Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Two themed stories by Gary Beck

Two stories
by Gary Beck
Theme: Theatre

An Actor Prepares

"Not like that, Andrew," Eliot whined for the fourth time. "You're supposed to be having a nervous breakdown. You have to look it, not just say the lines." "I'm working on it, Eliot," I replied, in the tone that I knew would piss him off. "I'llget it. It just doesn't come as naturally to some of us as others," and I looked at him suggestively. Eliot glared at me impotently, a look that I was used to,
since he resorted to it frequently. We had been at loggerheads from the first day of rehearsal, when I took exception to his request to keep working past the contracted time.

"Eliot," I said in a patronizing tone, "Union regs don't let us rehearse more than six hours a day. This is a showcase. You were told the rules by the union rep. If you like, I'll show you the handbook. I didn't make a fuss when I didn't get all of my allotted break, but it's time to respect Equity rules. You don't want me to file a grievance, do you?" I scornfully dismissed his silly appeal for me to forget the regulations for the sake of the show. That was when he glared for the first time. As if he cared about anything but his dumb concept. Then he babbled to us about the need to work hard to produce art. The other actors nodded solemnly, but I laughed in his face. "This isn't art, Eliot. It's like a meat market with talent for sale. If you want art, you shouldn't be doing a showcase."

I must admit I enjoyed watching him squirm when I reminded him in front of the others that the showcase system was designed primarily to allow actors to demonstrate their talent to agents and producers. I didn't bother pointing out that actors couldn't demonstrate very much with minimal rehearsal and three weeks of performances. But that didn't bother me. I mean it's not as if we're trained like dancers, with all kinds of different skills. I had a different agenda. I wasn't really interested in theater, though I knew I could do the classics if I wanted to. I wanted a career in television. A part in a long running show was my goal, with the accompanying rewards of fame and fortune.

Unlike many actors, I had disciplined myself to put on a good front and always look confident, even when I felt like crapping in my pants. The truth was that I was meant for the showcase system that encouraged surface skills and facility. It was an ideal vehicle for me to display my confidence, relaxed ease and magnetism. I hoped that by doing showcases I would land an agent and maybe even get a commercial. That
would pay my freight as I worked my way up the ladder to a big time tv show. This was my fourth showcase and nothing had happened yet, but I was still hopeful.

I hadn't bothered explaining the plan to Eliot. He wouldn't see the logic of it. He was another dumb liberal arts grad with a degree in directing. He'd have a better chance for regular work if he became a traffic warden. At least he'd be able to direct motorists, who might listen. He had no real idea what he was doing and his selection of the play further indicated how dumb he was. Nobody would stay awake
while a young man had a nervous breakdown in front of his father, mother and older sister, just because he was turned down by the college of his choice. Well, maybe the playright's mother. And Eliot didn't even know how to block properly. He kept putting people in front of me, so I couldn't be seen while I was doing my lines.

To make matters worse, Eliot had cast a retired insurance executive as my father, and a retired school teacher as my mother. I never understood what prompted these greyheads to suddenly try a second career in theater. These retreads took everything very seriously and went about their business as if they were preparing for a Broadway opening. They even supported Eliot when he demanded that I learn my lines. I tried to explain that I would know most of them by opening night. They got real nervous when I said it wouldn't make much difference, since the audience didn't know the script, so they wouldn't know if I dropped a line or two. But they kept hassling me. Mr. Insurance company mumbled over and over: "How will we know our cues, if you don't say your lines?" They freaked out when I said: "Just wing it, pop."

Eliot had cast a slightly overweight, nervous girl as my older sister, but she wasn't bad looking in a fleshy sort of way. I figured to slip her some unbrotherly love, once she got to know me. There was nothing better available. I never seemed to meet anyone at my waiter job at the restaurant, an untrendy hamburger joint, where the female customers kept their legs tightly shut. So I had no where else to meet
women. But sis turned out to be an ingénue, trapped in a bulky body and I was just too crude for her. Then, as if things weren't bad enough, the playright showed up and droned on and on about how we were missing the real theme of the play; 'the breakdown of high expectations'. Give me a break.

