What I Will Do and Have Done To Succeed… That Hasn’t Worked Yet.
When I first moved to New York the first job I had was as a wardrobe person at the Barrow Street Theater. It was a theater where lots of cool actors would do new plays while they were on hiatus or “in between projects”. It was at that theater where I saw Sarah Jessica Parker and Amy Sedaris in the lobby and peed next to Liza Minelli in the bathroom.
I didn’t say anything to any of them because, you know, I wasn’t really just a regular fan, I was their peer. It was only a matter of time until I too would be in that theater performing and someone would soon be excited to pee next to me. Sure I was doing wardrobe now but eventually this would all just be fodder for my late night banter with Leno and Conan O’Brian.
Every night while I was backstage ironing and steaming and sewing on buttons and checking that the wigs still looked good I would listen to the show over the speakers. It was a play with one woman and two men. As far as I could tell from dress rehearsals and how many costumes I counted there were no understudies…nice, this could be my chance. I memorized all the woman’s lines in the show just in case she should suddenly get sick or trapped on a subway train. As soon as the word came in and people would be panicking, “well, we’ll have to cancel the show – we have no understudy!” I would meekly go to the stage manager and director and say “well, I know all the lines, I would be willing to go on” They would look me over and give each other a glance and then shrug “all right kid, you’re on, get her in hair and make up now” I was ready and I just knew it would happen – it didn’t. The most exciting thing that did happen was that there was a nude scene where one of the guys had to walk across the stage pause say a couple of lines and then put on a robe. I happened to be backstage and caught a glimpse of his pre nude scene “stretches” and “lengthening” techniques. I’ll tell you there was a lot of squatting, a little light slapping and a bunch of self-motivating muttering.
After that show closed I decided to move on, I wanted to get involved in Improv and shows and rehearsals were in the evening plus a job dressing other actors to go on stage and perform parts I wanted just wasn’t going to work.
What about teaching after school classes? Perfect, days free for auditions, still done by 7pm in time for improv classes and rehearsals and shows. One small problem – very little money, I’d have to do more. That’s when I began a career as a nanny. I say career and not job because that’s what it felt like it was. It’s hard to shake rude comments from parents and crying children and you get sucked into their life. It’s like you are paid to be a part of that family and all the baggage that comes with family comes with the job. I would have constant nightmares, that I lost the children or that I would be holding them safely one minute but the next thing I knew they had turned into a piglet and I couldn’t switch them back. This job paid well but it wasn’t my dream and it was taking up a lot of time that I wanted to spend on finding acting work. I decided I would have to get clever I would have to work two jobs at once. This was a little harder pre smart phone era. Outings with the children usually included stops at the local apple store where they could play on the kiddie computers and I would check casting sites and send emails. A lot of trips to Kinkos and Office Depot where I could print out resumes. A stroll over to the Law and Order office to drop my headshot in the bin filled with hundred’s of other headshots. Once the smart phone came on the scene things were much easier, sort of. I could do work and send emails and check castings all while at the park. But uh oh, what about when I get a call for that last minute voiceover audition and there’s two toddlers me and a stroller… knowing these particular children were not often allowed sweets so I made a quick stop at the CVS to buy two boxes of sugary animal crackers and hall ass up to the audition. I can’t leave the toddlers unattended in the lobby so into the voiceover booth we all go – me, the toddlers and my best friends the animal crackers. Those beautiful animal crackers in the little box with the string acted just like a muzzle or tranquilizer to these three year olds. It worked, we made it through the audition unscathed. Side note, I didn’t get the job. I say side note because as an actor there are so so many auditions that you don’t get it has to be a side note, you have to move on to the next opportunity.
