With only one day of gainful employment under my belt on a CBS show in approximately four months, I was starting to wonder if I was losing my mind.My previous sit-com was as good as dead, as the cable Network people had become sick and tired of the production costs, the cumbersome process of excessive nit-picky rewrites and the reluctance to let go of decades-old approaches as to how to script a simple nineteen and a half minute TV show.
Granted, the EP’s hearts were highly vested as they struggled through their own personal hell-on-wheels psychodrama as they portrayed their real lives on screen, battling each other politely with well-rehearsed ‘therapy speak’:“I hear what you are saying, and I respect your opinion. Thank you for your honesty. However, this system worked very successfully for me when we did my other show back in the 1980’s”, my Gorgeous Actress had explained calmly; completely oblivious to the fact that all of our cable Network people WEREN’T EVEN BORN YET!!!
And thus I remained in my perpetual state of unresolved conflict, like an abandoned child cast aside in a messy Network divorce, left to my own coping devices...The first month of unemployment wasn’t so bad, as I positively reveled in the lazy luxurious afternoons when I slept late; as well as the chilly, occasionally drizzly mornings when I awoke early, tuned in to the local news channel on TV, and proceeded to snuggle deeper into the comfort of my cozy warm cocoon as commuters (who weren’t me!) battled their way through clogged traffic. (JOY!)
However, as days and days (and daze) passed after my (GLORIOUS!) day-player gig at Warner Bros studio back in February, I worried that my spirit might be waning...As the majority of my friends and colleagues are all gainfully employed in Tinsel Town, social phone calls seemed to end abruptly (as they are wont to do in our superficial industry), and I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that since I haven’t yet booked a series, I was not only the red-headed step child flagrantly cast aside at a cousin’s wedding, but I’d also been, well, simply forgotten... (Sob, sniffle, sniffle...)
Hmm... Not buying it, are ya?Yes, quite naturally, I easily adapted to my ideological life of autonomy!
Free of mundane constraints, I found myself rattling about my bat-cave at all hours of the night, finally able to rehearse and perfect my spooky “wooooooo” ghostly impersonation as I carried my recyclables past my neighbors’ apartment out to the trash bin under the moonlight; I’d also negotiated a truce between myself and “Mable” (the tiny spider under my far kitchen cabinet) as to her restricted boundaries (“you can hang out there and try to look intimidating little lady, but should you make any attempt to “scurry”, you’re a goner!”) ; and I’d even managed to annoy the crap out of a telemarketer by actually answering the land line and engaging him in conversation until HE hung up on ME! (Geez, I didn’t even get to creepily ask him what he was wearing!!!)All in all, everything was right with the world!
>>><<<“I drove past your street tonight on my way home today, and wondered ‘how’s Penny doing?”’ my (real live!!!) Movie Star friend Tony G wanted to know.
“I’m mostly great!” I nodded to the phone. “But I don’t have a job” I sulked a little.“You don’t know how NOT to work, do you?” he delved compassionately. “Good for you, kid. So let me ask; how’s the home life?” he quizzed, putting me uneasily on the spot.
“Well, I sleep. And I have a healthy appetite, but I sleep A LOT. I mean, seriously, HARD CORE like a teenager” I confessed. “I can wake up early with no problem, but then it’s like I’ve been drugged in the afternoon, and the next thing you know, I’ve slept another six hours” I added, taking a deep breath and owning up to whatever awful diagnosis or condemnation should be sentenced upon my wildly erratic behavior. (Seriously, if I were a dinner entrée on a restaurant menu, I’d be veal.)“Well I don’t know how to break this to you kiddo, but you’re an Actor.”
“I know that I really oughta..., wait, WHAT?” I flustered in confusion.“We’re performers Pen! And when we’re not allowed to perform, we hibernate.” (Insert audible *gasp* as that’s exactly the word I’ve been using!) “Call it an Actor’s instinct if you will” he continued sagely: a Hollywood veteran of the silver screen for over forty years. “We store up energy for when we GET to go to work. Plus, ya can’t spend money you’re not making if you’re sleeping!”
