• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


A Winter Struggle

Working, and fighting a bad bug.

February 23, 2014

As noted here, I have been struggling with the lingering aftereffects of a bad bug. I am chronically tired and just congested enough to make my voice sound funny. I prefer to attribute the longevity of this malaise to the extreme and erratic weather we have had this winter, rather than to its actual probable cause—the fact that I have been running around like a teenager rather than recharging my batteries like a sensible golden ager — but in any case I have been trying to get more rest, which entails turning down some acting work.

Last winter, when I first started auditioning again, after a break of about 30 years, I was so grateful to be chosen for any sort of work that I accepted everything that was offered. This led to some fascinating experiences and some friendships and professional associations that have grown and solidified over the years, but it is not a viable lifestyle in the long run. Lately I have limited my involvement to one film/commercial/PSA and/or one rehearsed live show at a time. I have reduced my participation in student films, which I miss—they tend to be among the most original and emotionally authentic, and least pretentious, projects I am involved with, but they also take a lot of time, because the directors and crew are just learning their craft, so more mistakes are made and more scenes need to be re-shot multiple times. And—hardest to enforce—if I am feeling depleted, I need to turn down all offers, no matter how attractive.

Last Monday night I came home from work so tired I felt sick. Just before I went to sleep an email popped up inviting me to be a "featured extra" (that is, not the subject but someone who gets significant camera time) in a commercial for a well known advertising agency. The catch was that I needed to be on set, in full makeup and dress, at 8:30 the following morning. Regretfully, I declined.

Tuesday morning I awoke early and full of energy. I wondered what I had been thinking the night before, turning down good, paid work. So I took a chance and emailed again, saying that I actually was available if they still wanted me. I hadn't heard anything by 9, so I figured they had found someone else. I washed the goop off of my face, threw on my "improv pajamas"—faded jeans, a wrinkled sweater, and combat boots—and headed for my class, donning my comfortable but traffic splashed down coat with the zipper that has been detaching, and which I haven't been able to get fixed because every time I pack it up to take to the tailor it snows again.

Predictably, if this were a sitcom, as I walked into class I got a text that yes, they still wanted me, could I come to Grand Central Terminal immediately? I did an about-face.

The other 5 actors looked like models. They were immaculately dressed and groomed. The director and casting person were very nice, telling me I looked fine when I apologized for my appearance, but I was pushed to the back of all the shots, understandably.

Last winter I met a casting coach who advised me to think of every class, every interaction with someone in the field, as an audition, a chance to make a positive impression that could lead to my advancement. I hated this advice at the time, as it seemed to reduce both the art and the humanity to transactions; to replace the opportunity to take risks, fail, and learn from the experience, and to make an authentic human connection, with pressure to be safe and acceptable. But I begin to see the wisdom of showing up as my best self, at least with my clothes clean and ironed and my zipper in place, if I am to show up at all.


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