Chapter 1 or 2?

I found out that I had meant to publish this weeks ago, but I apparently never did. I read the following (though my marked up copy has some grammar fixes which I will add later) to a writers group a few weeks ago. Reception was positive as a whole. Anyone else want to throw their thoughts in? Thanks to the friends who I sent this to privately. Your comments were amazing!

Currently Chapter 2

Should be Chapter 1?

I cross the threshold of the casting office, and enter the den of desperation with what I assume is a look of confidence. A quick survey of the room is a feast for the eyes, tanned muscled flesh, designer clothes, white shining teeth, and carefully manicured hair can be found on any of the two hundred men in the room. For a second I question whether I’ve entered the office or stumbled into some after-hours gay bar with a hotness requirement I have barely passed. I quickly touch the watch Eric gave me on our second anniversary. Feeling the cold steel and smooth glass, I tell myself I am attractive, that Eric loves me, and that I deserve to be here. I let myself believe this, and quickly distract myself from any other thoughts by seeking a place to sit down.

The room resembles an old train station, small chairs are lined up against the walls, and large wooden benches are spaced in the center of the room to provide additional seating. The center benches are prime real-estate because no one ever knows which door the casting monitor, the person in charge of organizing the audition, will come from. Sitting there gives you a way to shave a few seconds off your sprint time, as you claw your way through the crowd to. Since I arrived only an hour and half before the audition is supposed to occur, I’m not shocked to find that the center benches have already been taken by more punctual actors, and consider myself lucky that there are still a few seats along the wall. I approach a seat about 5 feet from the front door next to a rather bizarre looking actor. He is tall and lanky, dressed in skinny jeans and a purple v-neck t-shirt that shows his smooth and sculpted chest. A fine sight from the neck below, but he appears to have decided that he would stand out better by inserting large blonde patches into his black hair. He looks like a reverse cheetah, and I immediately come to think of him as Cheetah boy. I smile as I start to take the seat next to him, in an effort to be polite, but after looking me over he returns to his iPod and pretends I don’t exist. For a split second I am annoyed at this rude reception, but I let it go. Leaning my head against the wall, I close my eyes and smile to myself. I’ve been sat next to a lot of actors on auditions, and while Cheetah boy may be rude, I’m thankful he isn’t a Nervous Nate.

The first audition I went to in the city was during the summer. Disney was doing some big “New Talent” search, and committed itself to seeing thousands of actors over the course of three days. If you weren’t seen on the first day you were put on a priority list for the second or third. The heat that summer was exhausting, with blazing hot days and humid murky nights. I remember walking outside my apartment, before the sun had even begun to rise, and breathing in the warm wet air. It was slightly nauseating, like trying to breath through mayonnaise, but, despite the gross weather, I was excited about my first audition. I smiled, as I made my way to 42nd street, so sure that I would dazzle them by getting to the audition shortly after six in the morning.

As it turned out, of course, by the time I arrived at 6:15 that morning, the casting office was full, and the line outside was already a block and a half long. But after a few hours of sweating and mayonnaise breathing my name was taken down by a man with a clipboard, and I was told to come back on day three at two in the afternoon. If I was lucky, he said, I might be one of the last actors Disney would see. He then quickly began to interview the person behind me, and I started hour one of my 50 hour wait.

Day three came as quick as it could, but when I returned to the casting office it felt like weeks had gone by. I hadn’t been able to sleep since I got my time slot, as I was haunted by nightmares of my audition being an utter disaster. I had seen myself audition naked, forget lyrics, lose my voice, and even had my panel of casting directors be made up of old ex-boyfriends. who dangled various dream roles in front of me, saying they all could be mine if only I would say and do a wide range of embarrassing things.

Mentally and physically exhausted I entered the room and sought out the closest seat I could find, and that was when I made the unfortunate mistake of sitting next to Nate Dawson. From a distance Nate looked perfectly normal, he had black Buddy Holly glasses, ruffled red hair, and when I gave him the same smile I would later present to Cheetah Boy, he smiled back, and introduced himself.

“Hey. I’m Nate,” he said, shaking my hand and holding his headshot next to his face so I could do a side by side comparison.

“I’m Mason,” I replied, shaking his hand but not presenting my own headshot.

“What do you think?” he asked jerking his head towards the glossy image of himself.

“Oh…um…well they’re very nice. You look just like them.” I said, unsure if that would be considered a compliment or not.

