Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Fractured Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, on a gloriously simple, phenomenally gentle Sit-Com located far, far away (well, in The Valley), a beautiful, talented, young (albeit somewhat notoriously ‘scattered-brained’), Actress starred as an ingénue on a television show six years ago.

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.

*thump thump*

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!)
And whilst I’ve been offered a Network show this fall (oh, the temptation of THAT shiny red apple!), I simply cannot (in good faith) recklessly abandon the people who’ve already hired me, in the pursuit of a fairytale Network show which just might easily be cancelled after the first episode.

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,


Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Cosmic Consternation of Compatibility (Coda): "Vladimir's Cradle"

“Alack and alas!  My Life Forces are woefully being fatally drained!” my always and ever-so overly-dramatic 1997 Toyota “Cecilia” wearily wiped the dust off of her windshield weakly ala Lady Macbeth as she pouted at having been parked on the street like a bloody commoner.  “Out, damned spot!” she whined theatrically as I dutifully squirted the glass cleaner lever-thingy obediently.

“Fie, fie, fie, I can’t possibly steadily keep the radio on...” Cecilia hiccupped half-heartedly as we tooled down the Boulevard, momentarily muting the Red Hot Chili Peppers as I tone-deaf sang alone in silence.  “I were better to be eaten to death with a rust than to be scoured to nothing with perpetual motion” my Toyota postured ala Falstaff.  (Cecilia has appeared on-camera in three whole Sit-Coms and now apparently feels most adequately prepared to tackle Shakespeare.)
(Cecilia was mad that day in 2008, as whilst Props took the time to dress her in "Colorado" wardrobe (aka her phony license plate), they didn't bother to wax her hood prior to being subjected to such harsh outdoor lighting...)
And waiting exactly until the precise moment of me subserviently angling her into her favorite throne (level three, slot #3), she chose to click on (new to me!) a blood red demonic image of what appeared to be a dead battery icon upon her dashboard.

“Here’s to my love!  O true apothecary!  Thy drugs are quick.  Thus, with a kiss, I die” Cecilia idled steadily like an off-off-off-Broadway performer who’s obviously still breathing after a first-time performance of Romeo and Juliet’s death scene.
(Yeah, yeah, yeah, “Parking” is such sweet sorrow.)

Yet miraculously prepared for an encore performance after a day of resting in the parking structure overlooking the Studio, I motored Cecilia home in hopes of finding an open spot on the street so as to not have to deal with my upstairs neighbor Cecile “Ophelia”.  (Yes, I’ve randomly re-dubbed her as her name is far too similar to my car; yes, I still think she’s a hooker, and yes, I think she should get thee to a nunnery.) 
But easing our way into the left-turn lane off the Boulevard (no dashboard lights or warning signs flashing!), Cecilia suddenly remembered her preferred station in life; and as I guided her into a parallel spot as a commoner once again in an open slot legally designated BEHIND the painted curb of the space for a fire hydrant on the street, Cecilia effectively threw an automotive hissy-fit as she once again blared her blood red icon of a dead battery.

“Cry woe, destruction, ruin and decay; the worst is death, and death will have his day” Cecilia sighed dramatically ala “Richard II” as she continued to idle normally.
(Oh, FFS...  What a ham...)

“You need to buy her new belts” our local Mr. AAA “Roger” arrived on scene in his road-side assistance truck as he ran diagnostics on my beloved Cecilia’s engine.  “Her battery is fine for now, but she needs a new alternator belt.  Let me call and get you a tow truck” he offered most helpfully.
Leave it to my Drama Princess automobile to feel the need to shop for accessories.  (What’s next; earrings and a tiara?!)

And rather than hooking Cecilia’s front bumper to an angled draggy hoist bulb hitch-thingy whilst I dropped off my work bag inside my Sanctuary, I walked back down to the street to meet a rather crusty AAA hauler named “Danny”, who had already loaded Cecilia high upon a mighty flat-bed ala a Homecoming Queen waving to her constituents.  
(Oh bother, there will be no living with her now...)

“Can you show me where the base will go?” the extraordinarily acutely focused no-nonsense delivery man zeroed in on the specific section of my bedroom in the bat-cave.  “We’ll be taking your previous frame and the mattress with no charge to you” he affirmed all creepy sweatily per the contract as he lugged out the haven upon which I’ve slept for decades.  “If you wanna clean up and vacuum, do that now before I install the furniture” he informed me curtly.


“Don’t mind him” the younger delivery guy with the stud-pierced facial cheeks nodded pleasantly.  “We had a rough day, and he actually cried at noon when we had to deliver a bed on a third floor apartment without a working elevator.”
(Oh, goodness!)

Now, suffice it to say, I was mostly OK with the removal of the old sleeping arrangements from my Sanctuary as I embraced a brand new beginning in my world... 

Sure there existed some hints of heartache over the dusty mementos stashed underneath my bed of over twenty years (posters from college rolled into a tube, tax papers from 1991 to 1994 (?), art supplies from whence I once-upon-a-time fancied myself a modern-day Michelangelo, etc.); but quite frankly, I found myself easily discarding such trivial items.

Grabbing the vacuum to suck up the last of the double-decade dust bunnies, I suffered a wickedly painful temporary mental melt-down at the sight of miscellaneous paw-sized kitty toys, batted most authoritatively under the bed (all the way to the back wall!) by my deceased Heroic Feline Sidekick “Pretty”, who simply would never suffer anything stupidly puffy if she didn’t deign the item properly “crinkly”.

