Monday, June 23, 2014

The Cosmic Consternation of Compatibility (Part Four): "Into the Looking Glass"

“Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh...”  I squealed internally as I restrained my inner “Ethel Mertz” from falling all over one of my Sit-Com icons from the 1980’s.
“Hi!  My name is Penny, and I’ve been standing-in for you this week!” I smiled - absolutely THRILLED that The Universe had offered me this opportunity to work with one of the Triad of a Family that has contributed so much to televised comedy!

“Hullo” was her flat, miserable response as she purposefully avoided eye contact.
“I’m Joe, the First AD this episode” he introduced himself to her politely.  “Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns while we’re on-stage!” the nicest guy whatever lived shook our Guest Star’s hand.

“And I’m Brenda from the Props Dept.  Here’s your bullhorn for the scene” she smiled professionally, as she laid down the prop by the Guest Star’s side.

Ok...  So perhaps my expectations had been a wee bit high...?

But certainly, my 1980’s Icon would perk up momentarily!
“Just so you know” our Guest Star made an official general announcement, “I’m not gonna remember any of your names” she lounged dismally in a Director’s Chair as our Make-Up crew descended upon her face for touch-ups.

(Or...  NOT.)
“I don’t know what scene this is” our Lead Actor looked around with frustration.  “Where’re we at, Pen?” he most oddly zeroed in on me amidst the chaos as I sweatily clutched my script lest the wretched Guest Star needed to be coddled or reminded of her dialog (a pointless effort on my part, as she chose to ad-lib whatever the f*** she wanted to say anyway).

“I’ve got it right here!” I nodded dutifully as I hobbled to greet him downstage of the mayhem; ridiculously thrilled to be ping-ponged out of the way if only for a moment.
“Thanks Pen” our Lead Actor smiled appreciatively.  “And why are you limping?” he furrowed his brow.

“I sort of miscalculated the dimensions of the ottoman at the foot of my bed and maybe jammed a middle toe?” I shrugged idiotically.
“Funny you should say that!” he laughed as he launched into a lengthy tale of his wife purchasing an ottoman ‘this high’, and had already hurt himself three times.

(Hmmm...  Did I detect a hint of sentimentality, and possibly regretting taking the show and his Crew for granted?) 

With our Company shooting on location the next day outside on “New York Street”; a painfully early call time for the Crew; and me pre-emptively packing as many creature comforts the night before in anticipation of a long day in what might be Los Angeles “weather”, I was quite certain that I’d have to ‘rough it’ with my usual scarves, gloves, coats (always necessary when simply on-stage); as well as my camping collapsible folding chair (I don’t camp – it was a gift from a show), an extra bottle of water and a secret cache of well-hidden granola bars.
And arriving early as I am wont to do, I never felt more ridiculously STUPID that I’d have to ‘rough it’ on a show that was literally throwing every last dollar of the budget out the window for their permanently cancelled finale.

Eyeballing a lengthy table of thoughtful serve-yourself sterno tureens surrounded by grab-and-go foodstuffs for the primary workers who hadn’t the luxury of taking a knife and fork whilst they toiled; I next stood baffled by the on-site omelette-maker Chef who elegantly tossed and flipped fluffy eggs brilliantly as he catered to each and every personalized request.  Yet, not to be outdone, should you care for breakfast from the griddle, how about sausage or bacon; pancakes or French toast from the Gourmet catering truck?

Limping behind my fellow Second Team to set up camp prior to our onset call time, I couldn’t help but marvel at the scenes behind the “scenes” behind the Scenes.

“Seriously, PFTT!  How difficult could MY day possibly be?!” I thwacked my forehead; phenomenally humbled by the Crew and their abilities to achieve so much more than I could ever possibly contribute to the magic of Hollywood.  (The guy in the crane was creating the sky!)

“If I might have your attention please!” our First AD Joe kindly addressed the Crew as to a proper Safety Meeting.  “There will be a Stunt performed over in this exact area; we will have a few company moves; and if EVER you have ANY Safety Concerns, please IMMEDIATELY let myself or one of our ADs know!” he pointed out all of the people with walkie-talkies and head-sets.  “I DO need to add, that as this whole area is part of our actual Studio lot, please refrain from any smoking on set, and THANK YOU!” he waved genially, as we clapped for the professionalism of preparing us for the day.