“Thanks I just had mine done. I’m hoping these last for another few years, I just couldn’t keep using the ones from my early twenties.” He said pulling on his face to simulate a face lift.

“Yeah. I don’t know how much longer mine is going to last.” I admitted, showing him the one I had brought. At that time I still used a picture of me that was taken in college. It wasn’t a traditional headshot, I had been asked by a friend to model for her photography project, and one of the shots seemed to be close enough that I felt I could get away with it. To this day, it remains the single most beautiful image of me ever taken, but when I see it now, I don’t even recognize it as myself. I stopped using it when Eric asked me who the picture was of. Apparently the 30 pounds and 6 years that had been added, made me hard to recognize. But at this point I had yet to meet Eric, and the picture was only 10 pounds and 2 years old, so I was a little annoyed when Nate told me.

“I think that one might have already hit the expiration date honey. But don’t worry doll, you’re still cute.”

“Um…thanks. So what time did you show up on the first day?” I asked to change the subject before Nate managed to crush what was left of my ego.

“Five fifty five. Five is my favorite number, so I figured the timing would be lucky, but now I’m not so sure. I mean it meant I had to come back at 2:00 p.m. Fortunately that is 14:00 in military time and 4 plus 1 is 5. I’m telling myself that this makes it alright. Now, I’m wishing I had a better favorite number. I bet I’d been seen if I’d shown up at three thirty three or even four forty four. What about you? What’s your favorite number?”

“Sixteen was my favorite as a kid, but I don’t really…”

“Sixteen! That’s crazy. I mean you have to go into military time for that. So you’d be getting to auditions at like 4:16 in the afternoon. That’s crazy! Is that when you showed up?” he interrupted.

“No I got there around 6:15 in the morning,” I replied, which just set him off again.

“6:15? Well one plus five (5) is six (6) and you had the first six (6), oh and also a one (1), but then you can’t add the other two, so you’d just have this random five (5) out there, and your six (6) and one (1) would be reversed. I guess it would be better to add the one (1) and five (5), but that just kind of makes sixty-six (66). Maybe that should be your favorite number. I mean that’s not a bad time to show up, but then you only get one repetition of your number. I like having smaller numbers, that way you can get 3 times your favorite!” Nate explained with an earnest look, begging me to respond so he could continue on his rant.

“I guess you’re right, but, well, you see, I don’t really have a number system to all this. It’s only my fist audition in New York.” In recollection, admitting this was a terrible mistake.

“Your first! Awww…you’re a virgin then! Well aren’t you lucky you sat next to me? I think sixty-six (66) must be your lucky number since it brought you to me, and now I can teach you. Listen to me honey, I will tell you everything you need to know about this business we call show,” He said grabbing my hand and petting it like he was my grandmother.

For the next two hours Nate gave me a forced lecture on auditioning 101 from his school of hard knocks. Not wanting to be rude I listened to him, and gave him the necessary nods and noises to prompt him to go on. Most of it seemed to find a way to relate back to his bizarre number theory, but there were a few hidden gems of actual wisdom I made mental notes of.

“Never sing anything from Les Miserables for an audition. It’s been done before, done better than you will ever do, and casting directors hate it. Accompanists will ruin you if you attempt to make them play Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown. Oh…and no one wants to hear anything written by Frank Wildhorn, directors thinks he’s a hack, even though I think he’s a genius,”

“Always be nice to the monitor. I hear they tell the casting agents who’s been a diva in the waiting room.” He said indicating two people across the room who kept sighing loudly after examining their watches.

“Never look the agents in the eye. It annoys them when you distract them from evaluating you by forcing them to actually look at you. Act above them. I mean to a spot above their heads darling, not snobby like the one in the vest over there.” He said so loudly that the vested man, and the monitor, looked over and gave us both a scowl.

“And finally, my dumpling, try to steer clear of anyone who is going to be a chatty Cathy! They’ll talk your ear off, and you will be so drained by the time you audition that you’ll forget something. A lyric, a gesture, god forbid but I forgot…”

“Nathaniel Dawson,” the monitor called out loudly so as to interrupt the verbal waterfall roaring out of Nate’s mouth.

“Call me Nate dear. Everyone does. Oh I hope you do well today kid. I mean not too well, but you know what I mean. Just Google me when you get home. We must do lunch!” he said as the monitor led him towards the audition room and closed the door.