One evening while cleaning up dinner and preparing to move on to bath time my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and my hands were wet and covered in partly masticated chicken, rice and peas so I didn’t answer right away. I finished tidying up and led the way to the bathroom and instructed the kiddies to take off there clothes because it was bath time. As I did that I also, multi-tasker that I had become, checked my message. It was a casting director who wanted to know if I could play a nurse for a recurring background role on a new television series. My heart almost jumped out of my chest, who cares that she said background, she said recurring! That meant a steady acting job at least for a while, that was gold. I ran back to the kitchen I grabbed a piece of construction paper and a crayon, the nearest things to me, I wrote down the number and called her back. Trying to sound as professional and courteous as I could I gave my name and said that I was returning a call, I was briefly put on hold. I was so excited this would be amazing! Suddenly feel a tug on the leg of my pants, it’s one of the three year olds – oh yeah I was a nanny – for a brief second I forgot all about that. “Just one second, Em Em has to do something importa…” The casting director picked up the line “ Hi, I just had a few questions to ask you about your availability and experience” she said. “Sure no problem.” I said calmly while shaking the three year old off my leg. The three year old went a way for a minute and I huddled against the kitchen window for better cell phone reception. “Well this is a medical drama so we are looking for extras that can portray nurses but we’d like it to be realistic so you have any formal training as a nurse?” ALWAYS SAY YES, that’s what they teach you in acting class and it’s the first rule in doing good improvisation. “Actually yes” I said. Hey, I mean I had patched up boo boos, given Tylenol, checked temperatures, cleaned up puke, I watched so much ER and Grey’s Anatomy I could probably pass the medical board exams. Suddenly both three year olds were headed towards me, I tried to remain calm and sort of kept walking as far away from the them as possible, not unlike how they behave towards me when it’s time for them to go to bed. I continued with the phone call “I was a nurses assistant for many years, both in hospitals and home care and nursing homes.” I started racking my brain as I talked, what else did I know? I need more vocab words, my mom is a nurse what does she say, what do they say on those TV shows? “I know how to clean and change a tracheotomy tube as well as feeding tubes and central lines, I’m comfortable with the basic skills of checking blood pressure and patient intake” was any of this making sense, I think it sounded good, right? “Ok great” she said ( she bought it!) “So I have some dates we’d like to have you put on hold”,”Terrific!” I said trying to sound on board and positive but not shocked and too elated. As I turned back around to get my crayon and construction paper I see the two three year olds naked in the hallway with pieces of toilet paper, I look closer there is a giant poop on the floor I try to cover the mouth piece of the phone and mouth emphatically to the them “STEP AWAY FROM THE POO POO, NO TOUCH NO TOUCH” then one of them looked at me and stated “I was helping wiping.” “Hello?” said the voice on the phone “I’m not able to hear you very well I think you are cutting out” “Oh sorry one second l was pulling my schedule up” Would it have been better if I had just told her that I was watching two three year olds who just used the hallway as a toilet and were “helping wiping “ each other, maybe that would make her laugh and I would be a memorable actor? I decided to just jot down the dates and say yes and finish this up.
I stood there listening to her list dates writing them all down and writing down her direct contact info and as I did I watched the two little ones making little brown poo poo hand prints all over the white walls, I watched helplessly as one of them stepped in the original pile of poo and little brown foot prints were covering the hallway, I watched as they both took very very tiny pieces of toilet paper and tried to clean up there mess but really only spread it around. I finished my conversation with the casting director politely and like acting pro. I was back to being a nanny again but it didn’t matter. I cleaned up all the poo poo and washed up the children and put them to bed all with a smile on my face, I was about to have a regular acting job!
The next week:
I was told to call on a specific date and a specific time for my call time and location when I did a very apologetic casting directors assistant answered “ Oh we’re so sorry, we meant to call you, it looks like that shoot is being postponed” I was then given a new date and time to call for updated information. I waited and waited like a kid waiting for Christmas for that day to come and called right on the dot of the time they told me to call again the very apologetic assistant to the casting director answered. “ Oh I’m sorry, no one called you? Yeah, it looks like we won’t be needing you after all, so sorry about that” “That’s ok, no worries” I chirped with as much chirp as I could muster. I was crushed, I cried, it wasn’t even a speaking part but I would have been on a TV set, regularly, maybe eventually they would have given me a line, all my hopes and dreams felt like they were pulled right out from under me. The poop, all that poop, literally all the shit I went through to get that part and it was gone. I was back to being a nanny with a dream.
Something had to change.
P.S. That series I had hoped so much to be in the background of was cancelled after six episodes.