Touché!“Enjoy your rest, kiddo. You’ll appreciate it soon enough when you go back to work. God knows I will, since I just finished a film up in Big Bear and can’t WAIT to sleep for the next forty-eight hours uninterrupted in my own bed!”
And hanging up the phone, I couldn’t help but ponder the validity of Tony G’s unique perspective.Sure, I’ve always considered myself an Actor – well, at least after my first television appearance in front of a live studio audience of 250 people – but as being a Stand-In has become my basic bread and butter income, did I seriously deserve the recognition as a true Professional in the eyes of my Movie Star friend???
>>><<<Reporting to Paramount Studios a week ago for a three-day gig to assist in standing-in for a monster of a sit-com episode with pant-loads of Guest Stars and fifty-four (I think) separate vignettes wherein I needed to cover at least three Actors in twenty-five (I think) of the vignettes, I couldn’t have been more overwhelmed, nor more freaking ELATED! Not only did I have a job (albeit temporary), but there were at least a dozen people that I know and love on the show!
“Here’s your paperwork and contract” one of my beloved peeps handed me a hefty packet. “I know you work all the time Pen, so I’m sure you’ve filled out all of these before for this cable Network” he smiled warmly as I sorted through a monumental pile of legal forms. “It’s just the standard background check” he chuckled comically.“Sure” I chuckled back; “my blood type and what-not with a cavity search, right?” I laughed light-heartedly. “Wait, WHAT???” I frowned, eyeballing the documents.
Holy crap!As it turns out, this particular cable Network which is geared towards a younger viewing audience, does INDEED perform a legitimate background check to ensure that for the safety of the children, they are NOT employing sex offenders or pedophiles. (Um, EEK!) And submitting all of my required information, I checked and initialed the box, that should they choose to run a report on me, I could receive a copy for my own records of whatever dirt they might find. (Well, that should be oodles of fun if I ever work there again, as one of my best friends is a Federal Agent for the Department of Justice and I’m probably already red-flagged with a redacted file!)
But embracing the moment and seeking out Craft Services to pop a sesame seed bagel into the toaster for breakfast, I heard a familiar voice behind me – our Hero of the show, and the (waaaay back when) teen idol whose Tiger Beat posters once papered my bedroom corkboard.“Morning” he nodded at me, completely oblivious to the fact that we’d worked together years ago as he stuffed his bagel into the other half of the toaster beside mine.
“Good morning” I replied professionally (as all due “Ethel Mertzing” had long since passed). “I’m Penny” I smiled as I shook his hand, gently reminding him of our previous work history together.“Wow. How long ago was THAT?” he rubbed his eyes wearily, graciously indulging me in casual small talk until his bagel was toasted and he could finally retreat back to the seclusion of his private dressing room.
>>><<<Being that a mid-week day was my first baby step back into my comfort zone of a sit-com, I did my best to watch my specific Actors like a hawk.
Granted, I was a tad rusty, and hadn’t yet been bitch-slapped into proper submission like my last show – but rather, given an ounce of freedom to actually enjoy the process, I unfortunately made a few mistakes...
1. “OK, who’s laughing?” the insecure portly ‘Pugsley Addams’ version of a child star demanded to know; oblivious to the fact that being stared down by creepy dead-eyed ‘Wednesday Addams’ twins with blond braided pigtails sent me rolling on the floor at the dark humor. (Oh, they were BRILLIANT!)
