Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Impediments Removed

This time of year, I start to look forward to early December. It's become a bit of a tradition for me to travel to Los Angeles for a week or so, where my best buddy Judy employs me to run some movement workshops for her high school actors, and more importantly, I get to hang out with the family I chose.

Several months ago, I arranged for my airline tickets, and just a few weeks ago, I snagged the deal of the year on my rental car (thank you, William Shatner). My trip to LA seemed set in stone, but in my life, that is never really the case. If a job popped up, I would probably have to take it, and abandon plans to spend any time in hedonistic California.

Here in DC, theatre work, generally, does not pop up unexpectedly. The theatres in our region have a deplorable reputation for casting their shows WAAAAAAAAY in advance. As a comparison, consider that, in New York, shows are generally cast roughly 6-8 weeks in advance. Here, it is not uncommon to audition for, and be cast in, a show starting rehearsals a full year from the date of the audition. I kid you not, this happens with frequency. It drives out-of-town actors crazy, and we locals too.

But that routine means that, once I booked my flight to L.A. in August, I was pretty sure I would not have a work conflict in December.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a rather frantic call from one of the suburban theatres, a place where I have worked before, and where they are very good about calling me in for their auditions. This theatre (let's call it "Theatre Oh!") held auditions for their holiday musical last July (five months in advance, see what I mean?), and I attended, was called back, and was not offered employment. No prob, I was already planning my fun-filled jaunt to L.A., and this gig would have interfered.

Fast-forward to that phone call from the other week. Theatre Oh! had lost one of their actors, only a day or two before they were to begin rehearsal. How could an actor bale on a gig so unexpectedly? Well, even though actors in this region are booked many months in advance, the theatres do not usually provide those actors with a contract until the day of the first rehearsal (in violation of union rules, but everybody, including Equity, looks the other way). So, the actor in question had not signed a contract to appear in Theatre Oh!'s holiday show, and he got a last-minute offer from a larger, more prestigious theatre, with a higher profile, a longer contract, and a bigger paycheck. Why wouldn't he take it?

So, I get a call from Theatre Oh!, asking if I was available to begin work immediately; apparently, I was one of the finalists during the initial casting process (I probably lost the pageant during the swimsuit competition). I was available to do the project, but was told my name was going "into the hat" with some others, from which the director, an out-of-town gent, would choose.

"Into the hat"? This sounded like the director was going to pick his replacement actor at random. When a follow-up call did not come in the next 24 hours, I knew my L.A. trip was safe, I was not going to be employed at Theatre Oh! this time around. Four days later, I received confirmation that they had indeed hired somebody else. I had lost the gig. For the second time. An actor's life.

Meanwhile, The Shakespeare Theatre Company, one of the giants in the DC theatre world, called, out of the blue, to invite me to audition for their next Shakespeare, to open in early January. They were looking for an actor to play two smallish roles who would also understudy one of the supporting leads. Here's the unusual circumstances: the show is going into rehearsal in early December, only a month away. Very unusual to still be casting at this point. But that's not the reason this audition call was so unusual. I did my internship for my MFA at The Shakes, spending a full season there. I took class with their leading actors, and appeared in all their shows that year. I consider it a significant portion of my training as a stage actor.

Since finishing that internship 14 years ago, I have never been invited to audition for a specific show at The Shakes. This is not unusual for actors who have interned there. In fact, it was pretty much a given that, if you interned at The Shakes, you would not be considered for actual paid employment unless you moved to New York and were submitted by an agent there. It's as if the theatre did not trust its own training program.

So, you can imagine my astonishment at being called in to read for this play, after having been ignored for 14 years. I prepared my sides, and felt pretty good about things as I was ushered into the audition chamber, a room in which I had spent hundreds and hundreds of hours as an intern. The director for this show was an Out-Of-Town hire, and was in fact out of town during this audition. The folks behind the table, who were to watch the audition, pointed a little Flip camera at me, told me to stand on the big white "X" which had been taped on the floor and to read. The resulting video would be sent to the director in New York for review.

I won't be getting this gig either, which is once again fine with me, as it would have interfered with my L.A. trip. I can always hope, though, that this audition could perhaps put me back into the active actor files at The Shakes.

So, I had two back-to-back opportunities to tank my annual trip to Los Angeles, neither of which came to fruition. Every once in a while, it's good to be an unemployed actor.