“Never sit next to a nervous Nate,” I said as I closed my eyes, and slumped back into my chair feeling as drained as he promised I would. There were a few snickers of laughter in the room, but when I opened my eyes to scan the room for the source, no one acknowledged me. I realized then that my manners had not only ended up leading to having Nate torture me, but the rest of the room as well. Embarrassed, I lowered my head and stared at my sheet music. We all needed a few moments of silence.

After nervous Nate I don’t really get too broken up when boys snub me like Cheetah boy, but, for the record, I still consider a simple smile back to be the correct response. Still, after I give my rarely returned smile, I always follow the actor code to show I’m not interested in a conversation, and put on my headphones. Every actor seems to know that a person who is wearing headphones is only interested in hearing the monitor and the agents.

With Cheetah boy by my side, I go ahead and put the ear buds in, but don’t turn on any music. Instead of listening, I stealthily start my ritualistic evaluation of each face that comes through the door after me. Am I younger? Thinner? Taller? Fitter? Better? Or are they? The ones who are clearly better looking I don’t worry about. If that is what the want, I’m not even in the running. It’s the ones that look like me I critique. Some guys are well past their prime, but even if I can’t find a flaw in their appearance I find a way to declare myself superior. I have to, to keep my confidence up, and so I heavily rely on my resume, because it shows I am a perfect supporting actor.

I am king of the lackeys.

To most people I assume my pursuit of lackey roles might seem somewhat bizarre. They are not glamorous. Aren’t all actors vying for those lead roles? Why would you go for Horatio instead of Hamlet? It is an understandable question, but as some famous Greek guy once said:

“KNOW THYSELF”

In college I learned I am not leading man material. I’m 5’8”, which most people classify as “short.” I am in decent, but by no means great, shape, and although my face is deceptively young, it is only because my genetics seem to have held onto my baby fat for a bizarre length of time. I’m the boy next door type, which is fine, but I understand it has limitations. I’m the good angel of your conscience telling you to value love, and ignore the sexy devil who is begging you to give in to your most erotic desires. In short, I’m what your heart tells you to want when your loins are begging you to live a little.

Given the overall hotness of the room, it is clear that most people are here with dreams of being a leading man, and so, I begin to feel a little confident when a rather large man enters the room.

“Hello boys! If you are her to audition for ‘Masque,’ and based on the look of the room I’d say you are, please know that we are about to begin.” He says to the room in an effeminate voice which seems bizarre to come from a man of his frame. As he lets his statement sink in, it is clear that guy loves that for a few moments a room full of gorgeous men are hanging on his every word. Having dealt with men like him for years, all I can think of is how strange it is that he has chosen to give this announcement next to me, as most monitors prefer to be closer to the center when they talk.

“Before we begin I need to know if we have any non-equity boys in the house. Just raise your hands please.” He says as his eyes slowly scan the room. Cheetah boy, myself, and a few others shoot up our hands to indicate we are not part of the Actors Equity Union, and thus, will only be seen if the casting directors have time left over.

“Alright. We’ll you need to sign up on this. Once you are done, please leave immediately. We will be done typing the others at eleven, and I won’t know if we are going to have anytime for you until then. Come back then. Don’t be early. Don’t be late. Here you go sweet thing.” He says as he hands the sign-up list to Cheetah boy with wink.

The second Cheetah boy, whose name is apparently Charlie Pryor, begins signing his name, the other non-equity guys bolted towards us. Thankfully Cheetah boy hands me the list, and I secure the second spot. This means that if anyone was going to be seen, I am second in line. Not bad odds, but not great. The big hurdle is getting them to see non-equity at all.

After signing my name I hand the list to some young kid with floppy hair and bedroom eyes, a sexy devil who was not my competition for a lackey role, and make my way to the elevator. It’s 8:35 a.m., which means I have a little over two hours to kill. I ponder whether or not I dare to use this time to go to the gym, to start working on the excess baggage of thanksgiving, but I can’t seem to concentrate once the rest of the other actors join me in the hall. We sit in an uncomfortable silence itching to get out so that we can come back. As we wait for the elevator, the silence seemed to be too much for most of them to bear, and they whip out at a variety of electronic devices to alert the world about their current status. I used to be bothered by moments like this, but lately I no longer care. I simply stare at the red numbers as they count up to our floor until a single chime rings out announcing our chariot back to the streets has arrived.

