Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Mining for comedy like a forty-niner in gold rush territory, our Director dug deeper into the cavern of our brilliantly scripted dialogue always searching for that extra nugget of humor.  “Do you think there’s any merit to having the person standing behind you sigh heavily in the middle of this speech?” she asked my gorgeous Actress, who paused momentarily before smiling and nodding sagaciously.  “Let’s just try that” they agreed, as I stepped quietly into place for rehearsal.
Having been “uninvited” back to my last series, I wasn’t feeling particularly self-confident.  I’d been booted for my apparent abhorrent inability to deliver the jokes as hoped for by the previous execs, had arrogantly turned down three other offers for sit-coms under the assumption that I had a gig to return to, and since all the ADs I knew had already booked most of their stand-ins for the new season, my future in television was looking depressingly bleak.
So upon hearing my cue in the dialogue to emit a verbal exhale of exasperation, I sighed heavily from a mental state of pure honesty. 
“That’s great!” our Director beamed as the crew laughed out loud.  “Would you be willing to do that for the show?” she asked excitedly, my lovely Actress nodding once again with a smile in approval over her shoulder.
And with the tacit understanding that I was nothing more than a glorified Background Performer, I still agreed happily, knowing that at the very least my on-camera appearance might be a fun surprise down the road for my family and friends.
Having stayed up until 1AM ironing ‘grown-up’ shirts to present to the Wardrobe Department (what can I say, I live in jeans and t-shirts for the purposes of work), I presented four thoughtful choices to our Head of Costumes whom I’ve known for years and who (with perhaps some subtle coercion) agreed that the coral colored blouse I really wanted to wear would be a lovely stand-out choice, elegantly contrasted with the chunky blue and green necklace I brought as an accompaniment (a magnificent piece I ordered on-line during a hiatus week after a few cocktails!)
And as any Background Performer might do after approval from Wardrobe, I donned my clothing in the ladies restroom, clasped on my jewelry, and humbly refreshed my make-up under the brutal fluorescent lighting with a couple of my female crew members who also wanted to look pretty for our audience.
“Let’s have a good show!” we hugged each other, heading off to our designated starting marks on stage.
With a very special surprise guest star hidden from view until his big reveal, I stood in line with the rest of my BG people, and was delighted to hear our audience erupt into show-stopping cheers and applause at the sight of my Actress’ co-star who had shared the spotlight with her years ago on her most famous sit-com.  And as the first two scenes were virtually continuous (my sigh occurring in the second scene) we had nothing more than a brief “camera reset” before heading into my little bit.  
So upon hearing my cue, I rolled my eyes and let out an audible exhale, as my Actress reacted and the audience roared with laughter.  (YAY!) 
On the second “take”, I sighed again, accidentally made eye contact with her, and as I cowered in the moment the audience roared yet again.  (DOUBLE YAY!)
So not surprisingly, by our third “take” the audience knew exactly what to expect and were already laughing in anticipation as we finished the scene.  And moving the cameras once more for different close-up coverage in a “pick-up” shot, I sighed for the last time as the audience continued their heartening laughter. 
“Moving on!” our First AD shouted, as my tiny contribution to television history came to its humble yet joyful end.
“I have to check before I can release you” our Second Second AD (never understood why they aren’t called a Third AD) told me gratuitously, as she wrangled the rest of the BG people back to their holding area.  “Where can I find you?” she asked sweetly, allowing me the freedom as a crew member to roam about on my own.
“I’m just gonna have a ciggy outside the door of Craft Services” I told her as we walked along together. 
To the best of my recollection, I was halfway through my American Spirit menthol light when she reappeared talking into her ear piece.  “Copy that.  Stand by” she added as she strode up purposefully towards me.  “The First AD just asked if you wouldn’t mind doing him a small favor.” 
(Really?)  “Sure, how can I help?”
“He was wondering if you would be willing to tear up your stand-in voucher and agree to sign a Day Player (guest star) Contract.”
And as an entertainment professional person in Hollywood, I responded the only way that seemed appropriate in the moment and immediately burst into tears.
“I think she’ll sign the contract!” my Second Second whispered into her mike as I clutched her in a lung-crushing cheerful weepy bear hug.
Collecting myself emotionally (as well as my physical belongings), I was prepared to leave the stage mid-show when our Director caught my eye.  And racing together for a quick embrace I thanked her for how her brilliant impromptu bit had landed me the contract.
“You can’t leave!” she squealed happily, eyeing my backpack and extra wardrobe in hand.  “You have to stay for your curtain call!”
“Let’s hear it for the ‘Disgruntled Customer’…!” our Warm-up guy ad libbed my untitled character as he announced my name. 
And waving to the spectators, I ran on stage to the spot where my AD was indicating a stopping point with his foot, whilst simultaneously clapping for the rest of the cast.
(May I say it again?)
Invited to stay for celebratory wine and beer after the show, I gathered my wits again and politely declined any alcohol (many of you know why); and lugging my baggage, I headed toward the parking structure along with our studio audience when I saw the paper lying on the ground.  
I’d never seen the programs that are printed out and given to our visitors, but as someone had dropped theirs I scooped it up to have a look at later.  And rooting for my car keys, I ponied up to the elevators.
The night had been so surreal:  fun, exciting, (not to mention profitable), etc., but if I thought for one single second that the bizarreness had come to an end, I was horribly mistaken…
“YOU were in the show!” a blonde lady suddenly shrieked and pointed at me.  “SHE was IN the SHOW!” the lady continued excitedly to everyone around us as all manner of frenzied weirdness ensued.  “You were SO FUNNY!  I could TOTALLY relate to your character!” she cheered, Reverse-Ethel-Mertzing me, whilst sharing a story about being stuck in line behind someone at the drug store.
“You were HILARIOUS!” another Ethel Mertz piped up, adding her own personal opposite tale of having been “sighed at” when she took too long at the grocery checkout stand. 
“Did you all know that Penny stands in for the lead actress?” Ethel #3 chimed in out of the blue, staring at me with stalker-like, saucer-wide eyes.
And finally wending our way to fill up an open elevator carriage, two teenaged Ethel girls who were waiting for the next ride up, gaped open-mouthed and full-on Mertzed me from a distance whilst waving and screaming “Hi!” frenetically as I stupidly waved back.
What the…?
Unable to make sense of the world as I am always trying to do, I climbed into my car and drove home to my sanctuary.
And pulling out the discarded program from our show as I lolled in my pajamas, I couldn’t help but smile giddily at the back page.  Under the list of staff and crew, my name appeared as a stand-in – and it was even spelled correctly!!!
Living in gratitude (and hopefully residual checks for the rest of my life!),
~Big Sigh P