And as if on cue for her arrival in the white shuttle van, our Guest Star lazily rolled out in a billow of smoke, lit cigarette in hand, as she continued to look right through me with the dull-eyed stare of a dairy cow.
“If you could please follow me over here, I’d be happy to show you your blocking for this scene!” I offered cheerily, as she disgruntledly plopped down on her derriere.  “And if you look between these two cameras, can you see the flag on the C-Stand with the red and blue tape?  That will be your eye-line!” I added most helpfully.

“It’s too high” she scoffed miserably, as I immediately scanned the Crew for anyone else above my pay grade to help.  (Yes, that would be EVERYONE, most of whom immediately became extraordinarily busy with suddenly very important tasks.)
Suffice it to say, after I repeatedly showed our Guest Star in various scenes where our Director wished her (at this point) to simply SIT down and where to LOOK (for the love of God, it’s not like she had to climb Mt. Everest, FFS), I could feel not only my positive energy draining, but that as well as the Crew...

“Is ‘She’ actually coming to the set anytime soon?” one usually mild-mannered Camera Operator sort of bellowed at me.
“PENNY!” an AD suddenly shouted, catching my eye and attempting to wave me over to the Guest Star as I started to get up.

“Wait, wait, WAIT, Pen; I need you on your spot!” I was informed, as I sat back down obediently for Lighting, fretting over how to accommodate each department.

(Keeping a good attitude whilst sitting on a Prop dolly camera!  Note bottom left of photo; it's not actually plugged into live electricity.)
Yet since mathematically this Penny hadn’t yet been properly “drawn and quartered”, I suddenly found myself in a fourth awkward position wherein one of the Triad of the Comedic Family would randomly appear by my side for a private one-on-one meeting to confirm which scene I was currently camera blocking for the Guest Star.  (Bizarre, to be sure, as isn’t that normally a task for the flurry of scurrying assistants to liaise between the Mighty Powers and the peons?)

“OK, let’s set up the cameras and the jib shot for when “She” announces the big stunt.  “Penny, let me have you start about here” our Director placed me for rehearsals as I repeated the dialogue, movement and simple exit four or five times -- first told to walk MUCH FASTER; then pointed to exit camera right instead (“no, no, no, the OTHER camera right” I was publicly abased like a moron TWICE in front of my Crew (did I mention that there were FIVE cameras but not a hint as to which one our Director had selected???)); and lastly as I was requested to walk WAY SLOWER ala our plodding Guest Star, I found myself unwittingly replicating my own version of the dull-eyed stare of a dairy cow.
(For the love of God, I already had a gimpy foot!  They’d milked me all morning!  What more could these people WANT!?  (Talk about ‘roughing it’!))  

But as shit rolls downhill (I truly believe the circumstances were nothing personal), there was little I could do but to shut up and hope to eventually scrape the bovine manure off my hoof...
And cue The Universe!

Blissfully aside from the private conversation betwixt our Director and our Guest Star where I had to be “there”, but not really “there” (a delicate invisible line for a Stand-In), I observed nothing more out of the corner of my eye than the body language of what seemed to be a gracious “thank you” from our Director, and a polite dismissal to the Guest Star from the set.
“But what about the rest of her scenes?” I pointed worriedly to my script before our Director walked away.  (After all, I still had loads of notes; and hours upon hours of awkward, unpleasant belittling moments of humiliation to look forward to in the afternoon!)

“What can I tell ya, Pen?  The Network made a collective Executive decision and let her go” our Director beamed (way too) jubilantly.  “I guess we’ll just have to shoot around her!”
And shoot around her, we did. 

With a body-double (close enough) dressed in “Her” wardrobe; strategic film shots carefully choreographed to hide the deception, and me still standing-in (off-camera), behind the body-double lady to deliver the dialogue of our dismissed Guest Star, I once again found myself in a topsy-turvy world, as since the gist of the scripted dialog had been mostly whittled down to shouting either “Action” or “Cut” (easy to redub in Post Production and Editing), apparently our actual Crew weren’t entirely able to discern the difference in the massive open space between my scripted “Cut” and our Director actually calling “CUT!”
(Are you confused yet, kind readers?  I was too!)