(Yes, that would be two ears and a tail visible from the baggie.  I never fully understood the obsession, but I always scissored "escape-routes" prior to presenting her with a gift!)
Having deferred delivery of my Monster Bed until a hiatus so as to adjust to the Sales Lady’s recommendation that I would require adequate time to break in the mattress (for the Love of God, I seriously flopped up, down, left, right, diagonal and reversal trying to make the damned thing comfortable for two weeks), my world was still wildly conflicted with the consternation of incompatibility...

Number One:  Despite the disclaimer regarding “NEW MATTRESS SCENT” (and I quote:  “Our mattresses are manufactured per order and packaged in a sealed plastic bag immediately after production.  When the sealed plastic is first opened, you will notice a scent that comes from the new materials, foams and/or fiberfill in the new mattress.  The scent is not harmful and should dissipate within a few days”), my new Monster Bed continued to smell of “Igor-ian” chemicals from a Mad Scientist’s Laboratory.
Number Two:  (Please disregard the irony of the paragraph title, as I assure you, this was unintentional.)  My desired adaption to the Monster Bed had been thwarted not only by the brutal assault of the onslaught of a flu bug which knocked me down for five days (enjoy the irony here, that my crappy Landlord managed to have my toilet fixed just in time!), but also by the fact that whilst my belly was less than cooperative with any sustenance aside from saltine crackers, all of the fancy doo-dads on the new remote-controlled mattress and frame simply made me queasy.

Number Three:  Having conquered the flu, and gently easing myself into the recovery of chewing solid food, I clicked on the “Zero Gravity” button as my bed ironically nearly swallowed me whole.
And “accidentally” doing SIX sit-ups to eventually dislodge myself (OW!), I frowned at the discordance in my Sanctuary; my feet dangling helplessly as I stared down at the floor which appeared to be, or not to be, so far away?  (Well, that is the question.)


Having started a new cable show where The Universe has thusly batted me around into an awkward position of standing-in for an eleven year old girl (I’m not YET completely against the back wall like a puffy kitty toy!), I’ve found myself rather uncomfortably being reduced to sitting on apple boxes for camera-blocking, and a camping chair off-stage in the darkness during most of the rest of the day.
I’m certainly not complaining mind you, as I’m ridiculously blessed to be working with a lovely group of people, and let’s face it:  “Would you prefer me to be seated?  Happy to oblige!”  (I even ordered a light-weight stool from Amazon to assist me with the issues of height!)  And whilst I’m lucky to be used for a random twenty minutes here and there during a thirteen/fourteen hour day, I’m still adjusting to my world of the unknown.

“I sleep on rocks and straw.  But you’re going to name the bed, aren’t you?” my newest co-worker Gilda wondered; a novice reader to my published blog posts, but already somewhat in step with my literary over-use of personification.
“Pfft!” I thought to myself.  (Well, maybe...)

Returning home with two weeks under my belt of feeling somewhat humbly knocked down a peg, I embraced a nudge from both Cecilia and Shakespeare, and yes, perhaps even my Heroic Feline Sidekick “Pretty”.

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” ~W.S.
And eyeballing my Monster Bed, I piled into the Creature; kicked him into “Zero Gravity”, and lolled like a drooling infant in the cradle. 

“Is that all you’ve got?” I pressed the curvy button on the remote control as the mattress began a gentle massage, rather comfortably purring ala “Pretty”.
“Well, seeing as how you’re NOT my Heroic Feline Sidekick", I shook my head sadly, "we’re going to have to amp you up to the maximum level” I decided authoritatively on Pretty's behalf, as she would never deign to nap amidst the likes of something so stupidly puffy. 

And pressing the button thrice to bring the Creature to life, the electricity coursed throughout the mattress as if Frankenstein had suddenly bolted awake...

(Oh dear Lord, it’s ALIVE!)
And as my entire bat-cave rumbled, roared and jiggled like a Lear Jet in a tiny hangar preparing for take-off, all I could do was lay stupidly in a “V-position”, and repeatedly mumble the vibrating sentence, “Verrry-gllladdd-I’mmm-here...”; a rather odd ‘blurtation’ which (if you read the sentence out loud) has thus left me no choice but to dub The Creature “Vladimir.” 

To be painfully honest, “change” is a difficult procedure for this One Red Cent most ironically named Penny at birth.  But as an Actor, I must accept the re-writes from The Universe as they befall!  And yes, perhaps I need to make a few adjustments... 

But please do allow me the indulgence of one last Shakespearean quote?
“My crown is in my heart, not on my head; 
Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones,
Nor to be seen:  my crown is called content:
A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.”  ~King Henry VI

And thus I shall bid you adieu, as I return to work this week with my nifty stool for camera blocking which should arrive tomorrow.  And while perhaps it’s not exactly a proper throne, I ALSO purchased a foldable Captains Chair (with TWO cup holders!) at Target for when I have to sit off-stage in the dark with my book light!
But as to the (only available color at the time) ‘Malibu Barbie-ish’ Neon Pink throne???  I think Cecilia has the right idea.

Yeah, I’m definitely gonna need earrings and a tiara...
Wishing you a wickedly wonderful week,

~Vlad's hostage, Penny