I wrote an entire blog, reaching my climactic ending, to only have it completely erase with one click of the wrong button. It was not an easy blog to write and as I ramble, I truly wonder if it’s worth revisiting. I hate the Internet sometimes. I equally hate my stupidity in not copying and saving drafts, as I typed a rather verbose narrative about my recent exploits as an up and coming commercial actor (ha). I think I’ll continue my recount of such adventures, but without the bells and whistles. Maybe with the attention deficit disorders that most of us face in the era of apps, Twitter, and word limits, this blog will be more enjoyable because of my error.
First I had discussed the alleged benefits of aging, one of which being that time makes us more equipped to deal with challenges and prevail with confidence and understanding. Regression is only considered normal when we reach the point of Depends, dementia, and dentures. Yet, I’ve managed to regress at an unnatural pace, skating backwards faster than I ever accelerated forward at the high cost of… performance anxiety.
Last year was a great year for me and lucrative because of my recent transition into the commercial world. I typically worked as a model, hand-model, background, or stand-in. Being in commercials is often the equivalent of winning the lotto. For one day of minimal work, you can receive surprise increments of money in the hundreds of dollars years later. It’s the starving artist’s dream. It’s anyone’s dream really, to keep receiving money for something that took a few hours out of your life. But there’s something that’s stood in the way of me and booking the coveted commercial principal role. A principal can be as simple as a model dancing around in fashionable accessories in a JcPenney ad to a woman giving a testimonial on how great her most dreaded week of the month is thanks to Midol. I can dance and smile, but my delivery of commercial copy sucks. My auditioning technique has been equally challenged, as my former carefree attitude has dissolved and been replaced with a girl who comes off as an uninspired, neurotic, poorly-programmed robot. The stakes feel so much higher once I realized how much more I have to gain. It’s equally hard to suppress my innate sarcasm, cynicism, and smart-ass persona. But show me the money, such vivid visions of residuals dancing in my head, and I know I can pull it off. Or so I hope.
To sharpen my particularly dull skills, I recently joined the SAG Conservatory and signed up for the first commercial monologue class on the schedule. The morning of the class, my anxiety began and I downed two cups of jet-black coffee to get the verve to go. The moment I stepped into the studio, the caffeine hit my blood stream and my neurons became so electrified I could have provided energy to all the studio lights and equipment. The class was filled with a handful of veteran actors and as I entered, an equally nervous older lady instructed me to head to the office supply room and grab a cue card. All the cards were sandwiched in the back of the room, impossible to loosen, so I selected the closest one that was age-appropriate.“I like cottage cheese. Sometimes I dress it up with a piece of fruit or lettuce, but mainly, I really like cottage cheese.” I actually hate cottage cheese. But while I also hate radishes stuffed with cream cheese, I had no problem chewing on a dozen of them for a Philly Cream Cheese commercial last summer. That’s why it’s called acting, right?
I returned to the studio and the teacher, an older man with a personality flavoured by his native New York roots and old school show biz influences, welcomed me. I became a wall flower, as each student stepped before on the mark, lit by an array of stage lights, as a camera recorded each reading and broadcast it to the entire class. The teacher sat to the left of the camera, acting as director with tips and comments. While I should have focused on memorizing the copy, my mind raced with demeaning thoughts, “What the hell is wrong with me? This is easy! I make my money in front of the camera. People are dying in mines and busting ass to put food on the table for their five children and I’m worrying about how difficult it is to read a few paragraphs about cottage cheese into a camera lens with absolutely nothing at stake? I’m pathetic.”
“Michelle?” Michelle? You’re up.” I gathered my cue card, wondering how the hell I was going to simultaneously read all this copy while looking into the camera and convincing myself that I love cottage cheese. I took my mark as my nervous, coffee-laden stomach began to spasm at the thought of indulging in a spoonful of chunky, curdled milk. I slated and just began to read, stumbling over the copy as my voice involuntarily rose and trembled, bringing me back to the first time I auditioned for the select choir in high school before a panel of senior members. It may have been one of the worst readings of my life, but my new teacher just paused and told me to take a deep breath and be careless towards the opinion of the other actors in the class. That I should just read freely. I did, in the most boring, uninspired reading of the day, making progress only in reclaiming my voice.
The teacher smiled tenderly and was actually… nurturing. Prior acting teachers in college were harsh bulldogs, one of whom resembled Joy Behar in demeanor and dressed like a junior high basketball coach. He commented on how great I appeared on camera, noting my beautiful bone structure, and all I could think was, “Great, I’m the pretty dumb girl who photographs well for a few short years before wrinkles take over her face and she resorts to extensive amounts of plastic surgery before looking like the cat lady, all in an effort to preserve her one redeeming and marketable quality.”
“Take a deep breath and repeat after me,” he encouraged. “I love you.” I looked at him, an eyebrow raised not by the absurdity of telling this sixty-plus year old man that I loved him, but exactly how was I supposed to do this? Does he want me to mimic his tone, his delivery, his infections? Fuck. What am I doing here?
I decided to mirror him entirely. “I love you,” I flatly responded. He continued and fifteen, “I love yous” later he inquired, “Now don’t you feel wonderful? Isn’t it nice to hear those words?”
My sarcasm returned and I smirked. “Well, it depends who’s saying it.” As for saying it, well, I was never one to throw those words around liberally unless talking to an animal or inanimate object. He ignored my reservations and instructed me to read the copy and say, “I love you,” whenever he moved the television remote up and down. And thus he played me in a way many a man may has dreamed of doing (or many a creepy man has). It was inevitable for my nerves to be replaced with a genuine smile, though my reading still sucked. I just can’t love cottage cheese enough. But with enough time I may be able to fake it. At the very least, I’m hoping to eradicate these overwhelming tendencies to get nervous in lieu of just having fun and eventually making more money.
It led me to wonder about the great aspects of a human life. How our fears can ebb and flow, taking me back to the first time I ever danced in a recital and was holding my stomach in every photo taken before the performance. “My tummy just feels funny,” I had told my grandmother as she continued to shoot Polaroid after Polaroid.
“Those are just butterflies, Michelle. You’re supposed to have them,” she explained. Somehow, maybe because I was so young, it made sense and I just accepted it. But as I get older, my expectations for myself continue to rise and my acceptance of nerves and flaws has waned. If we don’t except our flaws, however can we accept our assets? They’re all parts of the same make and model. And while I constantly learn new things and pick them up easily, I find the things that matter the most to me are what cause the greatest strife and challenges. The magnetism of a challenge has kept me on this path for so long. And hopefully, next week, I won’t suck so badly.