In a nutshell, there I was as a Stand-In, standing-in for a Guest Star, who was playing the role of the “Movie Director”, who was being filmed with a body-double as the “Movie Director”; yet our TRUE Director wasn’t being heard, because I, as a dutiful Stand-In, was delivering the dialog as the “Movie Director” through a Prop bullhorn; to which our Crew repeatedly stopped filming; naturally assuming that they were hearing the TRUE voice of our ACTUAL Director.
Good grief! 

Reflecting on the week of that particular show’s final episode, I’ve tried to make sense of the bizarre myriad of emotions which culminated in yet one more outrĂ© experience of my life in Hollyweird.

As quickly as my cherished 1980s Sit-Com icon had disappointed, disillusioned and disturbed me with her “udder” disregard toward everyone while she chain-chewed on the cud of her next cigarette; at least my (previous Teen Idol) Lead Actor, had managed to restore my faith in him as a caring, sentimental sap who apparently posted a picture online of himself and his daughter walking off the stage for the last time, hand-in-hand.
And as for me, well, I’ll let you be the judge:

As a couple of us Stand-Ins had been Invited to a Table Reading on my newest cable show to fill in for the parts of as-yet uncast Guest Stars, I not only agreed to do so most willingly (apparently the Execs didn’t mind that a lot of us were reading the script cold); but I also eagerly accepted the glamorous offer of being driven down the midway in a golf cart – a truly heady experience for me as I contemplated the “sur-reality” that if only for a trice in time (seriously, it was like a nine-second ride), I couldn’t help but feel that  I was somehow being embraced by the “presents” of the “passed” at the 102 year-old Studio.
“Here we are, ladies!" our PA announced the auspicious arrival at our destination:  an eponymously named building dedicated to a rather famous red-headed Comedic Actress.

“Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh...”  I squealed internally as I restrained my inner “Ethel Mertz” from gushing wildly inappropriately. 
But of course I remained a consummate professional.  After all, I’ve been cold-reading scripts for decades in front of VIPs who nibble on their fruit plates while they hope to be entertained.  And with my back to the audience as we sat down to read the script, there was all the less pressure, despite being introduced to the room by the Executive Producer before we began.  And although the usual accoutrements of pencils, highlighters, pads of paper, scripts and individually designated bottles of water had been elegantly set-up for every one of us in front of our specified chairs, I had no use for such pampering items, as I was simply there to do my job as a Stand-In Actor.

In fact, all in all, the entire experience was really rather nothing to get overly excited about...
...Except for the fact that I got to read the script with the Cast in none other than “The Lucy Bungalow”!!!  (And yes, I stuffed my very own personal unopened bottle of water into my purse!)

Cheers to racking focus on that which makes you happiest!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Cosmic Consternation of Compatibility (Part Three): "A Class Act"

Wandering into the dimly lit saloon on an unemployed afternoon to commiserate with a bartender friend, I out-stretched my arms and inched my way in the darkness with grabby hands toward what appeared to be a row of stools.

“Here!  I gotcha!” a man’s voice called out to me as he gently led me ala a seeing-eye dog to a seat while my eyes adjusted from the sunny outdoors.  “Let me guess; your first time here?” he laughed jovially.
And coming to learn that my bartender friend had been scheduled for a later shift than I anticipated, ‘The Regulars’ warmly welcomed me like a nestling under their collective wing as they absolutely FASCINATED me with hours of personal tales from their experiences in “old” Hollywood!

“So, what do you do for a living, Penny?” mustached Tony, who had led me through the darkness asked pleasantly.
“Oh, I’m just mostly a stand-in and kind of an actor” I kerfuffled lamely as I was relatively certain that my weensy three-line uncredited role of “Valley Girl #1” on a sit-com  wasn’t significantly worth mentioning in the moment.

“Hey, I’m an Actor too!” Tony beamed.  “We all gotta start somewhere, kiddo!” he cheered me on, as he bought me a beer.  “Do you have your SAG card yet?” he asked delicately as I nodded weakly (yeah, for like TWO years at that time?).  “Well then, from now on Penny, I want you to hold your head up high and confidently state “Yes, I am an ACTOR!””
And thus, I became friends with my first Real Live Movie Star mentor.