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is That Why They Call it a Punchline?

Suffering from moderate muscular atrophy and malnourishment (unfortunate side effects from an otherwise pleasant lie-a-bed hiatus week!) I managed to drag the remains of my cadaver across the studio lot and directly to Craft Services for the manna that might sustain me for the day and rejuvenate my happy lazy corpse. 
We had three guest stars gracing our stage last week – one female (who had already been cast) and two male actors both listed as TBD - so it was with great hope that for the first time in months, my work burden might be a bit lighter for a change!  Of course I would still need to keep an eagle eye on my gorgeous Actress who appears in every scene, but at the very least the extemporaneous hoo-hah that often occurs seemed unlikely.
Yet before I so much as extended a gimpy arm toward procuring a paper plate for sustenance, my 1st AD appeared out of nowhere, clutched my elbow and whispered quietly in my ear as though he was sharing classified Department of Defense Code Red Intel as to nuclear bomb launch codes and the ultimate preservation of the American way of life as we know it…

“Be prepared to do the table read for our guest star since she won’t be here ‘til 1pm” he informed me, re-engaging in a surreptitious conversation on his headset and disappearing mysteriously into the darkness like a covert Op.
“Yes, good morning to you too!” I proffered after him into thin air.
Oblivious to the introductions occurring behind me, I focused on the matter at hand of filling up a proper platter with foodstuffs.  And two bites into the delicious cream cheese filled croissant (with fresh blueberries on the side as chasers!), I stood silently pleased, embracing the moment.  I was grateful for the work (and of course the free food).  I was happy!  I was at peace.
“Penny!” another co-worker shouted out.
I was also immediately annoyed at the equivalent sound of nails screeching down a chalkboard…
“WHAAAT do they WANT from me NOW?” I whined in my mind, growing tired of hearing my name bellowed whether I’m at Craft Services, outside the stage or (I kid you not) even in a stall in the ladies’ restroom.  Frankly, if I NEVER heard my name spoken on this particular stage* again, it would be too soon, I thought.
“This is our guest star playing the potential boyfriend” my colleague presented him, as the gentleman tipped his baseball cap and shook my hand graciously.
And having introduced himself unpretentiously by his first name only, I swooned a little as he smiled warmly.  “It’s lovely to meet you, Penny.”
“Lovely to meet you too” I smiled back, releasing his hand (eventually) and re-booting my pea-brain repeatedly in a five second loop to properly process the data of whom I had just encountered.  And bumping into my beloved long-known friend JB (Script Supervisor) I fumbled at a loss for words while peeking around the set to get a better view.
“Was that…?”
“Yep!” she replied.
“He seems so…”
“Nice!” she added, as we gazed together like giddy teenage girls peering love-struck into his high school homeroom.
“So, do you think I might…?”
“Get to do a scene with him?” she eloquently finished my sentence.  “I wouldn’t be surprised!” she giggled as we held hands excitedly.  “Who knew that “TBD” meant “LDP”?!” she whispered equally thrilled as we hushed ourselves, turning silently to Ethel-Mertz-Stare at our visiting Movie Star.
“PENNY!” my AD hollered, as I bolted enthusiastically off the stage and onto the set, never more thrilled to hear my name called and gung-ho-as-all-get-out to act with our guest star.  I was planned, prepared and all out prepped with props for the scene!
But at the behest of our Director who preferred to wait for our lovely Actress, I descended the staircase slowly and shuffled quietly back into the darkness. 
“The week isn’t over yet!” JB hugged me cheerily as rehearsal progressed.
