As promised.

So, here’s a little understudy story of my own.* This is a post I wrote for my personal blog back in 2003, when I was still living in New York. I apparently did not believe much in capital letters. The NAC is the National Arts Club: I was the company manager for a theater company that produced staged readings of one-act plays there. Looking back on this story, I realize that it’s a nice glimpse into an actor’s journey in New York.** So here it is —

last night i had an incredibly surreal experience.

the story actually starts yesterday afternoon, after the show at the NAC, when i received a message from the producer of a moderately successful showcase, currently playing in the west village. in the message she said that her show was rolling over into an off-broadway contract, and the actor who had played all the male roles in the showcase had given her a verbal agreement that he would stay through the extension, but decided to walk at the last minute, that last minute being yesterday, the first day of the extension. so she calls me, because someone had given her my name and said i’d be perfect (which i am — basically four distinct character roles, a little virtuosity, some bits, etc.). she also says that the roles are small enough that i can learn them off stage while waiting for the next scene. anyway, that’s the extent of the message: off-broadway contract, with serious backers looking to move the show, for the taking, starting tonight. so i deliberate for a while — my best friend is producing and directing the showcase i’m currently committed to, and leaving him to do this right now means no one goes on in fashion tomorrow (today). so i call her back, and i say flat out, i’m doing another show, but why don’t i come in tonight, if you still need someone, and see what there is to see, if it’ll be worth my while, etc, and we’ll decide commitment sometime (shortly thereafter). sidebar: i have developed a small reputation for ringing shows, so i don’t feel like this will be too difficult a task… she says great, meet us at the theatre at 6:30, we’ll give you a script, put you through the blocking, dress you, etc. so i do a little internet research, whereby i find middling reviews, and discover it’s only a 2 week extension, meaning not an off-broadway contract, rather a mini-contract. first bell goes off in my head.

i get to the theatre and they’re blocking another actress in, who i find out was a replacement made monday. second bell: why are so many actors leaving an equity contract that only goes 2 more weeks with the possibility of extending into a longer more lucrative run? i’m met by the asst. stage manager who gives me a script, and i’m clothed by the costume designer, and the other guys costumes fit perfectly… seems like a good match. as i’m trying on shoes, (all but one pair fit well), and looking at the considerably more than off-stage-learnable dialogue, i get called to the stage for a meeting with the equity rep about the show’s rollover from showcase to mini- and what that means. there seems to be a lot of animosity by the cast toward the producer, and i’m curious as to why… seems some showcase codes have already been breached and the contracts are late for signing. (she’s not there, equity rules preclude the producer’s attendance from meetings of this nature.) anyway, we fill out insurance cards, even though i may or may not be staying on… (as the third bell has just clanged inside my skull), but if i am, i want my work to count toward insurance so the rep says sign. as i’m not signing a contract tonight, i’m not committing.

at about quarter to eight, the lead and i start going through the blocking with the director. at this point i learn that there is nudity in the scene, primarily because the scene starts with raucous simulated sex. oh, did i mention the show is about a lovable nymphomaniac? so i say, i guess so, and off we go… we get through the blocking of about 3/4 of the show by about 8:15 at which time we open the house (way late!), and i go backstage to get (un)dressed, and get the rest of the blocking on paper. i’m asked if i need to go on on book (bell #4). with no actual rehearsal? ummm… yeah.

places, and i go on, on book… we have placed pages throughout the set for me to periodically pick up, if necessary. we have the fake sex and do the scene, and i find myself continually asking the ASM what clothes i wear next and where’s my next entrance. sometimes while onstage the lead whispers what the next blocking is. it ends up being a fun adventure, but by the time it’s over, it’s all gone pretty fast, and well, what the hell do i know? i’ve only been here a couple of hours. i take my bow, in my underpants, as that’s all the last scene left me with… (for reference, the lead character spends about 50 percent of the play at least partially naked), and go backstage and dress, thinking, what a stupid play.

time now for another meeting, this one with the producer to negotiate riders for the contract. i’ve pretty much decided not to do it, by now, but i’m still a little on the fence — it is, after all, an equity gig. so we meet, and the producer goes ballistic on the cast re: the riders, and becomes really abusive. (loud alarum bells!) she is coaxed out of the room, and i’m told how good i was, am i going to stay, etc. i tell them about my other commitment, and say, frankly, after what i just saw i’m not inclined to stay. as one, they all say, we tooooootally understand… a couple even say, get out while you still can.

so i did. i called alex again to tell him the story, leave the abbreviated version on his machine to say i’m staying with fashion, go home and hang out with pinky and my dear college friend swingchop, who’s staying with us for a couple of days. this morning, i got up, dressed for the NAC show, which was to be directed by mr arthur miller. i get to the office, and receive a call at 9:11 (little treo bells) fully one hour before i’m supposed to call the producer with my decision. it’s her, and i politely pass, thanking her for the opportunity, and passing on good wishes for the rest of the run. somewhat guiltily, i give her another actor’s phone number, and wonder sullenly, if somehow i haven’t just sabotaged my career yet again.

as in: did it have legs? could it have moved? would it have been so bad? my gut answers: no. no. yes. but somewhere the little actor that’s been turning down paid work periodically due to commitments downtown thinks: sucker!

anyway. at least i’ve got a new bumper sticker out of it. certainly the old one still applies: ACTORS DO IT ON STAGE. but even more appropriate: ACTORS DO IT ON BOOK.


*There are actually more stories of me ringing shows, but this one is the most fun. (And, thanks to my previous blogging habit, the most recorded.)

**Which is why I left in all the angst at the end about my career choices, etc. We can talk more about that over a beer.


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