Now, with no ill-will toward the Facebook franchise with your thousands of “friends”, nor any disrespect to my Hollywood acquaintances (whom we all air-kiss and hug when we’re randomly reunited at work), but 'Uncle Tony’ was indeed, by the truest definition of what the word used to mean, my FRIEND.
“So how’s Hollywood treating ya these days, kiddo?” Tony would randomly call out of the blue if we hadn’t seen each other in a while before he flew off to shoot yet another Feature Film. 

And filling him in on my small-screen life, he was forever my cheerleader who always reminded me to metaphorically and quite literally keep my chin up.  (“If you do that Penny, even on a lousy show, at least your lighting will look good!”)

“Uck, uck, uck, I totally SUCK at auditioning” I flung my head against the bar dismally some years later, as I’d been offered the rare opportunity to perform for the Casting Director for a small part on an extremely popular Network one-hour dramedy.
“Now, now, don’t get too much inside your own head” Tony gently warned me.  “What actually happened?” he wanted the specific details.

“Well, the gorgeous young girl with the stupid dazzling white teeth and the stupid perky nose and the stupidly toned perfect body who went in before me was OBVIOUSLY what they were really looking for...” I started my tirade of insecurity.
“Stop right there, Pen” Tony interrupted me.  “You can never ever presume to know what a Casting Director might want.  In fact, if she was THAT spectacular, hands down the Actresses on that particular show would’ve demanded that she be fired on the spot if they thought she might be unwelcome competition.” 

To be completely honest, I’d never once in my “Hollywood” life at that time, ever been taught to appreciate the supreme importance of Individuality.

“Anything else?” Tony asked, as I mulled over the afternoon.
“Well, one girl came in armed with a headful of extra dialogue to flush out the audition as she ad-libbed a lot of words.  I could hear her through the door” I confessed, thinking at the time that I should’ve been more prepared too.

“OK.  Quick question.  How many Writers do you have on your current Sit-Com?” Tony asked.
“Maybe five to seven?” I guessed.

“And how long is a general episode?” he wondered.
“Around twenty minutes, give or take?” I estimated.

“Alright Pen, this is the harsh reality here.  Writers with limited time want to hear only their words.  They’re up all night, they conjugate their sentences precisely, and they have NO desire to be upstaged or rewritten by an Actor.”

Again, I had learned a lesson that is seldom untold, but I took to heart!

Practically “Ethel Mertzing” Tony the next day after seeing him perform on CSI (the original series) on my small screen, I couldn’t hardly believe that my Real Live Movie Star friend would succumb to and accept being cast as an Hispanic gardener.  
“Oh, we filmed that a while ago” he smiled fondly.  “Thanks for telling me, Pen!  I’ll look forward to the residual check!” he cheered my beer happily.  “I’m not sure why I so often get cast as a Mexican when I’m actually Italian, but like I said, you never know what they want!  And that’s why WE are Actors!” he included me into his echelon without so much as a blink.

Aside from the unadulterated advice that Tony departed to me throughout the years as an Actor, I shall forever remember him not only as my beloved mentor; but my drinking buddy too (of course!); the gentleman who never had a bad word to say about a single soul; a Real True Movie Star (who, despite his stardom, would ACTUALLY ride the BUS with me when I absolutely refused to ever drink and drive again in my lifetime – Seriously... a Movie Star on the METRO making sure that nobody groped me?!); and who should always be remembered for the phenomenal Gift that he was to all of us who were blessed to know him.

So, with equal parts of Sadness and Love, I hereby raise a glass of cheer to you, Tony Genaro.
You are truly missed, my dear friend.     

And I also hereby promise to remember to hold my head up high and share a cocktail with you when they honor you “In Memoriam” at the Oscars! 

(I know you wouldn’t have it any other way!)



Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Cosmic Consternation of Compatibility (Part Two): "Down the Drain!"


“Well, if worse comes to worst, you can always pee in the sink!” my forever-searching- for-the silver-lining friend “Rose” in Wisconsin suggested helpfully.
(*Insert pregnant pause here, as I physically slapped my hand against my face ala Jack Benny at the horror of those particular shenanigans*...)

