Standing-in for an eleven-year old Asian “Justin Bieber” type boy on my last week as a temporary employee on our Sit-Com, double checking my notes as to choreography (and popping three Advil in anticipation of the combination of both my age and the rigorous dance moves), my Second Teamers and I (young at heart!) subtly helped each other onto the elevated “stage” before the cameras had rolled into place.Now of course the Director and the crew weren’t expecting us to perform anywhere NEAR what the highly-trained (seriously terrific!) Hip-Hop Dancers were going to present, but at least a modicum of movement from us was necessary from a technical point of view as to just where to position our four regular cameras, the expensive jib, as well as the special lighting effects and timing according to our Director’s vision.
And with the usual friendly chiding from the crew whenever “Second Team Theatre” is prompted to “perform” in such awkward scenarios, my pea-brain immediately searched its dusty archives for a dancer who might inspire me in the moment. (My gimpy left leg be damned, we were gonna BRING IT!)“Five, six, seven, eight!” a ghost voice from the past whispered in my head.
With a ‘stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp; (double-time) elbow-hammer, elbow-hammer; form a line; creepy wriggle; arms up; look back, look back, look back; gangsta spin and slide and pose’, I DO believe we humble Stand-Ins NAILED that scene!!!(Well, OK, maybe not necessarily “nailed” it; as whilst my young “Bieber-Boy” seemed remarkably comfortable at occasionally throwing one hand between his legs for whatever reason, this old dog doesn’t dance like that.)
Nevertheless!With a couple of practice rehearsals for cameras under everyone’s belts, I masked my “disappointment” to hear our beloved AD announce that she had some unfortunate news for the Second Team: “Sorry guys, you were FABULOUS, but the Actors are ready, so let’s begin our pre-shoots. Thank you all!” she smiled graciously as my “Bieber-Boy” leapt acrobatically onstage to reclaim his spot in the lime light.
And slinking off into the darkness as Stand-Ins are expected to do, I paused for a solitary moment to gather my thoughts.Clearly the “five, six, seven, eight” voice in my head came from my dear friend Maria (who not only choreographed my very first dance on Network television), but who also co-starred in the original feature film West Side Story. And obviously, as this was my final week on a show that has excellent prospects for a third season of yet another 22 episodes; I wanted to leave a decent and lasting impression of my versatile abilities in hopes of being invited back!
But hmm... what was the thing on the tip of my tongue that felt like it should never be spoken out loud... (???)“Oh dear Lord in Heaven, THANK GOD!!!” I inadvertently erupted in the audience housing with my fellow Second Teamers as I propped up my gimpy leg, dabbed sweat off my brow, panted like a snub-nosed, thick-in-the-middle Pug and lapped thirstily from a bottle of water.
“Yes, thank GOD we don’t have to do all of that!” my cherished friend Kathila whole-heartedly agreed as we sat back together and watched the dancers perform their magic over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and (well, you get the idea.)In our defense, if I remember correctly, there were SIX separate vignettes in the same scene, all with different dancing or stretching or blocking, most of which seemed to change every single time we watched as the Choreographer professionally tweaked their performances. And whilst I’m golden (kind of) at “nailing” a few standard moves, I was clearly out of my purview...
But with a few camera-blocking scenes left to coordinate after lunch, I still had a fighting chance to leave my mark and rightfully earn my supper!>>><<<
As my OTHER particular Actor (we’ll call him “Kevin”) had been written to only occasionally pop up randomly for one or two lines here and there, I professionally kept my script in hand for notes although I was already off-book.And eagerly waiting to burst through to the kitchen to deliver both of my lines in the first scene on cue, the On-Set Dresser casually wrenched the doorknob from my overly-zealous clenched paw as he Windexed the panes of the glass. “Are these your wet-nosed smears?” he smirked as I hung my head low, all quiet stupid and guilty. “You can come in soon enough” he chided me like a puppy as I cocked my head to the side, patiently listening for my Master’s voice to cue me in.
Unfortunately, upon hearing said cue, I most inelegantly thrust open the door like a German shepherd on police duty barreling out of a K9 cop car in hopes of doing my job and collecting a treat.“I appreciate the enthusiasm, Pen” our Director laughed, “but I’m going to change his entrance for cameras and have him enter from upstage left.”
“Copy that!” I scampered away, upstage left.“Let’s go from Kevin’s entrance; and ACTION” my Master’s voice called out as I tethered my energy and brought it down a notch. “Let’s have Kevin be closer to Scott (I moved over), we’ll make it a two-shot, and then Kevin walks out of frame (as I did obediently). Great! Let’s move on!”
“OK, for this scene, I want to change Kevin’s entrance again” our Director mulled over his script as I poodled faithfully behind his heels. “Let’s try him from upstage left again” he mused, as I reiterated “copy that!” scuttling dutifully to my spot. (I was wearing sneakers, but I could almost swear I heard pink polished Chihuahua toenails scurrying across the faux wooden floor.)“Wait, that’s the other scene I want to change” he contemplated, adjusting his thinking cap.
“Understood! Both are quite similar!” I yipped agreeably, scampering off to the other possible entrance.“Don’t mock me in front of the Crew, Penny!” the Director postured good-naturedly, wagging a parental “no-no” finger at me.
“No sir! Never sir!” I yipped again politely, shutting the door behind me; pleased that my inner puppy didn’t accidentally piddle on the outdoor welcome mat.>>><<<
As the next scene had been rewritten overnight, I had neither any idea of how my Actor might enter the set, nor how he would choose to deliver his dialogue whilst singing and dancing ala a singular conga line...But as a veteran Actor myself, I know that when you’re working on a Sit-Com, you take your performance to your comfort level of “extreme” and let the Director pull you back as necessary.
And anticipating my next entrance cue, musing over the words that struck so close to home after all of my summer months of unemployment, I made the singular artistic choice to go “full-on Marmaduke”:“CUE!”
“We’re going back to wor-ERK! We’re going back to wor-ERK! We’re going back to wor-ERK!” I entered singing, kicking out a leg on each “erk” beat. (Again, gimpy hip be damned, I was going to BRING IT!!)“Bigger! Louder!” our Boom Operator Matt laughed. “I didn’t hear a “CUT” yet, Penny!”
>>><<<As with any show, there’s rarely any guarantee that it (or I) shall be welcomed back. In fact, I recently received an email from my favorite UPM who let me know that our previous Sit-Com where-in I stood-in for my “Gorgeous Actress”, was officially NOT returning due to budgetary funding; however he does have a Pilot in October and wished to know my availability. (Woof, woof, woof! Here’s your Lassie if you need me!)
All I know for now is that my AD for the last four weeks would like me to let her know if I’m approached with an offer for another show. She wants dibs! (That’s all I could ever ask for, and nothing would make me happier!)Thanks to all of my Second Team who made me feel so welcome. And thanks to whichever department saw fit to graciously include me with a crew t-shirt! I get that I wasn’t officially part of “the family”, but here’s a joyful tail wag, a happy-happy dance and a slobbery kiss to you all for temporarily rescuing this stray pup!
Feeling the love,~"Snoop P"