With rewrites in hand mid-day (as has become the norm for our show), I organized my script and squeaked out loud.  A comedic bit had been written in, where we would discover “LDP” in an adjacent set engaged in an unexpected kissing scene with another woman; and as we never have our Background Actors until Thursday, well, certainly they would need someone to stand in for such an important role for the Network Run-Thru!

Clearly I would never even be suggested for the part on camera, as “the other woman” had been written as an extremely tall blonde:  but at the very least I could graciously accommodate my 1st AD with yet another attempt to thwart any potential Global Emergencies, and be there at the ready when he shouted my name for the millionth time!

And popping a breath mint (just in case “LDP” might be a method actor and insist on actually kissing me), I smiled humbly like an Emmy nominee who senses that after all she’s been through, it was finally her turn to win.  And with one Susan Lucci-esque foot already on the floor and half a butt cheek out of my Director’s chair, I caught my AD’s eye as he scanned the people behind him in slow-motion… 
“BEA!” he shouted to my fellow Second Teamer, a 5’2” petite blonde who grinned at me like a Cheshire cat as she scurried to canoodle with our guest.  (Lucky dame!) 
But hey, in Hollywood you win some, you lose some.
And today I lost a little more.
Delighted to see the caller I.D. of my beloved friend and AD “Diddy” from my last series, I scooped up the phone cheerily in anticipation of getting the official welcome back info and my upcoming start date, only to hear him overwrought on the other end.  “I heard your current show got picked up today for another season next year, and that’s great news!” he cheered to the best of his ability.  “But I have some bad news” he continued sadly, dreading speaking the words out loud.
As The Universe would have it, one of my co-workers and I have not been invited back to the previous series, as three of the upper echelon decided out of the blue that we “don’t deliver” when it comes to performing their jokes during the Run-Thrus…
I’d be lying to say that I’m not heart-broken.  After all, if they wanted someone shorter, taller, blonder, thinner, ‘whatever-er’, or a member of one of their families I would’ve understood completely.  But to disparage my comedic timing?  Really?!
Closing that particular chapter of my life with as much grace and dignity as I can muster at the moment whilst slipping on a banana peel and taking a pie to the face!
And forever trying to make sense,
~Onward-bound P
*Talk about “be careful what you wish for!!!”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Fast and the Furriest

“I’m going to Puerto Vallarta!”
“I’m going to go golfing in Florida!”
“I’m gonna sleep for seven days and seven nights” I thought with a smile, completely drained from our last week at work yet attempting to maintain my usual sunny disposition in the presence of others.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the people that have the luxury of the ‘go-see-do’ lifestyle, but for me personally, a hiatus means nothing more than lying on my bed with my kitty watching TV, sleeping late and spending as little money as possible!
So hearing the land-line ring in my bat-cave (some time before noon), I pulled a pillow over my head and shut out the world.  And curled up next to me, my feline sidekick Pretty burrowed her face into the bedding as well.
We simply weren’t ready for any more drama.
But plucking away some scary eyebrow hairs and one sinister lengthy follicle emanating from a mole just offset of the right dimple on my face (yikes!), I slapped on some hair color over my horrendously silver roots later in the afternoon and plopped down, upright, peroxide-stinky-headed on the bed for the next forty-five minutes whilst Ms. Clairol worked her magic.
“Sooo, what’s up with your hair?” I rhetorically asked my kitty-cohort, who ignored my question obliquely as we lolled lazily during a marathon of Indiana Jones cable movies while I combed her fur with an obnoxiously brightly colored pink brush (a tasteful yet glittery green skull and crossbones emblem added to the backside as we are prone to “Barbie-down” such girly pinkishness here in the bat-cave.) And that’s when I noticed them:

