Sunday, November 19, 2017

Not Zen 193: Anxious to Perform

Auditions made her sweat. But she wanted to keep acting, so she kept going.

She trembled so much during one casting call that the director marked her feedback card as ‘disability.’ A week later, a different director told her she'd never get a part on television. In the months after, camera crews complained that she was glistening. Nevertheless, after a year of auditions, she managed to land a role as a police detective in a spin-off of a successful crime drama.

It was the sort of production she'd looked down upon early in her stage career. The crime show was full of cliches. But it was full of those cliches with her, a woman, as part of a police force. She tried her best. During the work on the first two episodes, she surprised herself by finding some depth and strength to her character.

For the third episode, she was told she would need to break through a door. She studied the director to see if he was serious. He was. The announcement, coupled with her initial read-through of the script, triggered her anxiety again.

"There's a holiday coming up," the director said after the read-through. "The union says that some of our crew have to have a break. We've decided that everyone will get five days. Sound, stage, and lights crew will meet here next Monday. Cast and makeup report on Tuesday."

Everyone clapped except for her. A break was the last thing she wanted. Her gaze drifted to the nearest door. She knew that the time to think about her stunt would make her performance worse. Even before she walked off the set, she started to think about all of the ways her scene could go wrong.

That evening, she went home and practiced on her apartment door. It was impossible. The wood was solid. It would never break. She tried to be quiet about testing it so her neighbors wouldn't complain but as she tried it over and over, she hurt her shoulder. Now, she realized, she had an injury on top of her impossible stunt on Tuesday.

For the next couple of days, she decided to limit herself to working out at the gym. She focused on not creating more trauma for her left shoulder. Part of her hoped she could make the rest of her body stronger. At the gym, she found a hollow, interior door. She practiced bumping it with her other shoulder, her right one, but she bruised herself. As she struggled to practice without making things worse, she avoided both shoulders and bumped her head. As a result of that, she gave herself a bruise that a makeup artist would have to cover.

She observed her own compulsions about the stunt and wondered if she were mentally ill. But she couldn't stop thinking about it and the ways it would get her fired. Eventually, she realized that she couldn't practice any more.

She devoted the last day of her break to memorizing the script. By the end of a late lunch, she'd memorized her own part and everyone else's.

That night, she tried to sleep. She's only gotten an hour the night before. She knew it was important to get the right rest. Still, her body wouldn't relax. She resorted to doing another workout to build up her strength and expend her nervous energy.

In the morning, she asked her makeup artist if there were anything unusual today for the stunts.

"What stunt are you doing?"

"Just breaking down a door."

"Sometimes there's a special request from the director. Not this time, though. You aren't supposed to get bloody or anything."

"Good." It was reassuring except for how she hadn't considered that before.

When she reported for costume, the women there gave her the standard, generic police uniform outfit.

"I don't need shoulder pads or anything?"

"For what?"

"Breaking down a door."

"No one told me anything, honey. Kick it, I guess."

The script called for a shoulder into the door above the handle. On the set, she wanted to ask if that were really practical but the director went straight to a different scene. That one had a lot of dialogue and she was perfect with it but another actor, critical to the storyline, kept missing his cue. The director demanded retakes and more retakes. Once, she jumped her partner's cue as she got impatient with him. The director seemed sympathetic but he had to remind her to wait and let the conversation happen naturally. Embarrassed, she struggled to be spontaneous. The words came spilling out. Their next take was perfect.

When they finally reached the rescue scene where she had to slam into the door, she got no hints from the director. Instead, she got instructions from the stage crew and the sound man.

She wasn't quite listening to them because she was watching the director talk to someone else. After the crew stopped giving her advice, she tried the latch.

"Hey, the door is really locked," she said in surprise.

"Yeah, you won't have to act that part," said the sound man.

"But how will I get through?"

"Don't worry. Just kick it a couple of times or body slam it, if you're up for it. We built it to give in."

He sounded so calm that it steadied her nerves for a moment. She decided that she liked the sound guy. He looked like Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoons but he had an air of competence that was different. He had an affection for his job and that resulted in his part of the production always going right. He was better muscled than Shaggy. It made his ugly, green t-shirt seem acceptable. He smelled musky, maybe from his sweat, but she didn't mind. She took a deep breath.

There were only four lines in the scene before she had to rattle the doorknob. It felt cold and slick in her hand. Or maybe that was her perspiration. There were two more lines before she had to back up and body slam the door. She did it on her left shoulder, exactly the way she'd trained, and she hit it hard.

She expected to hurt herself. Instead, she tore through the doorframe. The strikeplate pinged as it shot through the air. It hit the sound man, who'd been waiting on the other side of the wall, not part of the scene, just recording it. Her body had so much momentum that she staggered another two steps and tumbled. She landed in a roll and, from her knees, started her lines, "Freeze! Don't move."

She aimed her prop gun at the closest man sitting at the table, who had started to rise from his chair.

"You're under arrest!" she shouted.

Everyone looked shocked. The closest man stopped rising. The other actors slowly lifted their hands above their heads. Her policeman partner, who was supposed to rush in after her, stood in shock for a moment before he remembered his part.

"Great! Great expressions of surprise," said the director as they wrapped up the first take. "We can use those expressions. Remember that. Remember that feeling."

Then he motioned for the stage crew to reset the door. While they did, she decided she'd better apologize.

"Sorry," she told the sound technician, who had gotten hit with the loose strikeplate. "I'm so, so sorry. It wasn't anywhere near as hard as I imagined."

"It's like everything else," said the sound man.

"All of the walls are fake? That can't be right. I've leaned against them. Most of them must be real."

"They're all real in their way. I watched them get built. I wired a bunch. You need to be careful because of the wiring. Remember to ask us if the director wants you to open a hole in one or something. He forgets."

"You mean I could hit a live wire?"

"Just ask us. But for anything else, don't worry. I've seen you get worked up over all the ways things can go wrong. Believe me, all of the barriers are easier to beat than you think."

"You mean on this set." She waved her hand to indicate the sound stage.

"No," he said after he thought about it for a while. "For you, it's all barriers."

No comments:

Post a Comment