De' fliengde Vuogtlänn'r

Observations, rants, etc. from a guy who really gets around.


The Roar Of The Greasepaint; The Smell Of The Crowd

Few things in life have given me the kind of rush that comes from stepping out onto a stage in front of a live audience. My earliest acting gig was in kindergarten, when I was Joseph in the Christmas play. (Yeah, you trying playing second fiddle to a plastic baby doll!) After that, I didn't do anything until high school. I did a minor part in an absolutely atrocious piece of dreck called "Heavy, Heavy, Hangs Over Thy Head". I still don't know how or why I did it, as it was just another of those anti-war, anti-nuke, anti-everything-to-the-right-of-FDR leftist rants. Horrible. But, it was experience.

The local Catholic church did their annual "Passion Play" during Easter time and I wound up being a Roman soldier in that. (Portent of things to come? Omen of 28 years in the Air Force?) That was pretty forgettable, too. Mostly because all I did was stand around, holding a spear.

It wasn't until I got to Albuquerque that I did anything at all worthwhile. I was driving home from duty one weekend and heard an announcement on the radio that there was a film company in town, shooting a movie, and they needed extras. Knit long and cut short, I showed up at the time and place specified and, as I was filling out the fact sheet, the casting director came over and told me to bring my fact sheet directly to him when I was finished instead of standing in line. He later told me he had noticed my shiny black (uniform) shoes and decided to cast me as a cop extra. (How come I keep winding up playing authority figures?)

At any rate, the movie (Policewoman Centerfold) was another forgettable piece. The only good things about it were A)I got paid for doing practically nothing; B)they fed us quite well; and C)I got to meet Ed ("Hill Street Blues") Marinaro, a really nice guy.

Sometime after that, the local talent agent -- who had been working with the casting director -- called me. She had kept all the fact sheets from all the people who had worked on the movie and she was looking desperately for people to work on a TV commercial. Dare I say "no"? It was a commercial for a local amusement park, so we got to ride the rides for free all day long while they filmed us (and fed us! actors eat well). There was no "pay", but we each got a couple of free passes to the park (which I promply gave away). I went home thinking "OK, that was weird" and figured that would be the end of it.

A few weeks later, Joy calls me up again. This time, it's a car commercial for a dealership in Indiana(!). Since I had been so accomodating about the amusement park one, she thought she'd throw something nice my way. It was scheduled to take four hours, so no free lunch, but I got a whole days pay out of it. And got to work with a very nice director and crew.

Somewhere around this time, I decided to try my hand at stage work. The first play I remember auditioning for was The Goodbye People by Herb Gardner. This was something I could sink my teeth into. The audition went well; the director was a great guy, and I wound up working with him on another project later. I didn't get the part I wanted, but Tom called me less than a week before opening night to see if I'd be interested in understudying for one of the actors, who was suffering stage fright and didn't know if he could go on (it was his first time on stage). So... I managed to learn not only the lines but the blocking in FOUR DAYS!!! The guy managed to do the part with no problems, so I never even got to go on. (Now, I would have given a guy one shot on stage for doing what I did, but....)

Along the way, I had some horrible experiences auditioning for local plays (stoned directors, etc), but also did some commercial work and wound up working on another movie Animal Behavior with Karen Allen and Armand Assante -- two really professional types. Loved every minute of it. About a year later, I went out to audition for the only male part in a play called "Best Friend" at the now-defunct University of Albuqerque. The director turned out to be the same one who had done "The Goodbye People" years before at Corrales Adobe Theatre. Tom said he had tried to contact me to see if I was interested in the part, but because I had moved a couple of times -- and changed phone numbers -- in the intervening years, he couldn't find me. Oddly enough, I was the only man to show up, so....

The play was a blast. It was more lines than I had ever tried to learn, including a quick back-and-forth of about a page and a half that looked impossible to me. But the blocking was simple (Tom's very much a minimalist), so learning lines was relatively easy. I can't say it went off without a hitch. One evening, Mae Ellen and I were doing a scene where I'm seated at a piano and then get up and go over and sit in a chair near her. As I got up, I realized that we had deleted AN ENTIRE PAGE(!!) of dialog. Panic time! She told me later that she knew something was wrong by the look in my eyes. The page we had forgotten included some background information on my character, but I was able to ad lib the most important stuff and move on. Tom said he never even noticed.

A few years after that, Albuquerque Little Theater decided to do "The Goodbye People", so I went down to audition. When I got there, I found out that the character I wanted to do and had previously understudied for (Michael) had been kinda sorta pre-cast. (I always hate it when directors do that, especially if they don't mention it in the casting call.) Anyway, the assistant said Jeff wanted all the younger men to read for Eddie, which I really didn't want to do. But, I said I do it if he'd let me read Michael too. Deal.

So I read Eddie. Meh.... Read Michael, too, and did rather well (or at least, I thought so). And left. No call-back. No problem; life's like that. That was on a Saturday. Friday, I go over to Joy's house to drop off a new picture and updated resume. And who's sitting in her living room? Jeff! OK, I'm thinking to myself "This is odd..." So, the three of us get to shooting the breeze and I wind up doing a ten-minute floor show right there in her living room. I can't even remember what sparked it. All I can remember is that the three of us were laughing ourselves silly. Anyway, I go home and think nothing of it.

Next morning, the phone rings.

It's Jeff.

He tells me he had gotten a completely different impression of me at Joy's than he had the previous Saturday. Says he still hasn't cast the part of Eddie yet and would I be interested in coming over to his office to read for it again? No problem, says I, and head off to his office. We have a really nice read-through with a couple of other people and I go home.

Sunday morning, the phone rings.

It's Jeff

He's decided to cast me as Eddie. Would I be available to come down to the theater for a read-through that evening. Wild animals couldn't have kept me away. Needless to say, the six weeks of rehearsals and three weeks of performances were a total blast.

In keeping with tradition, of course, I did get to pull a great prank on the three lead characters on the last night. Near the end of the play, they do a toast with "pineapple juice" (actually lemon Kool-Aid). I bribed one of the techs to help me put a quart(!) of ReaLemon juice in the machine instead of the usual Kool-Aid. Martin chug-a-lugged the entire cup without even noticing anything. Susan just mimed it, so she didn't even taste it. The other guy was thirsty and took a big gulp and said later that his whole head almost puckered. Mwahahaha!

The last play I remember doing was "The Black Phantom". Aside from one really good anecdote, all I'll say about this is that I will NEVER again work for anyone who's directing his own work.

But we did have fun. The play centers around two families: one old money, the other new money. The son (me) of the new money family wants to marry the daughter of the old money family and move into a house that's said to be haunted by the title Black Phantom. At one point, I get frisked by a cop, who "finds" a pair of black gloves tucked in my belt in the back. The girlfriend's mother then says "There... you see? Everyone knows the Phantom always wears black gloves!" One evening, during rehearsal -- in what I can only describe as The Best Freudian Slip Ever, Pat says "There... you see? Everyone knows the Phantom always wears black panties!" When we finally managed to stop laughing, we finished up. But after that, I could never look at Pat when she said that line, or we'd both crack up.

On the last night -- again, in keeping with tradition -- I pulled a good one. When Pete searched me, he found more than just the gloves. Sandwiched in between was a pair of black panties. We both almost lost it. Pat couldn't see what was going on (Pete was in her line of sight), but she knew something was up. Afterwards, we told her. She loved it.

Unfortunately, I haven't done any theater since. But I'm seriously thinking about getting involved here in Chattanooga.



At 16:59, Blogger Lucy Stern said...

There's nothing keeping you from doing it, is there Jahn? Go for it man!


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