(Christopher Moore fans will appreciate my mouse pad, but I digress.)
“What are these weird ‘tufts’?” I wondered out loud.  Immediately pausing the TV, clicking on the air conditioning (in case she was overheated in our current balmy weather) and racing onto the World Wide Web in search of answers as to what on earth might be wrong with my feline best friend, I stumbled upon the following – paraphrased from “Pawprints and Purrs, Inc”:
à  “Over-grooming is a stress-related disorder, and can be classified as obsessive compulsive behavior. Self grooming is relaxing to the cat, so it seems quite natural that when the cat becomes stressed she attempts to calm herself down by pursuing a relaxing activity such as grooming. Over-grooming may start out as a result of an environmental change (new member to the household, moved house, etc.,) but over time this behavior becomes compulsive, even if the original cause of the stress is no longer around.”

“Stress?  What stress could you possibly have?” I rhetorically asked my fuzzy companion yet again, befuddled as to where I had recently re-established my extra bath towels after what I now refer to as “The Landlord Incident”.  (Don’t even get me started on my personal neurotic two-week bender of psychosis at my inability to locate a bottle of white-out…)

“You generally sleep all day, and we’re blessed to get to be at home together for a whole week!” I continued, my left eye beginning to seep from the peroxide fumes emanating off my scalp.  “You’re fine!” I assured her with my good right eye, securing some favorite multi-striped towels (as far as I know) and toddling off into the shower.

Yet fresh as a daisy (and with brilliantly colored hair on my head) twenty minutes later, the blaring red light still blinked ominously on my land-line…


“Hey Penny!  Just wondered what you’re up to and checking your availability for a new midseason NBC show to start up in September!” the friendly voice of a previous co-worker and potential boss rang sweetly out of my answering machine.  “Call me back at this number” she continued pleasantly, leaving me with the details; i.e., its leading lady, the Diva Comedienne Executive Producer and the studio lot where they plan to shoot in the fall.
à  “This behavior may take the form of excessive licking at the fur or pulling out tufts of fur. The most commonly affected areas are the forelegs.”

“How lovely that she thought of me,” I smiled to The Universe.  “How much fun might that be?” I pondered in the comfort of my home in my t-shirt and boxer shorts.  “And how the hell did I miss that giant patch of hair on my koala bearish kneecap when I was in the shower?” I blanched, readjusting my glasses and scurrying for a razor.
à  “If it isn’t possible to bring the cat’s behavior under control by changing the stress and environment, then it may be necessary to try medications…”

Pouring a Saturday night voddy cocktail (hey, some doctors call it medication!), I weighed my potential options. 
On the one hand you always say “yes” in Tinsel Town until you absolutely have to say “no”.  But with my previous show hanging precariously in the balance that I was desperately hoping to return to, I at the very least felt obligated to return the phone call – even if the answer was as simple as “I don’t know what my schedule is, but THANK YOU, and I hope we work together again soon.” 
And having been sent immediately to her voice mail, I left a message and poured another cocktail as I smiled to The Universe once again with ultimate gratitude for the opportunity to continue working in this ridiculous, wondrous fantasy world that actually (almost!) pays my bills; where my obligation to the job ends with the humble attempt to make people laugh.
“Yeah, I suppose I could work with yet another high-profile Actress…” I contemplated, plopping on the bed once more nearby my feline sidekick whilst slurping my voddy; a lovely dose of liquid courage beginning to kick in.  “It’s not all that tough at the end of the day (I lied).  So, whaddaya think?” I rhetorically asked Pretty once again, expecting nothing more than her usual feline disinterest in all matters non-milk related. 
However, leave it to my feline Diva to look out for OUR best interests and absolutely DEMAND that I say “NO!”

Grateful that as of yesterday, my last show is actually coming back; and cheers to the end of mine and Pretty’s personal melodrama.  (After all, how much more leg hair could we possibly remove?!)

