I Love This Town
Despite a successful diversion of the rising California sun via drawn blinds, I’m awoken by the increasingly aggressive chirping of my alarm clock. Each night prior I set it early in the vain hope that I can treat this career path like any other ambition with the adage of, ‘early to sleep, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’ I crush the snooze button in consolation that I perhaps I don’t need health or wisdom.
When I finally rise I begin my day in hope and in fear. I ravenously check my email, both my personal and actor accounts; I haven’t received a phone call from the casting director for that network show I auditioned for two weeks ago. Maybe my agent emailed me and said they were unorganized and hadn’t gotten around to booking me until now…
Nothing but spam and a note from Mom, asking if I got the role.
The morning coffee smells good. It tastes good. I always set the timer so that I’m saved from the peril of my humble surroundings with the comfort of my morning coffee. I’ve had to fend off pests like my roommate Brendan from drinking it by getting up earlier. Brendan is a writer I found on Craigslist when I needed to find someone else to split the rent with when my girlfriend broke up with me six months ago. It was a relationship less of passion and more of convenience: we split rent on a one-bedroom apartment and didn’t have to live in seedy stylings or surroundings. Now I live with Brendan. We share a two-bedroom, one bathroom apartment on the outskirts of the outskirts of luxury. At least there’s parking here. Brendan’s a writer so thankfully he’s slightly reclusive and keeps odd hours. We share our complaints about the industry often and go out occasionally. Our only rift came a few weeks ago when he produced a piece of his writing, a short film about teenage angst and lust in the vein of Twilight or young-adult fantasy, and failed to cast me in it. He told me there’s no way as a 28 year old I would read as 16, which I found really disrespectful. I’m an actor, I can play anything. We’ve since reconciled with the caveat that he at least consider me (i.e. audition me) for each of his projects.
What’s on the docket today? A text from my acting class friend Xander asks if I want to join him and a couple other classmates in Malibu for drinks on the cove. Dammit, it is beautiful outside. I have a thousand other things I could do but I really want to watch the sunset while sipping overly sweet Mai Tai’s in the company of these derelicts. Xander knows good and well that I have to review my lines for the scene study class we are both in tomorrow. I am pardoned from such a lame excuse by the fact that I have to work my survival job as a catering waiter tonight.
Many casting directors and acting coaches suggest watching the material (i.e. television, commercials and film) for which we are likely to audition for, in order to discover various styles and tones. This is a concept I am easily compatible to and with my second mug of coffee in hand I sit down to watch the latest episode of AMC’s Better Call Saul. I signed up for a workshop today with the casting director of this show. Or more accurately, I am signed up for a workshop with the casting associate to the casting director of this show. I’m conflicted with the efficacy or even decency of a system that suggests a need to pay to play. However, while I’m busy being conflicted, other actors are busy being seen by the gatekeepers and whether moral or not, that’s a compromise I’m unwilling to make. Thankfully they are providing sides at the workshop so no preliminary work to be done in that regard. The most effort I’ll need to put in is driving from the westside to Burbank in less than an hour, then be back in time for my shift in Beverly Hills.
After my coffee and show I sit and peruse the self-submission sites. I check my StarMeter on IMDb which is moving in a positive direction. I’m not sure what the formula is for the StarMeter however I want it to stay in the green. There are still thousands and thousands of other actors ahead of me, but I’m moving in a positive direction. I read through Backstage, Actor’s Access, Now Casting, L.A. Casting, and Casting Frontier. At least this provides some semblance of productivity to pacify my eager mind.
Now I finally sit down and look at the scene I am set to do in class tomorrow night. The class itself is great, minus the constant fawning over and guru-like mentality garnered by the teacher. Yes he studied at Juilliard and yes he does have some helpful insight. But I could still do without the genuflecting. Either way, scene study has proven to being a very useful tool in my progress as an actor and in meeting other hopefuls.
I like to think that my background in the classics gives me some sort of leg-up in the business. The irony for any actor with considerable theatre training in Los Angeles is that the mark of success is less what you’re capable of and more of what people think you’ve done, relative to the industry standards. Casting directors are less impressed with whether you played Hamlet or Dr. Astrov to great aplomb and prefer to hire the actor who’s garnered more than 3 credits on a network show. I’ve curated my own hierarchy with three tiers of actors in this town: the aspirants, working actors, and actors who get paid enough to sustain themselves. The majority of us would be elated just to be in the second category.
Be this as it may, in my scene study class I try to stick to the classics. Shakespeare is exalted but rarely done. I have chosen a scene from Angels in America. My assigned partner, Mary, a well-meaning young lady from Minnesota, suggested we do a scene from David Auburn’s Proof. I swear if I see another scene from that damn play in class I may start punching puppies. This is a shame since it is a lovely play that unfortunately features characters and accessible language that fit the description of most men and women in scene study classes.
After about thirty minutes of going over my scene I start to get hungry. I live a couple blocks from some great restaurants with patio seating, and I get the idea to text Mary and ask if she wants to go over our scene with a California wrap. I failed to mention that despite her proclivity for exhausted scene work, she is tantalizing gorgeous and I thanked every lucky star that I got paired with her. Scene work outside of class is, if not more productive, than certainly more frequent in these cases. She obliges and says she is at an audition now and can meet me in an hour. This reminds me to check my email to see if my agent has sent me anything, even though I set thorough notification reminders on my phone, just in case.