In “hind-sight” (if you will), I recalled my singular summer abroad, studying the Fine Arts of Italian frescos, sculptures, architecture and literature in the glorious city of Florence, Italy; my exotic (albeit chaperoned) weekends to visit Pisa, Lucca, Bologna, Milan, San Gimignano, Carrara, Venice and of course Rome, wherein I not only had the incredible experience of actually taking Communion (I’m not Catholic) with none other than Pope John Paul II (I didn’t even burst into flames!) inside the holy walls of St. Peter’s Basilica (seriously, who could turn down sharing a spot of wine with the Pope?!), but also the opportunity to toss a few lucky lira into the Trevi Fountain.

Unfortunately, apparently this particular evening, the Trevi Fountain remembered me too...
Eying the geyser spewing forth from the back tank of my toilet, I wasn’t quite sure what to do other than throw lira.  But watching my bathroom fill up with nearly a quarter inch of water on the linoleum, I scooted my beloved skull rug out of the way, managed to re-cap the squirting thingamabob, grabbed a cup from the kitchen and effectively emptied out the tank into the sink before any real damage could occur.

Granted, if I needed to use my facilities I could always refill the back tank with water for a proper flush, but quite frankly the situation was absolutely unacceptable! 

And shooting off a STRONGLY WORDED email to our new Property Management Supervisor, I went to sleep early in anticipation of immediate reparations the following morning.

Awakened the next day by the incessant drip-drip-dripping noise of water filling up into my waste basket as the back tank had not only miraculously refilled itself overnight but had also begun spilling out through the toilet handle (FFS), I called and emailed the new Property Management Supervisor yet again.  (Voice mail.)  Additionally, ringing the land lines of Deceased Landlord’s Wife, and occasionally On-Site Deceased Landlord’s Sons, I continued to receive nothing more than answering machines.

(I never EVER thought I’d say this; but I actually MISSED my Crappy Landlord who was an ABSOLUTE WIZARD with duct tape!)
And that’s precisely when I chose to go old school.

Whipping open my monster 3-inch tall, official printed hard copy of the Los Angeles Yellow Pages, I zeroed in on a colorful two-page advertisement for “Mr. Rooter Man”.
“Yes, we DO work 24/7!” Alfonso beamed over the phone.  “My technician Mandel should be there by 6pm!” he confirmed as I trotted down the street – a “wee” bit hungry, but also in search of a viable ladies room prior to the gentleman’s visit.

“Do you happen to have public facilities?” I asked politely at the restaurant as I was directed to a locked side door after ordering my steak taco with avocado and a Diet Coke as proof that I was an actual paying customer.
“Someone might be in there, but I’m sure it’ll just be a minute” the gal who took my order smiled politely as the entrance finally opened.

“Mmm, mmm, mmm; so sorry Soul Sister for taking the stall too long” the Transvestite in hospital scrubs *snap* apologized to me for monopolizing the “ladies room”.
“No worries!” I waved, rather off-handedly; the least of my troubles for the day.

Poised for a lovely lunch on the patio ala Audrey Hepburn enjoying a belated breakfast at Tiffany’s, I elegantly placed a napkin on my lap as I patiently awaited my taco. 

However, much to my chagrin, I found myself downwind of the “aroma” of a few homeless fellows, backpacks in hand who were discussing where they used to buy needles in my neighborhood ten years ago, as well as their burgeoning friendship on the bus as they were both apparently just released from prison on parole and headed to camp out on the beach after lunch.
Aw, C’MON!!!

Suffice it to say, greeting Mandel at my door, accompanied by BOTH Sons of my Deceased Landlord who were obviously concerned with our building maintenance (not to mention the excessive cost of a Plumber on a SUNDAY), I actually offered to split the bill if need be since I had called Mr. Rooter Man on my own.

“Absolutely not” both Sons of Yang shook their heads.  “I should’ve properly fixed your toilet way back when” the Younger Yang hung his head sadly.
“You mean the ‘Great Flu of 2012’?” I nudged him (somewhat) playfully.

With his trip to and from Home Depot, Mandel straddling the porcelain like a rodeo rider lassoing a stray bull, and with me just trying to stay out of the way, I lurked ala Bela Lugosi as to the infiltration of my bathroom.  (Darn it!  I couldn’t get to my black velvet cape yet again!)

“I’m almost done in here” Mandel announced, as I peered furtively around the corner.  “You work in television, don’t you?!” he queried.  “I know that I know your face!” he alleged with his Smart Phone in hand.
(Oh, FFS...  The World Wide Web can’t spell my name correctly, but my Plumber could ferret out half of my resume on-line?)

