oops. Luckily for me, I’m flexible, so I wasn’t too thrown by that new development. I was, however, a bit nervous because I hadn’t practiced that bit before. What if they judged me for singing it like the recording, the only way I knew how? Oh well. I didn’t exactly have time to fix it. My audition was in less than an hour.

After that, my friend and I wandered some more, ducked into this or that store for a little bit of air conditioning (I don’t know why, but I very distinctly remember that the last  store we went into before my audition was this beautiful Forever 21), and then went back to the building. I was supposed to report back 5 minutes before my slot, but not a moment sooner. We wandered up and down the block for a few minutes until it was the right time. The last thing I did before going up was change my shoes. I didn’t want to tire myself about by wandering up and down the city in heels.

As it is, I was actually almost late for my elevator. You see, I thought I was the only one with my time slot. I wasn’t. There were probably more like 20 of us all for the same time slot, and we all had to be ferried up by elevator and organized into neat lines by color of slip. (Mine was green. Others were pink.) I mistakenly assumed that they gave us that time slot to prevent us from arriving too early, not too late, so I purposely waited until about a minute later than I was told to arrive. [Jackie’s advice: be detail oriented. If they say 2:50PM to arrive at 2:45PM, be in the area 10 minutes early, but be where you need to be at the exact time you need to be there.]  But I did manage to get to where I needed to go, at nearly the right time.

About the elevator, though. More girl stuff I don’t understand. They managed to stuff a bunch of us, plus the elevator guy, plus the (what I assumed was the) PA into this tiny little elevator and they brought us up 10 flights, which as you can imagine is not a quick trip. Everyone was getting kind of nervous and the close quarters didn’t help the awkwardness at all. The thing I’ve noticed about actors, especially female-presenting actors, is that they are usually very interested in reaching out and talking to others when they are put in a position to be around strangers. One of them in the corner, a young blonde, fairly tall woman, started joking around with the elevator man. Was he being paid extra for this? Was he happy to be surrounded by beautiful women all day? The PA made a joke about how his extra compensation was that he was allowed to audition, and the elevator burst into fake laughter. “He’s already got the part, girls,” one woman said between laughs. “We can all go home now.” I tried desperately to keep a straight face and not roll my eyes.

Maybe I don’t understand how these things work. After all, I’m not a working professional, and I probably didn’t get the gig. But that sort of thing has always irritated me. Yes, be friendly. Yes, be charming and sociable. No, don’t brown nose. It makes you look like a vapid yes-man. But of course, what do I know? I’m just some chick from Boston. [Jackie’s advice: never assume you know what is the exact right thing to do at an audition, and certainly never tell others they are doing it wrong. Unless you’re the one giving the audition. And maybe even then.]

Anyway, after a few agonizing minutes, we arrived at the correct floor and got out. PA’s attempted to sort us into lines, which of course didn’t go well. No one was properly listening and no one seemed to know what color slip they had. [Jackie’s advice: work the other side of the table every so often. When you’re the one who has to work with the actors instead of work as one, you will quickly learn what kind of behavior is acceptable and what kind of behavior will make the PA wish they hadn’t come in that morning.]

They finally got us sorted into lines, we handed in our headshots and resumes, and were sorted into another set of lines. At this point, I did make a gaffe, and I almost didn’t mention it here, but if I’m going to be insanely detailed about everything else, I might as well talk about it. My voice teacher pointed out to me that they might assume I can’t dance because I’m fat, so I decided to take a second resume with me. One for acting with my real people headshot, another for dance with a live performance shot. Seemed legit to me. As I walked up to the woman collecting our paperwork, I fully intended to say “I’d like to give you my dance resume as well.” I thought it would convey a little bit of control without giving them the option of saying no. Something I picked up at the call center. Instead, what came out was “Is it alright if I give you two resumes?” Oof. After backpedaling as hard as possible and seeing the look on her face, I just left it alone and got in line. An hour of planning and $3.00 at Staples down the drain just like that.

From what I could see, there were 3 or 4 lines going at the same time, all leading into a different studio area. It was about as efficient as this process could possibly get. I remember thinking that I was pretty jealous that they just had this studio space that they could use whenever they wanted.