Ready for our Nair commercial,
~P and P
Author’s note:  In case you were concerned, kind reader, I’m happy to report that Pretty has stopped over-grooming and has returned to her usual idyllic lifestyle.  As for me, well I’m still plucking as fast as I can!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Caste and the Crew (Part Two)

“I hope you’re ready for another big day” one of my co-workers whispered nefariously in my exhausted ear as I gobbled my way through a fluffy freshly made waffle topped with melted butter and real maple syrup.  “You’ve got ‘a lot on your plate’” he continued metaphorically, leaving me with nothing but gooey fingers and unanswered question marks in my pea-brain.
Sure we had yet another long day ahead of us, what with camera blocking, six pre-shoots and four (?) wardrobe changes; but with my income dwindling on this particular show I was actually looking forward to the scheduled twelve hour day (plus one hour catered lunch) and some serious overtime pay!  I’d even forgone the vanity of putting in my contact lenses in favor of wearing my glasses on camera just to be extra prepared for the eye strain of the brutal agenda.  So what was up with the creepy cloak and dagger routine?
All I could think was that this absolutely had to do with our last pre-shoot; a comedic piece-de-resistance of discovering our leading lady sitting naked in a hot tub.  Dear God, surely they wouldn’t force me to crawl into the spa like sausage in a swimsuit casing for lighting, would they?  No one had mentioned any such nonsense the day before, nor could I imagine that my lovely Actress would tolerate anyone tainting her bath water, right?  RIGHT???  My belly had already begun to exhibit a new protruding waffle-esque pattern!  (Panic ensued…) 
“I’ve got your back” our Asst. Property Manager whispered.  “Wilson is up and ready” she smiled, introducing me to my very own stand-in as I clasped them both whole heartedly.
(Sure, "Wilson" was a little green, but we all gotta start somewhere...)

So it was with great relief when my “big day” had finally been announced simultaneously to myself and the crew (yeah, thanks for the heads up), that in order to protect our Star’s voice which she had already lost once before and seemed to be on the verge of losing again, she would perform all the scenes mouthing the words and I would be speaking the dialogue for her off-stage.
And like a badly dubbed Japanese movie (according to one of our Guest Stars), for the next five hours I belted out to the best of my abilities the unique accent, timing and delivery of my Actress’ lines.
Frankly, I wasn’t quite sure how she would take my impersonation of her.  Would she find the portrayal insulting?  Would my corpse be found months later with two bullets to the back of the skull and vultures feeding off my carcass somewhere in the desert?  There were already four arms clutching me…  Clearly “The End” was near…  But as my life flashed before my eyes, I had very few regrets…
“How about a round of applause for Penny?!” our Director shouted happily as she AND my gorgeous Actress embraced me warmly as the crew clapped supportively.
In hindsight, I was glad to have had no formal forewarning.  Had I known in advance that I’d be put on the spot I would’ve likely been anxious and ridiculously self-conscious.  But thankfully, exhaustion trumps adrenaline!
Happy to be out of his booth, our Audience Switcher (the person that flips from camera to camera on the monitors for our live audience as we shoot the show) hung outside with me whilst I lit up a ciggy.  “Well, THAT was fun!” he chuckled, thoroughly amused at the inane weirdness of my bizarre off-camera performance.  “Someone should’ve rolled tape!” he laughed.
And strolling between us, one EP of “The Triad of Powers That Be” lit up his own ciggy, meandering away as our Switcher and I shut up appropriately. 
Waiting until the exec was out of earshot, we continued our conversation regarding a long gone show where he and I first met years ago, and the seriously lousy deployment of bringing in a fourth wall and the poor choice of lighting, when like a bad penny (forgive the pun) the EP reappeared once again, halting our dialogue and stilting us once again into utter silence.
“Don’t stop talking on my behalf” the EP proffered.  “I won’t repeat anything, I promise” he added with a wink and a deep ciggy inhale.
And like an eerie déjà vu from last week, the opportunity presented itself once again…
Dare I approach the dangerous threshold of crossing the line?
Having opened my mouth for my Actress, I took a chance, gulped some air and opened my mouth once more. 
“We were discussing working on the old *insert title*” I piped up bravely (hoping beyond hope that the automobile gaffe in my last post hadn’t made its way around to this particular exec).
“Oh my GAWD…” he gasped, rolling his eyes dramatically.  “I actually took a meeting with them first season and immediately said no thanks!” he chuckled, cozying up and dying to hear all the dish behind the bullet he’d luckily dodged.
And for the next seven and a half minutes, the Switcher and I engaged in actual normal conversation and laughter with our new temporary BFF:  aka the Elusive Species known as a Friendly Executive Producer just outside the door of its own natural habitat.  
“E Pluribus Unum –> Out of Many, One.”
Cheers to finding some common ground (and NOT in the DESERT),
~Vulture-free P