“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.
“Hullo.”“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.
“Hullo.”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.
“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?)Nevertheless!
“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 outré 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!~P