I love my agent. I love her so much that I send her presents for every little occasion. I hope she drinks coffee because I’ve sent her at least 10 Starbucks gift cards for even the most obscure of the many American holidays. And when I say I love her I mean that I love that I can say I have an agent. I haven’t been out in the two weeks since that network audition, but in a town replete with image consultation, it feels good to say that I have a “team.” I would look for someone else but that would involve an unwelcome distraction from actually finding work. If I continue with her I can say that I have representation and if I continue workshops I can say I’m constantly building relationships with casting directors and if I continue scene study class I can say I’m constantly “working.”
Damn it is beautiful outside. I’m sitting on the patio of a chic restaurant waiting for Mary. In an attempt to temper my spending, I forgo the Diet Coke and limit my selections for food to the list of “sides.” Mary is of course thirty minutes late, a product of a late audition and the oft-used excuse of “sorry, traffic.” We sit and chat about the day, about the audition, and I try to hide my jealousy that Mary has gotten significantly more auditions this year that I have. The pain is ameliorated by Mary’s unbelievably green eyes. We end up going over the scene about twice and chatting about it in between. I really lay the charm on thick. We finish the second time and she has to run. She has to do a few errands before her boyfriend, an agent at a top agency, gets home. Or so she says. He very well could work in the mailroom or at a consulting firm in the same building in the agency, or could have walked past it once on the way to get coffee. Or he could actually be an agent at WME. Fine.
I glance at my watch and realize that I need to book it. I only have 45 minutes to get to Burbank from Santa Monica and Lord knows how I’m going to make it. I have to trek through the 101 and pray there’s not an accident. I have to find parking. I have to make sure that I don’t look flushed from the entire episode.
I enter the small corner building and commence the workshop. Workshops and auditions always begin the moment you walk out of your car. The women are stunning. The men are all handsome and handsomely dressed in designer jeans and a button-up, accessorized with a leather bracelet and a slight, neatly manicured five o’clock shadow. The room has a couple rows of folded chairs facing a nondescript wall with a chair and a camera. There is soft idle chatter from friends who haven’t seen each other in months and the sounds of anticipatory silence. The casting director enters fifteen minutes after the start time, proclaiming, “sorry guys, traffic.” We are all given our sides, go over them individually for thirty minutes while the casting director reviews the contents of his phone thoroughly. Then we do our scenes. All of the scenes are from shows that are no longer on air, just scripts the casting director/associate previously cast. She gives kind notes to each person, asks them to do their scene again, then encourages them. As with all of these, there are some nascent actors, and then some whose talent truly inspires. I don’t put much stock in the session itself, my main angle being that I get the contact details of the casting director in the hope that I can bug her enough with my reel and headshots via email and my smiling mug will be conjured in her mind when she casts her next project.
After the workshop I retreat to my car. I sit and assess. I’m getting better. All of the scene study classes, all of the workshops, all of the cafe meetings are helping my acting. I thought I was good to start with but I have to concede I am getting better. I sit in affirmation of the things I’ve overcome to make it to the point thus far. Despite fear and pride and relentless rejection, I have some film credits, I have an agent, I am in the unions, I am working. I look at the clock at the dashboard and realize that I now need to make my way to Beverly Hills to offer tiny orders of tuna poké on wonton chips to the rich and famous and their apocrypha.
I don’t mind my job actually. I usually work events with people that I recognize from film and television, which gives my family back home a thrill. I tell them I met so and so at a party or I was at an event with this person. I don’t mind what I do, which isn’t to say I would do it if I didn’t have to. Working events is even more unpredictable than acting work. I jump on the opportunity because with a combination of background work, catering events and the increasingly occasional cash floated my way from Pops, my bank account can get a little thin in the skin. Marketing yourself in this and any acting market is expensive, from the bi-annual headshots, the subscription fees to submission sites, buying plays, acting classes, gas bills, etc. So let’s just say I need this money.
As I’m driving I get a text from Xander saying that after a taxing day on the beach they are all taking the pilgrimage to Silver Lake to check out the new speakeasy. He invites me to join them. I ignore this, filing it for later. As I’m behind a slow moving mini-van, a number I have listed as “Let’s Do This” pops up on my phone. My old Ford pickup doesn’t have blue-tooth, so I scan my periphery as I put the phone to my ear to make sure there are no signs of police around. My agent starts talking before I say hello.
“Great news, the casting director loved your audition, sent it to the director. He was attending that film festival abroad, which is why it took so long, but guess what… he loved it too! He wants you to come in and sit with the lead actress for a chemistry read. Isn’t that amazing? Do you have a leather jacket? I can bring one for you.”
“Sure, when and where?”
“Raleigh studios on Melrose near the 101, in 45 mins.”
“So now… Now?”
“Yeah, do you have anything else going on right now that’s more important…?”
Will they fire me at the catering company if I call out? Should I celebrate later with a pre-prohibition cocktail now in Silver Lake? Do I dare tell my Mom about this?
This town is not easy, and neither is the trade which I’ve decided to follow. There are moments of brutal hardships and frustration. There are also moments of joy and inspiration and catharsis. While the latter are far less frequent, they are momentous. The only thing that an actor needs is endless amount of inspiration coupled with self-esteem boosters and more than a soupçon of naïveté.
The day reminds me of what the actor’s life in Los Angeles is really like: a slice of humble pie mixed with self-loathing and hope. Outside of the trappings of Southern California (for better or worse), I imagine it isn’t unlike any other market teeming with actors waiting for the phone to ring.
I love this town