Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Real Stuff

Yesterday I auditioned for a 'guest starring' role on the television program, 'Parks and Recreation.' This is a program I've seen a few times. I like it. It's in the style of 'The Office' or 'Reno 911,' lots of 'takes' to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, etc. Some witty writing, good, loose, free-wheeling acting style, a clever and smart show.

Before I went in for the read, I did my homework, of course. I took a look at some of the recent, 3rd season shows, got a feel for the humor, studied some of the plot lines...and then memorized my stuff and drove over to Hollywood and did it for the casting director (who, incidentally, was great, very pleasant). The character calls for someone with a 'bad haircut.' And of course when I walked in I saw all these character actors, roughly my age, with, well, bad haircuts. Some had done their hair in a sort of 'comb over,' some had rugs on, and some really DID have bad haircuts.

This sort of thing makes my eyes roll up into my head. It's what I call the 'lab coat' syndrome. That is to say, some time ago I was called in for the role of a Doctor in some show or movie (can't remember now what it was, frankly). And when I got there, every last guy in the room had a damn lab coat on. A couple even had a stethascope slung around their shoulders. Another time, when I first got to LA, I was sent out to a read for a music video shoot (I was naive then - these days I never accept those auditions) that required a 'priest.' When I got there, everybody had on a priest's outfit. Every last one. A couple of the people there actually WERE priests.

I refuse to buy into this phenomenon. For one thing, it's embarrassing. And for another, it's just dumb. I imagine a conversation like this in the Casting Director's office after the audition: "Well, hm. Both were very good actors, I guess. But the one guy, well, he had that lab coat on. My gut tells me to go with him. He LOOKED like a doctor, after all."

Balderdash. I simply can't believe the casting of roles in this town is as infantile as that. But on the other hand, maybe it is. Well, I won't get those roles, then.

Now don't get me wrong. If the role is described as a 'businessman,' yes, I will wear a suit to the audition. If the role is a 'cowboy,' yes, I'll wear jeans and boots. But that's about it. Any further becomes humiliating.

It all reminds me of one of my first professional gigs. I was in my early twenties, living in NYC and I was offered and accepted a job in Kentucky at a summer stock theater. Actually turned out to be a good thing because I made a few lifelong friends from that gig. But anyway, one of the shows they were doing that summer was a 'frontier musical' set in the 1830s in Kentucky. To this day it is the worst piece of writing for the stage I have ever encountered and that is really saying something. But that's beside the point. In a letter, a couple of months before I left NY to head down to KY, I was asked to 'bring all my buckskins.' The letter went on to say for me not to worry because I would be financially compensated if the theater decided to use 'any personal buckskins' on stage. I wrote back, "Let me get this straight. You want me to bring ALL my buckskins?" They must not have found that amusing because they never answered that letter.

A couple of my friends who have been in LA for quite awhile, been in the trenches, kicking and biting to get roles, tell me this is a relatively new thing, this 'dressing up as the character' silliness. And, what's more, there are, now and again, in the breakdowns ('breakdowns' are the information sent to agents and managers so that they might submit their clients more suited for the available roles), actual instructions to WEAR clothes that might fit the character. Again, I simply ignore these instructions. It indicates an appalling lack of imagination on the casting director's part. Of course, none of the 'real' casting directors ever ask for this, the CDs that cast on the big time level, I mean. This is something only the ham and eggers do.

All of this is further complicated by the plethora of 'reality shows' out there. I never go on those auditions, either. Nothing could interest me less. So, these 'reality based' programs throw their hat in the ring of breakdowns. They routinely call for 'real doctors' or 'real cowboys' or 'real midgets with one leg slightly longer than the other and who work as a fireman.' The sad thing is, hundreds of midgets with one leg longer than the other who work as firemen actually show up. It's a tough town.

I have to memorize a long, long monologue today for a feature I'm shooting next week. I hate memorizing words. I think Brando had it right. Just put an earpiece in and have someone read the words into your ear during the shoot. Of course, he was Brando and people let him get away with that. I'm not, however, so I have to learn these frickin' words. And that's what I'm about to do right now.

See you tomorrow.

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