I’m in the midst of production insanity. Given that the reasoning behind my efforts is to create quality projects in which I can ACT, through the process I’ve learned a lot about how things work behind the scenes.
Here are some things I’ve noticed in the casting process:
1) Cheap headshots look cheap.
2) Not preparing for an audition is insulting…especially to the writer.
3) If you are bitchy to the sign-in person we will hear about it (duh, he’s a plant) and promptly throw your headshot into the garbage can.
4) Attitude, if sour, will be the deal breaker.
5) Well organized and constructed websites are impressive.
6) Little things, like thank you notes, don’t go unnoticed.
7) Not showing up or calling puts you on a permanent, almost impossible to remove yourself from, blacklist.
Everyone, everyone, everyone is replaceable.
And in general…
Prospective actors are happy, eager and excited to be involved in a project, while prospective crew members are pleased to be asked, but just want to know how much they are going to get paid.
(Exceptions, of course.)
Before I woke up and smelled ominous pallor of my impending late twenties I had a nasty little idea in my head that it is OK to be poor in New York City. In my mind it was acceptable to forsake ones educational and class privilege in the pursuit of being an artist.
Nothing is worse than being in the capital of capitalism with only a piddly chunk of loose change.
When the realization came to me I was working as a bartender at a dive in the West Village. For a year prior to this moment the job had been very profitable; the time-spent-doing-a-side-job-to-money-made quotient was largely in my favor. But then my boss suddenly fell into an ever-widening marijuana haze. As he descended into oblivion he started to hate anyone who did not bend down and kiss his ass. My guess is that he didn’t have enough sense left in him to feel anything else besides the smack of wet flesh on his derrière. I wouldn’t submit to his ploys for attention. My reasoning: If I wanted to concede to morons I would give up art and work in the corporate world. So, as is typical of a non-union job when you fall out of favor with the boss, my shifts were scaled back until I was counting pennies.
One might have gotten a new job. Yes. But one is not as imaginative as I. Instead of going through the demeaning process of looking for a similarly miserable side-job I created a survival mechanism for living on crumbs: I pretended that I was an immigrant girl living in the Great Depression. My family had sent me over from Europe so that I can make money in New York. “A little scrimpin ‘n ay could surely pay for me mum’s voyage to de new land.”
How this translated itself into my life in NYC 2008 was that I started to avoid all non-necessary spending. I didn’t eat at restaurants, stopped drinking even so much as a glass of wine at bars…I was a very boring person in which to spend time. My weekly food bill amounted to the 20 dollars I spent at the farmer’s market every Sunday. I combined the food I bought there into various conconoctions to provide susstenance for the entire week. Poverty brought innovation: carrot top stir fry, radish green salads and other vegetable surprises. However, there was a limit to the number combinations of the measly five or six items that I could afford at the Farmer’s Market. Many afternoons I filled up a bowl of lettuce, sprinkled paprika over the leaves for an exotic taste, then topped the dish off with a boiled egg. Afterwards I would smile, to make light of the pathetic nature of the meal, and say “wow, I’m full.” I wasn’t even close to satisfied, but maybe if I convinced my stomach to feel that way…
There was another reason that I was eating less. An opportunity had presented itself for me to go to Europe to work the modeling market…on condition that I lose some pounds. Because of this external pressure, the reasons for eating like a pauper got mushed up in my starving mind. Was I eating less to loose weight or saving money by eating less? The answer depending on a feminist or my therapist asked me that question. I’m still not sure.
During these dire times every cent that went through my paws was budgeted to stay afloat and out of debt. I abhor credit cards and the debt enslavement system so surviving on plastic was not an option. This situation was further compounded when a good friend set her wedding date and invited me to be in the bridal party. This unfortunate turn of events meant that every extra dollar I earned had to go to fund the infamous bridal party dress and all the trimmings that come with the enterprise. The matrimony was great timing for the waistline, horrible for the morale. It was useful in that I could blame another person for my chosen situation; if it wasn’t for that darned wedding, sure, I would eat more.
At the wedding, which for me was more of a celebration of greater financial freedom (maybe afterwards I could spend 30 dollars a week in food!), I ate two plates of dessert and the rest of Denise’s leg of lamb. My stomach was in revolt against my will to loose weight. “You will not stop shoveling food into your mouth! What if we never get a chance to eat like this again?!” I was eating like a starving artist let loose in a buffet. Oh, wait, I WAS a starving artist let loose into a sumptuous feast. Finally, I had to be controlled. KeriLee pulled me away from the chocolate fountain and stabbed me with her fork to protect her plate. My stomach was happy to be full again, but punished me the next morning by banishing the foreign substances. “What is this thing called fat?”
Since that torrid period I learned the value of wealth and am now in a calculated pursuit to win my piece of the pie. During and after the destitute times I kept my situation a secret, knowing that admission would require me to acknowledge how pathetic my life was.
Recently, I mentioned the situation to my mother. I said: “Ha, ha, hehe – it was so funny when I didn’t have enough money to eat.” My mother looked ill. If my grandmother had been alive and sitting with us at the kitchen table, we would have had to rush her to Long Island Jewish for emergency cardiac surgery. My mother sighed in defeat and said: “You should’a come back home for a night and eeten my food like the rest’a dem.” Meaning my two brothers and a sister who peruse my mother’s cabinets like they’re at Shop Rite: “Ma, where’s the jumbo box of RITZ?”
I had more pride than my siblings, and also a drive to loose weight and survive on my own. I made mistakes, but I also learned how far I will go to pursue my career — never will I let myself suffer again.
The moral of this story is also a valuable lesson to aspiring starving artists: being hungry is only fun until your stomach growls.