Allison Page gives us another peek into her life as an actress, writer, director, comedian.
This is a phone conversation I had with my agent last week, let’s call her Zasu, because that’s a fabulous name.
Zasu: Heyyy, how’s it going?
She would never call to ask how it’s going, she’s about to tell me something about an audition. “How’s it going?” is probably just to make sure I’m alive and she’s not speaking to a corpse.
I’m good at this.
Zasu: Sooo, how was the TV pilot audition yesterday?
Allison: Well, everyone else auditioning for “Crazy Homeless Lady” looked really cute and was about 23 with a bandana tied around their carefully coifed fake dredlocks. I looked like someone who escaped from a high security asylum, I had a stuffed dog under my arm, a squashed cigarette butt in my mouth, dirt smeared on my face and a leather jacket covered in spikes, paint and patches. I think they almost escorted me out of the building.
Zasu: Well whatever you did they loved it!
Allison: …really? Are you messing with me and this is an intervention?
Zasu: No, they loved it! This is a check avail.
A “check avail” is what happens when someone MIGHT want you for a role, but doesn’t know for sure. Possibly because they have to show your audition to some angry bald man who will dismiss you with a wave of his hand because he doesn’t like the way you breathe and suspects you’re a communist sympathizer based on your left shin movements. It really just means you’re going to spend a lot of time waiting for your phone to ring while you eat granola bars all day and avoid going to the bathroom in case the phone rings while you’re peeing and your future falls apart because you drank too much damn Gatorade and just had to go.
Allison: Wow, that’s…awesome! And surprising. But awesome!
Cut to a few days later.
No phones do that anymore.
Zasu: Heyyy, how’s it –
Allison: Great, WHAT IS IT?!?!!
Zasu: Are you available for a table read for the TV show next –
Allison: YES. WHENEVER IT IS, YES!
Zasu: Okay, bye!
4 hours later.
Now I should specify, this is a different “heyyyy”, this “heyyy” has a tone that goes down at the end. Not a good sign.
Allison: WHAT? WHAT HAPPENED?!?
Zasu: They reeaaaally loved you. And that’s SO good.
Allison: Yeah, but this isn’t.
Zasu: No, this isn’t. It was between you and another girl. They went back and forth several times and finally chose her. But they looooove you! People who work at an amazing TV network think you’re hilarious, that’s so good! It’s not what you want to hear right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they cast you in the future.
Allison: I know…thank you Zasu, I gotta go. I need a drink.
Acting is humiliating by its very nature. And by acting, I mean on-camera acting. Stage acting is this sort of cathartic, poetic expression. On-camera acting is more like having your soul tapped like a maple tree to spread soul syrup on your sad pancakes.
Okay, it’s not that bad. It’s just an entirely different animal. Ya know, unless you’re Cate Blanchett or something. And the bulk of ridiculous things people do in those auditions is always astounding to me. I have a friend who had to wear a toilet seat on his face. A few weeks ago I went to an audition wherein all I did was move my hands to suggest someone should adjust the angle of a picture on the wall. Apparently I’m not good enough at pointing because I didn’t get it. I’ve danced with strangers when there was no music playing, chased an imaginary pig through imaginary mud, acted out an allergic reaction for casting directors who spoke only Japanese, sipped a non-existent milkshake over and over again, seduced air (really awkward), had my fingernails examined on film, and had to take several photos of myself at home because they wanted to see whether I was fat enough to look like someone who would need to lose weight. Spoiler alert: I was. Thanks, generic nutritional bars, for helping me fake lose weight! I once got a call while I was sleeping:
Allison: Uhh, hi.
Guy: You auditioned for us yesterday, are you comfortable holding small dogs?
Guy: Thanks, bye.
I didn’t get that one, in case you were wondering. So many things come up that aren’t artistically rewarding, whatever that might mean to you or I. So when someone says “Come audition for this TV show,” and you do, and they’ve called in everyone who breathes, and you somehow get past those people, and you see the light at the end of the tunnel with your name floating in it, and the choir is singing your praises, and you hear “Check avail, check avail, CHECK AVAAAAIL!” (to the tune of “Monorail” from The Simpsons) It’s just the best feeling, because finally the drudging is paying off. Someone up there likes you and you’re about to be able to say “Look! Look at me! I’m homeless on TV and drunkenly calling a bunch of guys a bad name on the sidewalk!” You get really, really excited. And then it doesn’t happen. And then you think, “Hold on, why was I so excited to have three lines in this show? Did I really think that would validate me? That was silly. It wasn’t even that important…pass the bourbon.”
Most of the time, live theatre keeps me chugging along through the trials and tribulations of on-camera work. There’s something so satisfying about a live audience. Something that cannot be replaced by some anonymous face behind a camera saying, “Now do it like your eyelids are on fire and your grandma stole your Chex Mix.” The sounds of “check avail” will never be better than the reactions of a live audience who don’t give a shit if you’re comfortable holding a small dog.
Which isn’t to suggest that if my phone rang right now and Zasu told me that the other girl spontaneously combusted and could I be there in 15 minutes, that I wouldn’t do it. Because I would. And I would bring my own small dog and hold it up over a cliff.
This is the circle of actor life, and it moves us all.