Speaking of first thoughts. The first thing I noticed were all the posters on the wall. The place was (almost literally) wallpapered with posters and playbills from what I assumed were all the shows that this particular agency had cast. If I had been a little bit less prepared for this event, it would have made me feel incredibly intimidated. It kind of does when I think back on it. I also remember passing a few people who were very clearly not there for the audition (a lot of men, mostly) who were sitting on these kind of cushioned islands spaced intermittently, which our lines were wound around. I wondered what they were doing there. Not in a bad way or anything. I just wondered what brought them there, and what they would be doing. I found myself looking at all the PA’s, mostly young women around my age, mostly white, and I wondered how they got that job. I wondered if they were actors, too, and if working that job would eventually bring them closer to the stage. I wondered about a lot of things that day, but none of it got resolved.

As the line I was in got shorter and shorter, I tried to distract myself from the impending event, and the knowledge that I probably didn’t sufficiently warm up or anything (because I’m a perfectionist, you see, and nothing I do is good enough). There was a very talkative woman in line directly in front of me (who I must admit I judged at first because she was wearing a t-shirt, jean short shorts, and flip flops; let me clarify, I don’t care if you wear those things regularly, I just didn’t think it was acceptable audition attire) who I learned was actually on vacation from the Netherlands with her sister and found out that the audition was happening while they were already here. Which made me feel terrible for judging her, being that she didn’t really have another choice in attire. Her sister was there as well, but she was in another line. The woman behind me had flown out all the was from the West Coast where she attended a performing arts college. She was apparently going into her senior year. I don’t remember much about her. Just that she had dark curly hair, she was very excited, and at one point, she said “This is the moment I have been waiting for my whole life.” I had somewhat mixed feelings about that sentiment.

The line was getting shorter. I used the last few moments before I went to collect my thoughts. Through the wall, I could hear some girls singing, but not others, so the studios were mostly soundproof but not totally. They were doing some interesting things vocally in there, but I tried not to dwell on it. I confirmed that they were in fact singing from the place we all agreed upon (“And I’ll stand there with the Wizard…”). It was at this point that I felt like I had something of an “in,” because about 2 years ago, I attended one of my voice teacher’s audition workshops. While there, we watched a video of a demo audition that took place at a voice teacher’s conference, run by some Big City casting agents, showing what they were looking for in a potential cast. One of the things they mentioned was that at these cattle call auditions, you aren’t supposed to introduce yourself like you would at a smaller audition. If you walk up there and begin with “Hello, my name is….” they will automatically assume you have no idea what you’re doing. So that was one piece of information I already knew before going in, which would have really thrown me off if I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to do it. I probably shouldn’t have, but I made sure to tell the girl behind me.

And then, sooner than I would have thought, it was my turn. The girl from the Netherlands came out of the room, the PA smiled at me, and then said “You can go in now.”

Scroll Here
…if you only want to read about the actual audition experience. Stop at the black line.

I opened the door and walked inside.

I was a little disoriented at first because I had been peeking in when people opened the door to enter or leave, but I was only able to see the hardwood floors, the white walls, and the big windows letting in tons of sunlight. I had thought the table would be in front of the windows, but upon walking in, it was actually off to my left, and the piano was practically behind the door. I wouldn’t have even bothered mentioning such a negligible detail, accept that it almost threw me off before I even did anything.

I made sure to smile as soon as I walked in, just like I was taught. I closed the door quietly behind me, because that just seemed polite. As I spun around, I was delighted to see the very same young man who had come out onto the street earlier behind the table, alone. That actually made me feel a bit more comfortable because at least I felt like I already knew him a little. He wasn’t a total stranger. That, and he was pleasant-looking, not very intimidating. I partly credit my performance to him making me feel comfortable. He said “Hello, Jacquelyn.” I don’t remember what I said back. I assume it was “Hello there.”

In any case, I kept smiling and walked to the center of the room (there is usually an X to mark the spot; in this case, there wasn’t) and waited until he had finished shuffling through paperwork. He found all my stuff, looked up, and said “Alright, Jacquelyn, let’s get started.” I said “Alright,” and started to sing.

I can barely remember what actually happened while I sang, but a few things crossed my mind:

  • Damn, this whole beginning part basically sounds like the recording. I bet they’ve already stopped listening.
  • Fuck fuck fuck I can barely hear the piano! Damn my easily-blocked ears!
  • Well shit, that key change came out great. I was really worried about squeaky larynx, but it’s not going too bad so far.
  • Argh, spoke too soon. Oh well, it was just one wavery note.
  • Oh good, we’re starting the part I’ve rehearsed. Excellent. Wow, it’s amazing what my body will just do with enough rehearsal. (Because at this point I did something we call “getting out of my own way” in acting class. Meaning I didn’t over-think any of my choices. I just did exactly how I rehearsed it without my conscious brain really operating.)
  • Oh shit, was I off music there? I can’t really tell because my stupid ear is stupid blocked stupid. Oh well. Keep going.
  • Don’t forget, tongue on the back of your teeth during that bridge note…and…nailed it.
  • Oh yay, we’re at the end now. AND IIIIIIIIIII (WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOUUUUUUU BUT DON’T ACTUALLY SING THAT OH MY GOD)! Wait, should I have closed my eyes there? Was that a rookie mistake? No, Idina does that all the time. This is Broadway, hello? This is no time to half ass it.
  • It’s over.

