And as The Universe tends toward It’s (shall we say “unique”) sense of humor, I had been hired as her Stand-In.Quite frankly, in my underling role, I couldn’t have been more thrilled that for a change I would be subbing for a minor player. No stress! No drama! And LOADS of time on my hands to Rip Van Winkle the days away if I so chose!
Unfortunately, as the beautiful Princess was equally comfortable playing the Court Jester -- regaling her loyal subjects with whatever cock-eyed thought popped into her head at any given moment –- I thought it best to stay alert and do my job to the best of my abilities lest the King (aka the Director) who was positively enchanted by the ingénue, suddenly deem me an ugly duckling; too stupid and unworthy of trying to stand in the Actress’s glass slippers.“Are you comfortable crawling through the tiny enclosed area, Pen?” my First AD kindly asked me the day prior to pre-shooting, as my Actress was supposed to squiggle “underneath the house” on a separate set specifically designed for filming.
“Umm... I think so... yes, of course!” I nodded positively; secretly praying that my out-loud answer might convince the ‘inner me’ too.>>><<<
Zipping up my given Charlie Brown ‘Great Pumpkin’ orange protective jumpsuit the next day to cover my regular clothing, I stepped aside backstage for the Special FX man who appeared to have one of his arms ‘disarmingly’ slung into a sling with a plaster cast.“Really?” I eyeballed him skeptically, whole-heartedly hoping that he was just messing with my head before I crawled into the creepy coffin box.
“It was just a minor pyrotechnic mishap” he winced with embarrassment. “I’d rather not get into the details...” he added, clearly suffering from a post-traumatic flashback as he ‘sense-memoried’ the event. “But I’m only here to make the tunnel seem all cob-webby” he recovered himself with a smile. “I promise I won’t set you on fire while you’re trapped in there.”(“Have a shiny red apple”, said the wicked Queen innocently.)
>>><<<Now, I truly believe that there occur multitudes of moments in Life where we are all presented with opportunities to rise above our fears. Why, we could be eaten by a wolf on the way to Grandma’s! Tossed into an oven as retribution for our gluttony! Discover a monster under the bed! (Oh, the irony of the delayed realization that I named my new mattress which most literally SUCKS the stress out of my body at night ala Dracula, “Vladimir”!)
But hey, nothing like a little blood-curdling terror during camera blocking when you’re snow white in the face, yet still mining for comedy, right?!?!
“Let’s load Penny into the chamber” our Director suggested. (What am I, buck-shot? Are we hunting wild game? Look out, Bambi!)
Unfortunately, standing deer-eyed wide in front of the cramped opening, my hands sweating and my mouth disproportionately dry as dust (save for the inopportune occasional acid reflux backwash of utter dread and claustrophobia), my feet remained firmly planted immobile as if clad in cement boots.
“Everything OK there, Pen?” My AD appeared by my side, acutely aware and rather concerned that my face had shifted to a ghastly, ghostly pale and that I had apparently morphed into something unrecognizably un-human. “Flag on the play!” she shouted to the Director as she requested a Stand-In for the Stand-In. “Let’s at least get you freed from that jumpsuit!” she assisted me helpfully as I walked ‘Zombily’ out of my clothing, OFF the set, and directly OUT the exit door until I could shake off the creepy heebie-jeebies coursing through my veins.
(I do hope, kind readers, that you weren’t expecting a true “Cinderella” story here from me. After all, that would be a much more Grimm tale indeed.)
But I digress!
Smash cut to six years later:
“We should probably get you guys some knee pads if you don’t already have them for when you’re doing the ‘army trenches crawl’ through the ‘air vent’ set”, our Second AD made a note to talk to our Stunt People. “I’m not sure how we’re gonna fit four adults in the tiny space where four KIDS barely fit, but we’ll do our best!” he smiled, ever the optimist.
And I had to admit, I was somewhat optimistic too!
After all, I’d crept through some seriously darkened tunnels in my personal life over those six years; but with the help of family and friends I’d managed to successfully Rapunzel my way out of captivity! (And if worse came to worst, all I needed to do was let down my hair, form a red-headed stair, and get myself the heck outta there!)
Granted the scene was a two-part bugaboo; the tight quarters would certainly be unpleasantly uncomfortable too, and mostly I felt like Pinocchio as my legs weren’t properly bendy to my will with the Velcro strappy knee pads over my pants as I wobbled all ‘young Forrest Gump’ gimpy to the set.
