In college, spring of my senior year, we took a class that was about planning your life as an actor.
- Where were you planning on moving?
- Who are the casting directors in that town?
- What is rent like?
- What kind of day jobs you can have?
I remember our professor also asking us to define our "NO" line for work BEFORE we are desperate for a job, and strapped for cash. Will you play a character who smokes if you don't? Will you eat meat if you're a vegetarian? What's your comfort level on nudity?
A few years out of college, I was offered an extra job on a Taco Time commercial. The crew needed people to stand in while they were lighting the scene, so I happily sat in a booth and chatted with the person next to me. The director came up to me and was like "Would you be interested in being promoted to a principal in this commercial?" "Sure!" I said. "You have a face for high def!" Well, thank you Mr. Director! They took me to the principal trailer, updated my wardrobe and makeup and I shot in the very spot that I had been sitting as a stand in. They handed me Mexi-Fries, then beef burritos to "bite and smile" and then spit into a bucket. Spitting out the food is done to avoid filling up, and to cut time on chewing and swallowing. At this point, I hadn't eaten beef in 6 or 7 years. I had seen Supersize Me, and decided I was done with burgers, but in that moment, I figured "what the heck, I'm not swallowing it." (insert naughty joke here).
Recently I discovered I have a new no line...at least for the moment. I can't even audition for anything with a dying parent. Or something with someone dying of cancer. Or caring for a parent. (Even though I not his primary caretaker. His wife does an amazing job at that)
A theatre company did Wit recently, and while I know it's a wonderful play, we're coming up on the 10 year anniversary of my mom's death, and she died of ovarian cancer. So that was out. Another company posted auditions for an adult daughter taking care of her father. That one is out too. My dad now has stage 4 cancer, and initially was given a 50/50 chance of making it to a year. It's been 2 1/2 years, and that whole time, I've carried a weight of "any moment." I already know how hard it is to lose a parent, and I have to do it again. Any moment now. Or not. Maybe it'll be weeks, months, possibly a year, but that seems unlikely.
I'm currently rehearsals for Charlotte's Web. Pigs are my favorite animal, and the director is a friend of mine, so I thought it would be a fun show to do.
The show is about death.
Wilbur is threated to be killed in the first 2 pages of the script because he's a runt, then it's all about fattening him up to kill and eat. The very reason Charlotte spins the web is to try to prevent his death! And I am the one at the end of the play who says, "Charlotte died."
Now, I did read the play before accepting the role. In that moment I thought, "Wow, what an important responsibility to have for this play." But when rehearsals started, I couldn't make it through that passage without crying. I've figured out how to get through it, but am crossing my fingers that my dad stays stable through the run of the show.
Perhaps in the future, when it's not so raw, I'll be able to use this life experience to deepen my connection with a character, but for now, I think it's okay to protect myself a little from doing something too close to home.