Well I can get through two more weeks of rehearsal. Maybe the show won't be as bad as it sounds. And if they give me a hard time, I can always walk. That's the beauty of the showcase system. An actor can leave the show anytime for paid work, or an audition for paid work. And what would these losers do, bring a lawsuit to the union? Fat chance of that. If things go bad and I decide to split, I'll just pick an audition from a trade paper and say I have to prepare for it. But it may not come to that. If I don't have anything better, I'll stick it out. Maybe I'll get lucky this time and I'll get discovered. You never know.


The Audition

"Next," the stage manager called. I looked around to be sure it was my turn, and she repeated impatiently: "Next." I took a deep breath, put on my combat face, stood up and walked to center stage, struggling each step of the way to control my nervous trembling. Only the work lights were on, so I could clearly see the people running the cattle call. There were five of
them. Why did they need five? Could this be one of those democratic collectives, where everyone argued instead of working? The stage manager handed what I assumed was my resume and head shot to who I assumed was the director. He briefly scanned it, then passed it onto the others.

I waited until the last person was finished reading and comparing me to the picture, trying to appear cool and confident. The director had been looking me up and down, lingering a moment too long on my breasts, which I resented, even though I should have been used to the unwanted attention by now. "Sing," he said. I looked at him in surprise. "I was told that I only had to prepare a monologue," I said. He ignored my feeble protest and said: "Sing." "What kind of song would you like?" "Anything." I took a deep breath and sang the first two lines of 'Greensleeves'. I thought I was pretty clever, since I was auditioning for a Shakespeare play and it might impress the inquisition panel. A lot of good it did. They stared at me blankly.

"Dance a beautiful dance," he ordered. "I'm not a dancer. I'm an actress." Once again he ignored my objection. "Dance a beautiful dance." I briefly considered telling him to shove it, but I hadn't done Shakespeare since college and I had learned that there were very few opportunities. So I did a beautiful dance. At least I thought so. It was some kind of cross between a waltz and a fox trot. It was the best I could do. There was no reaction from the inquisitors and I was beginning to get pissed off. If they wanted a prima ballerina they should have said so in the actor's call in the trade papers. Part of me wanted to walk out without saying a word, but another part wanted to do the show. Besides, I didn't want to give the assholes the satisfaction of watching me slink off, tail in the traditional place, another defeated actor.

By now I knew that something unexpected would be next on the menu, so I smiled pleasantly at the
inquisitors. I got a quick rush of pleasure when some of them looked surprised. After all, it was obvious by now that they were trying to freak out the auditioners. They probably assumed by this time that the auditioners would be agitated and in the process of losing their stage persona. I had no idea why they devised this torture session. It was different from any audition process I had been through. Maybe they had already cast the show and were getting their rocks off by torturing some needy actors. Stranger things happened in theater. Whatever. I was here and I certainly wasn't going to break down for their viewing pleasure.

The director gestured to the stage manager, who handed me a sheet of paper. It was in French. The director said: "Read." I knew what he would say if I told him I couldn't read French, so I read. Maybe Charles Baudelaire would have objected strenuously about my pronunciation, if he was there, but I was beginning to enjoy myself. "That's enough," the director said, staring at me expectantly. I guess he was waiting for me to ask how I did. I just stood there silently. He looked me up and down, again lingering too long on my breasts. "We'll call you." I just nodded and left. I knew they would call. I had seen that lecherous look before. Now it would be up to me to decide whether or not to do the show. Part of me was hungry for Shakespeare, but these were weird people. I wasn't sure if I was up for any more bullshit in my life. Then I laughed. I didn't have to worry about it until I got the call.

Author bio:

Gary Beck's recent fiction has appeared in Enigma, Dogwood Journal, EWG Presents, Nuvein Magazine, Babel, Vincent Brothers Review, L'Intrigue Magazine, The Journal, Short Stories Bimonthly, Bibliophilos and many others. His poetry has appeared in dozens of literary magazines. His chapbook 'The Conquest of Somalia' will be published by Cervena Barva Press. His plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes, and Sophocles have been produced Off-Broadway. He is a writer/director of award-winning social issue video documentaries.

Editor's note: "An Actor Prepares" was previously published in Diddledog. "The Audition" was previously published in The Bent Pin Quarterly. Both were published in 2007.

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