Friday, February 22, 2008

1998: Pratfalls for Crickets

1998 was a pivotal year for me. My son was in his first year and blowing my mind on a daily basis. He still does. I juggled being a stay at home dad, freelance writer doing weekly features on debunking Urban Legends as Legs Urbano, and making the daily trek into Manhattan from Brooklyn to audition for commercial after commercial and the occasional play/tv show/movie.

There was very little live music on my slate. My ex really doesn't enjoy seeing live music as much as I do, so this combined with the young baby led to a pretty silent year. I'm sure I caught a show here and there but it was not a focus. I also was becoming increasingly unhappy in the marriage and this led to a general sense of impending doom.

And then along came what seemed like a golden opportunity. The theater company that I had done many readings with decided to mount a new play. The author was at the tail end of quite a succesful career and somehow had been hooked up with this company. The show was called 'Angel Wings'.

I should have known how things would turn out by the auditions. Most actors will know what I'm talking about...the complicated improv that you are asked to redo 4 times. Each improv lasts 15 minutes. Reverse the roles. Do it in whispers. Use only sign language. Bullshit.

But this was a chance to do an original play at a reputable theater by a writer with a track record both in Hollywood and New York so I ignored all the signs.

On a side note, this also inadvertently caused me to have the worst audition experience of my life. The rehearsal period went on for what seemed like a Russian Siberian eternity. The day of tech came which meant an 18 hour day of tedium mixed with panic at the horrorshow we were ostensibly polishing up for public consumption.

My ding dong agent submitted me for a part described as a 'gentle giant' in the theatrical version of 'Trainspotting'. So when I showed up for my evening audition, the casting woman immediately said, "Oh, no, you shouldn't be auditioning for that part, you are PERFECT for the Ewan McGregor part. Come to the callbacks tomorrow..." I rushed back over to continue the tech for 'Angel Wings' which was plagued with difficulty, the kind of difficulty that always arises when you are trying to tailor lights and sound to crap.

It went until about 2 in the morning. I trekked back out to Brooklyn, fell into a fitful sleep, and told myself I'd work on the audition in the morning.

The next day was a very full one, capped by opening night/dress preview of 'Angel Wings.' I had 3 commercial auditions throughout the day and then a late afternoon call for the 'Trainspotting' audish. I lugged the stroller all over hell and gone through the cold peddling my wares. I could take him to the commercial auditions because he was so little he would be asleep in the carriage while they taped me. But for a theater audition I dropped him off with a friend. I was almost late and due to the hectic schedule totally unprepared.

I sat outside the audition room sweating, feverishly trying to master the monologue from the show. A scene with a reader would have been fine, but a monologue about a dead baby crawling across the ceiling all while on smack and in a Scottish accent? I began to FREAK OUT.

To make things worse, the room was not sound proofed so I had to listen to a REAL SCOTSMAN give a kick ass audition, clearly off book, full on performance. I could feel the bugs on his skin while I was trying to whip myself into shape. I was the last person they were seeing that day.

The woman who'd met with me the night before came out into the hall and took my arm. She was pretty and smelled nice. In retrospect she was flirting with me but I was too petrified to realize it. She walked me across the audition room to meet the director/producers. She whispered in my ear. "I saved the best for last." Meaning me. Meaning she thought I was going to nail this and get the job. Meaning she'd probably talked me up to the creative team. Meaning that I was headed off a cliff.

I started the monologue, having to read off the paper. My Scottish accent was something between an Irish Spring soap commercial and a drunken imitation of Sean Connery. I was still sweating. I had no idea what I was saying. I stopped and said I'd like to start again.

I thought I might relax if I sat on the floor. Once again I dove in trying to recapture the promise she seemed to see in me. Once again I felt as if I were reading a grocery list in Chinese. I stopped and restarted again, standing up as if to marshal my energy.

A paragraph in I kept hearing 'STOP!' over and over in my head. So I did. I said, "You know what? I think I'm just going to stop." I said something else too, making no excuses just refusing to go through the charade of pretending I was doing something that they ought to be paying attention to.

The casting director who'd been rubbing her breasts against me only minutes ago, said, "Well, at least you KNOW." I slunk out of there convinced that I would never work again.

And the worst part? I had to go perform 'Angel Wings' that evening for the first time. I played the part of a young wealthy heir to a real estate mogul fortune. I was only interested in butterflies and spent the show dressed as a combination Cub Scout/beekeeper. I carried a net, fell in love with a French girl and spoke most of my lines in a French accent in order to impress her.

One scene, theoretically the height of hilarity, found me literally falling all over myself and a couch to get to her. I worked on this bit of stagecraft, honing it until it was effortless. I was pulling off my scientific gloves seductively, cooing to her in a French accent, trying to contain my excitement. In my passion, I trip over the back of the couch and somersault down onto the floor at her feet.

Now, I have no problem tooting my own horn. I nailed this fall. I was all arms and legs shooting out in all directions. I let out a strangled cry of embarassment which I twisted into my next line as if I'd meant to do it all along. In any other context, this fall would have brought the house down.

As I came to rest next to the schoolgirl skirt with white tights and black patent leather shoes, I felt a great wave of resentment hit me, sent out in lieu of laughter. I felt like a telemarketer who'd called a couple in the middle of a romantic dinner, like an uninvited guest who pops by for a visit during a marital spat. I might as well have farted.

So, for the second time in a day, I was left with nothing but the thinnest of silver linings. As the casting director had said just hours earlier, "At least you know."

In a year bereft of live music, I spent night after night doing pratfalls for crickets.


siobhan said...

jeez bren! this killed me!
great title.
there is really nothing worse than being in a show when you know it is bad. i think you THANKFULLY missed out on when i was in that show in that crappy nyc theater where i played this lumberjack person ina reverse-sex casting of an ibsen play? oh it was just a dreaddddful experience.
pratfalls for crickets.

Anonymous said...

so lesson learned:

get off book when you have a kick ass monologue with a tough accent...
and you didn't have time to prepare because you were running your new york ass of all around the city...trying to take care of business...angel wings was a bird in the hand..ya never know what can happen in the shittiest of plays...and chances are they cast real scots in trainspotting anyway....right? i mean, seth ullian...he got your role in a show that ran for two months and was panned by the times...where is he
now?...he's not represented and not a lot of hits on imdb..he did a tour of stomp and a bit part in boiler room...big deal...did you miss the chance of a lifetime? probably not...was angel wings a shitty play..of course...but the irony of those ridiculous play moments...there is something funny about looking back at the absurdity of it all...

.....but it sounds like, you let yourself down in not being prepared for the trainspotting audition and that sux...and that's the thing that haunts us. and we learn.

Brendan O'Malley said...

The very next audition that I had after the 'Trainspotting' debacle was for 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane', another accent...nailed it. Got the part.