“Hey it pays the bills ya know, but it’s all luck. You’ve just got to be prepared for luck to happen. That’s all you can do.”I hear when the doors begin to open.

I immediately recognize a voice from my past. No one else would speak in such a soothing tone, one that manages to be both seductive and earnest. Once the doors have fully opened my eyes confirm that the voice belonged to Kevin Connors. The golden boy.

Kevin and I met in an acting class about breaking into the business. Kevin is 100% leading man material. He stands six feet tall with the lean and toned musculature of an Olympic swimmer, and as if his physique is not impressive enough he has a face you can lose yourself in. It all starts with his wide eyes, not quite blue or green, just two fishbowls of ocean water. Above them are tight tendrils of blonde hair that halo around him make him appear as if he always has a spotlight on him. His nose is perfectly straight, creating a smooth line dividing his flawlessly symmetrical face into two beautiful halves. Prominent cheek bones contour his cheeks with a rugged hollowness, and his chin and jaw are angled in such a way that it gives him a presence of power. Finally, Kevin’s crown jewel is his smile. Two perfectly aligned and naturally white rows of teeth, which house slightly long incisors that give him a playful fierceness. If he were not so tan, one might think he looked like a vampire, but the warm glow of the sun seems to radiate from him in every way. Kevin is Apollo in designer clothes.

Upon seeing someone like this it is hard for anyone not to smile. I assume Kevin has no idea that people even know how to frown. I flash him a smile that I hope will remind him of the person he once did scenes with, and am surprised when I see a look of recognition in his eye.

“Mason? Is that you?” he asks as his face beams even brighter at me.

“Yeah. Hey Kevin. How’s it going?” I ask, as the non-equity actors push past me to make their descent. The doors close leaving me behind, but I barely even notice as I’m stuck smiling at Kevin

“Great man. Things are really great. It’s good to see you.” He says shaking my hand and then continuing to hold it.

“Yeah, you too, but you better hurry! They already started the non-equity sign-up sheet.” I say taking my hand back, already noticing it feels colder out of his warm touch.

“Oh. I’m equity now. I did chorus work at Radio City. Almost got to go on as an understudy, but…you know how that goes. You aren’t equity yet?” He asks as he elegantly wraps his arm around my shoulder, and directs me back toward the casting office.

“Well, I’m sure it will happen eventually,” I respond half-heartedly, but Kevin’s face gets immediately intense and serious.

“I bet. Look, I’m a reader today. Maybe I can get them to see you. What number are you on the list?” He whispers.

“I’m second.”

“Great! Look comeback and no matter what happens stay here. Are you going for the Caleb role?” He asks, still in a whisper, leaning into me so we look like real conspirators.

“Caleb? No. I thought Lord Dyne was good for me. I even found a monologue that’s similar. I used it when I got to be Cinna the Poet in Julius Caesar,” I whisper back, more Cinna the conspirator than poet.

“Dyne? No way man. I bet they want someone older. You should try for Caleb. I mean look at you. You can pull it off. Who wouldn’t see a manipulated innocent when they see that face.” He says caressing my cheek.

“Umm…thanks, but I don’t think…”

“Mason. Stop thinking! It’s me. Where is the trust? Come on, just go read the first scene in Edward II by Marlowe. One of Gaveston’s speeches would be a perfect piece for this show. Memorize it now, and I’ll get you in the door. If they like you, you’ll get to read with me. It’ll be like old times,”

“Okay. But if this works don’t show me up like you did in class! We all know you’re brilliant,” I say, infected by Kevin’s excitement.

“I’ll see what I can do. Remember stay in the waiting room no matter what. If I don’t get you in I’ll buy you a drink,” He says, and after one more flash of a smile he goes inside leaving me alone in the hallway.

I always wonder whether it is just me, or if everyone feels slightly colder when Kevin turns his gaze away from them. I stand there mourning my lack of a spotlight in a daze, but the familiar chime of the elevator returns me to my senses and I quickly board it to get down to the street.

Even though the elevator ride takes a matter of minutes I run out the door and into the street. I seek out the nearest Starbucks, order my small latter so I can exploit their free wi-fi, and find the scene Kevin mentioned on my iPod.

I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,

Musicians, that with touching of a string

May draw the pliant king which way I please:

Music and poetry is his delight;

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