Additionally, I wasn’t particularly comforted by the fact that whilst the woodsmen Construction Crew had thoughtfully built make-shift steps for my three amigos entering stage right, I stood forlornly in the dark (stage left) at the chest-high gaping dungeon, unable to load myself into the chamber (not out of fear, mind you, but rather an obvious inaccessibility into the mine shaft, FFS); until our Prop Asst. (my very own Prince Charming!!!), heroically knelt by my side with an apple box for my ladder; his sturdy shoulder at the ready for my ascent; a sparkly twinkle in his valiant smile. (OK, perchance I hallucinated-fabricated the “twinkle” since the painters had JUST turned off the fans to dissipate the noxious fumes and maybe I was feeling kinda Dopey… But this is my story and I’m sticking to it!)
Now, having successfully camera-blocked ‘Part A’ of the claustrophobic two-part scene (*WHEW!!!*) which was really rather simple (all that was required were four entrances of four people and setting focus shots for a page or so of dialogue when the Actors hit their marks), I took great pride in the fact that I’d managed to contain my Anxiety, was able to breathe through the discomfort (and paint fumes), and had accomplished (in MY mind) a Herculean Feat from whence sonnets would be written and ballads be sung of praise and courage!
“And let’s reset for ‘Part B’” the King (aka our Director) engaged the troops, as the cameras moved in tightly towards my only open airway. “I know it’s narrow in there Penny, but can you maybe lie on your left shoulder and flatten yourself against the set a bit more so we can squeeze all four of you in on one camera?” he asked politely as two more of our Second Team awkwardly spooned their way behind me.
Surreptitiously sneaking one hand out of the Death Chamber for confirmation that Oxygen still actually existed on our planet, I tried ever so hard to do my job to the best of my abilities...
“What page are we on?” a third co-worker asked out of the blue, wildly oblivious to my debilitating discomfort as he piled into the tunnel on top of us.
*thump thump thump*
“Oh bother...” I Winnie the Pooh poohed, as I tried to comfort myself; imagining myself merely stuck with my head in a jar full of “Hunny”, splaying face-down on my side from the invasive lenses of our High Def cameras as I buried my head underneath my ponytail.
*thump thump thump thump thump*
“Can you squeeze in any closer?” the King casually wondered as I lost all ability to breathe or speak, reduced to nothing more than a tell-tale-thumpy-heart slash sobbing puddle of tears and Anxiety, weeping uncontrollably beneath my helpless Rapunzel tresses.
“We have to get Penny out of there NOW!” were probably the last words I heard that made any sense to me whatsoever as I found myself relentlessly gripped by the menacing claws of a full-blown Panic Attack.
But a fairy tale (horrific as it may be), does by the quasi definition, indeed require a happy ending, does it not?
And thus I searched for mine.
“Don’t apologize” the King spoke quietly as he pulled me in to a comforting Papa Bear hug. “I had the EXACT same reaction when I had to get an MRI. You freak out, but then you freak out even more that people are seeing you freak out!”
I recall too, my dear friend Gilda helping me out of the claustrophobic tunnel, her hands trembling whilst she attempted to placate her OWN Anxiety, offering me tissues for all of the snot dripping down my face (yeah, that’s how we all wish to be viewed in High Def); a thoughtful bottle of water from a Stage PA; a cup of orange juice, and the recommendation that I ought to eat a banana as our Camera Coordinator ping-ponged me outside of the stage to sit on the patio and breathe in the open space.
And after about twenty minutes, this little Red (writing) Hood was almost ready to tackle the Big Bad Wolf!
“They’re moving on to the Cold Open in the bedroom” my beloved friend and co-worker April gave me a heads-up as I ever-so professionally tried painfully unsuccessfully to thumb through my script, multi-tasking as I attempted to stand up on my Pinocchio-wobbly legs. “I gotcha covered, Pen” April smiled with a maternal flick of the wrist as I sat back down. “No worries!” she sailed off sunnily as she grabbed my character’s signage and effortlessly took my place on-camera. (Was I still hallucinating, or did she have a valiant “twinkle” in her teeth too?!)
Well, I suppose there’s never exactly the ‘happily ever after’ we all hoped for, but we can certainly make the most out of our story book endings if we try.
Yes, the ingénue went on to win an Academy Award, but even SHE had a rough trip up the steps to accept it…
(Easy there, Princess!)
So suffice it to say, I do know now in my heart that I’m in a very safe place (the UPM even gave us ‘hazard pay’!!!), where despite all the huffing and puffing of Hollywood, no one has the power to completely blow me down.
(Well… Except for creepy dungeon-like tunnels… That’s a fucking deal breaker!)
Continuing my pursuits of dreaming HUGE and wishing you a happily ever after,~P