2. Banished to the Audience seating during the Network run-thru like lower-class citizens who were not allowed on stage to mingle amongst the Higher-Ups, I sat ever-so-dutifully silent as admonished to the Second Team by the UPM (now, that’s a proper bitch-slap!), until once again, the spectacular duo of ‘Wednesdays’ skipped care-free onto the set in their adorable matching yellow eyelet embroidered dresses. And looking up from my script, I witnessed the amazing transformation of all-around, happy-go-lucky children take their places on set, and most excellently OWN the stage as they lowered their heads, focused on a spot designated by the Director, and transitioned into two of the most TERRIFYING zombie-esque undead creatures – a fantastic occurrence which not only made me belly laugh and snort out loud (even before the Director called “Action”), but also earned me a serious head-whip glare from our Hero, who eyeballed the Audience to see just who had prematurely guffawed. (As I said, the eerie children were BRILLIANT!)
3. Last but not least, given to understand that the Executives would have a note session after the run-thru before the Stand-Ins would be utilized for lighting, I excused myself from the Second Team under the guise of popping out for a half of a ciggy – a woeful falsehood, as I had actually disappeared into the ladies’ room down the midway to negotiate the egress of my morning bagel... And returning back to the stage, not only was a fellow Second Teamer waving me home like a baseball coach, but the DP had already lit one of my scenes without me. CRAP! (Pun intended.)
Yet, I still had two more days to prove my worth, my professionalism and my ability to do my job well. After all, I’m an Actor damnit, and I’m a Perfectionist!Geared up at 9:00am (after an hour of transferring my notes) to tackle four vignettes for a comedic male in which I not only got to sing, dance and prat-fall, I euphorically bathed in the warmth of the compliment from our Camera Coordinator who shouted to her crew, “YAY! Penny COMMITS to a scene!”
I also enjoyed the absolute mayhem of bouncing around from a “reality TV mom”, to a “game show hostess” and back to “reality TV mom” in the same scene, as no matter what the roles, I got to PERFORM!And snagging an apple box to plop down on before we rolled tape on my male Actor, I caught up with one of the Cameramen whom I’ve known for years. “Your replacement on my other show was OK Pen, but she missed a lot of the nuances that you always brought” he shared with me openly. “But hey, in her defense, she’s not really an Actress like you.”
Well, slap my ass and call me Happy!As to our Hero slash “poster boy”, my inner tweenagers heart actually leapt a beat as he approached me head-on in the Audience housing; scaling the railings in what could have been a mighty Rapunzel-esque fairy tale reunion had I let down my ponytail and he actually remembered me – but instead I gave up my chair so as to allow him to frolic with his wife and daughter busily chatting away with my co-workers.
As to the show, I thought it was a hilarious episode -- despite my Capricorn proclivities towards attention to details, i.e. a “depressed teenager in a Snuggie” who sports a full face of make-up and an up-do hairstyle worthy of the red carpet, clad in jeans and adorable boots under said Snuggie? Hello, how about socks and jammies? Not to mention same “depressed teenager” sitting on the couch eating “sour cream flavored potato chips” (according to the neon green prop bag), yet the substitute veggie chips were red? Let us not forget “Pugsley” exiting the pantry with a full bowl of popcorn (because we all keep our pre-made popcorn in an open bowl in the pantry?); nor the fact that despite multiple takes on camera in the kitchen set when said pantry doors didn’t properly close, not ONCE did anyone get up to fix them all week long? (Oh, I could go on and on!)But gently reminded by my Second Team that “this is just a kid’s show”, I closed my yap and held my tongue, all the while allowing the professional side of my pea-brain to absorb the happenings around me.
After all, I still have many lessons to learn before I win the Lotto and start up my own Network... (Top-o-the-page, people: I DREAM HUGE!)As for me for now, I’m counting my blessings for the experiences (as well as the overtime paychecks to come!).
Plus, in hindsight, I think my Movie Star friend Tony G was quite right. I’ll never again feel an ounce of shame for any downtime as long as I continue to give my all when I’m allowed to work and perform.And lastly, a sincere “Thank You” to all of you whom made me feel welcome and appreciated on your show. (Promise me you’ll read the entire script, "C" - (you know who you are!))
Closing the curtains for now,~Sleepy P