“Okay if I use your restroom?” Mandel asked, shutting the door before I could answer.
“Well, Hell’s bells, I’d be downright disappointed if you didn’t!” I muttered to myself, as thus far this whole year, every single maintenance person in my Sanctuary seems to feel the need to mark their territory!

Awakened at 9am on a day wherein I’ve never EVER been invited to work on my current show, I tried to shake off the drama of the night before as I gratefully accepted an additional day of employment and promised to arrive within two hours.

Even the “Advertising Executive” who lives upstairs (I still think she’s a hooker), managed to throw on a blue terry-cloth towel and consented to moving her car at 10:15am for me to gear up for work!
Unfortunately, my toilet was not so agreeable...


Having run, recycled, hissed and haunted me all evening (yet no more Trevi Fountain!), I threw my hands in the air and headed to the studio where “Dramedy” resides in a significantly more controlled environment.
Granted our Lead Actor had just phoned in that he was out ill for the day, which left my fellow Stand-In (April) thrown under the bus to play “the Dad” on the show for rehearsals and Run-Thru; which by default sort of left me standing-in for almost everyone else in the mega-cast of Guest Stars; not to mention the fact that as one of our young Actresses and her Stage Mom were running late to an audition moments  before our delayed in-house performance; our Director had no choice but to toss one of our Second Second ADs into the frying pan of mayhem, who nailed the role most effortlessly.

(Like I said; “Dramedy”, in a lovely controlled sound stage with catered food and working lavatories.  Easy-peasy!)
Yet upon returning home to my humble bat-cave that afternoon, the unwelcome, unrehearsed and unprofessional drama continued.

And thus, in a nutshell, became my bizarre circus of an evening down the drain:
Trotting upstairs, I told Younger Yang face-to-face that the toilet is still running. 

 Younger Yang calls Mr. Rooter Man.  (No show.)  I call Younger Yang again as to possible arrival time? 

Younger Yang tells me that Mr. Rooter Man was supposed to call ME. 

Younger Yang has receipt handy, but suggests that I phone Mr. Rooter Man instead. 
Now throw “Alfonso” into the mix, who tells me that Younger Yang did indeed call, and Mandel was supposed to schedule me at 7pm.  (Alfonso is not sure why not.) 

Alfonso will send “Ed” instead; but usually prefers to have the previous technician (Mandel) on-site as they are already aware of the problem.

“You mean the same guy who screwed it up the first time?” I grimaced.
Next at bat, was none other than Carlos calling (I know that the brilliant voice-over Artist Mel Blanc passed away, but apparently “Speedy Gonzalez” still lives and thrives in Hollywood!).  

Is this Mrs. Pickles?”  (Please share with me, kind readers, yet one more comedic Jack Benny hand-slap to my face?)
“Well, not ONE of those titles is correct, but what’ve ya got for me now?” I sighed, momentarily musing how vastly different my life would be if I were 21 years old and pursuing a career as an exotic dancer with THAT pseudonym.  (Interesting costume, to be sure...)

“Oh, I must’ve misread the invoice.  Sorry Mrs. Pickles!” he continued without missing a beat.  “I just wanted to let you know that Ed is going to be late; like maybe 10:30 or 11:00pm.  And since Mandel is already off the clock, maybe you could reschedule Mandel for tomorrow?”
Oh, FFS...

With Ed ‘presumably’ headed my way eventually, my land line rang repeatedly as Mandel had been given a head’s-up notice as to my broken “head” of a toilet.  And incessantly calling me over and over with ‘helpful’ suggestions (i.e., “Can you jiggle the apparatus that I installed?  Maybe push down on the lower half?”) he wondered, as my lavatory began flushing and hissing much louder.  “How about if you move the bottom section directly underneath?” he phoned again and again.
“Or, how about we just full on cancel Ed and YOU can freakin’ DEAL with my Landlord tomorrow while I’m at work?!” I answered flatly for the final time.

Never knew I had it in me, but note to self -- don’t piss off “Mrs. Pickles”!

As to "Part Three" in this series:  I'm still mid-typing as I attempt to gather my thoughts.  Sometimes, there's just TOO MUCH to write!!!