He said thank you. I always understood that to mean “No thank you” in situations like this. That video I saw before insisted that if they wanted to hear more, they’d ask for it. So I heard “thank you” and thought “I didn’t get it.” And you know what? I was ok with that. I mean, not really, because I really, really, really wanted the gig. But I felt kind of at peace in that moment. I heard (what I thought was) him  saying “no thank you,” I knew I did what I could, and I said “Thank you very much.” And I meant that sincerely. Thank you for seeing me. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you. Very much. And then I made for the door.

As I opened it, I heard one of the men say my name again. “Jacquelyn.” And then I shut the door. I have no idea why they said my name again, but it made me smile.

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And now for the awkward dismount.

I left the room, and for some reason, I had no idea what to do next. I saw other women come out of the rooms before, but I somehow missed what the did or where they went. I wondered if some people were being asked to stay, or if they just automatically knew where to go after that. I did not. So I walked up to a PA and (lamely) asked “Do we just…go?” She said yes and quickly told me where to go, but I must have missed something because I somehow got lost. This was not a big suite. It was kind of embarrassing.

I finally figured out where I was supposed to go, and I waited in silence for the elevator to come back up. It was not a very big elevator, so only about 5 women could take it at a time. As I started to settle back into real life, I heard the women who had just joined me ask each other how they think it went. “Fine,” one said. “Not too bad.” “I think it went well.”

I remember thinking “But if they didn’t ask us to stay, doesn’t that mean we aren’t in the running anymore?” To which one of them replied “Well, they had to extend the audition by two hours just to see everyone, so…” It confused me deeply that she could hear my thoughts, until I realized I had asked that question out loud. Much less creepy, but distressing in a much different way.

The elevator came. We got in. It went down. We got out. We left the building. I remember waving at the elevator guy on the way out, but I didn’t know why he was sitting at the desk instead of working the entrance elevator. I didn’t think too hard about it. And then I left the building.

I stood around outside waiting for my friend, until I remembered that they asked us not to loiter before or after our audition, so I wandered around a little while.

I am having a really hard time remembering exactly what happened after I left. I don’t remember feeling out of it at the time, but I must have been. I remember it feeling dreadfully normal. And yet here I am, having very few memories of what happened after. All I remember is my friend and I wandering for a bit longer, me not feeling like changing back into my sneakers, and then finally me suggesting we go to Dallas BBQ, which is a New York City tradition for us.

My friend saved the day again when she offered to pay for more than her share of dinner and cover parking after all. I felt tremendously embarrassed that I had to rely on her, but then if I were her, I would have helped me out too. (Don’t worry, when we had the money, we made sure to get her $50 for her effort. Not soon enough, in my humble opinion, but we do what we can.)

We had this really fun server, but I wasn’t able to catch her name. She called us “love” and dear,” and she was super adorable. Between her, my friend ranting about work (which is one of my favorite types of conversation to have), the view from the upper floor, and the Captain America specialty drink, it was a great way to wind down.

Captain America
This is the Captain America. They have a different specialty drink every time I go. Don’t tell them, but I totally steal those little test tubes.

Somehow, through some magic or other, we ended up back at the car. My friend used her final trick (via her couponing skills) to make the parking fee go down by over half. Then we drove back home.

In between listening to musical soundtracks and chatting about what we want to do the next time we come back, I got a phone call from a Massachusetts number I didn’t recognize. I answered it. It was Boston Casting offering me a job as an extra on the film Central Intelligence for the next two days. Of course I took it right away, sight unseen. That was an interesting experience. Coming away from an audition and getting another job on the way home. It was nearly as satisfying as if I had gotten the Wicked gig, which is to say, pretty fucking satisfying.

But that is a story for the next entry…

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Part 2: 6 Things Never To Do As a Film Extra

Part 3: A-co-lyte: n. A Person Who Assists A Celebrant In a Religious Service

And for the record, I still haven’t heard back from them, so I’ll go ahead and assume I didn’t get it. That’s show business, kid.

A presto,

JW