|pajama party -- guest entry by Dan||
22 October 2002
I felt suddenly, unexpectedly lighter than air. I was slipping into a black sedan, slipping into a dream. The Los Angeles landscape passing by my window was like my erratic consciousness, blinking with neon awareness between mundane travel details and my bizarre, dream-like mission. I felt strained and excited. My thoughts lingered on Damian, my four year-old son. Hed just gone to sleep after a long day of playing with frogs and airplanes. I wondered if he would see his leapfrogging daddy floating though the dreamclouds above his head as I jetted to the east coast.
Id spent the last week assembling editing scenes for the upcoming Halloween episode of the television series Im currently working on. How strange to imagine that Id soon be injecting myself into this world. Id accomplish this with the help of a very large hypodermic needle, built by Boeing and furnished by U.S. Airways.
The plane lifted off so smoothly from the runway that I wondered at the pilots identity. This was no cowboy. Had anyone watching my show ever for a moment been so effortlessly transported by the editing that they wondered who I was? For once, theyd see. For once, I wasnt just behind the scenes, but in front as well. How strange to imagine that my acting and technical credit would be completely identical same role, same person responsible. How often has that happened?
It was already midnight three A.M. really, where I was heading, and I was nowhere near sleep. I tried to dampen the strange ball of fluctuating emotions in my stomach with several glasses of Merlot. The steward was all to happy to oblige; my glass seemed to refill nearly before I had emptied it. I was giddy, fearful, tearful and in shock. I kept hoping I would latch on to one elusive feeling and hold onto it. I might have just as well hoped to handcuff a snake. Even as my head began to clear, my body twitched with irrepressible nervous energy.
This was an unimagined fantasy. A modest one, perhaps, to the many channel surfers of the world: a mere few moments of screen time, a couple dozen spoken words. If were each allotted ten minutes of fame, Id reckon Im owed another seven. But it was a big first for me, an opportunity to dabble in a profession that has alternately seduced and repelled me for most of my life: acting. It was an opportunity Id pay a price for in lost time at my day job, but one I couldnt pass up.
Flying though night and into morning blurs the line between sleep and consciousness. Had I slept, or married into a large Greek family? Was there a credit roll at the end of my dream? The woman seated next to me wore a two piece outfit printed with an oriental bamboo pattern that looked for all the world like pajamas. Good idea, I found myself thinking. Im traveling to Dreamland I should have a uniform, too. My producers had given me every other possible perk: a driver, a first class ticket. Why not a cozy set of flannels?
My executive producer has a long history of discovering and nurturing talent. Nearly all the stars of the series were virtually pulled from obscurity; some staff writers had their first shot on this show. Its a role he clearly enjoys, and I became a lucky beneficiary when, during a story meeting in which the writers added the character of an editor, they remembered that I was currently studying acting. No, I hadnt asked for a role. I nearly left the series a year earlier when a producer promised me the same opportunity on another show. That didnt pan out, to say the least, and I ended up pounding the cold pavement for my next gig. I was very fortunate when my old boss hired me back. I still have a roof over my head to show for it.
I was awake again, or was I dreaming the cool morning air? I found myself in another airport, waiting for another plane.
And then, sitting at a gate.
Then, sitting on a plane.
It landed with a bump. Had it already taken off? I staggered off, found my way to the lobby; found a payphone. I hadnt dropped the quarter before a large grey-haired man asked for my name. Hed been sent by production to drive me to my hotel.
Clearly, this was not reality. People unknown to me knew my name and where to find me. Not only that, they took me where I wanted to go without my asking. Before I knew it, I was entering a hotel lobby, where the desk clerk was presenting me with a key and a gift basket. I reflected on the strangeness of a culture that rewards you for your good luck.
But it was all a dream, after all. I might just as well enjoy it, because I was sure to wake up soon.
I began to unpack. I quickly realized that I was missing one of the four reels of video Id brought with me for tomorrows video playback. The film that would be a part of my scene tomorrow. Had I brought it with me? Had it disappeared in the piles of laundry I had sorted through while packing? I called home, work, everyone but 911. Reality was returning in a huge, rude tsunami, preparing to sweep away this extraordinary opportunity in a wall of shame. No one would be wishing me well now. Id likely have to play my scene with a paper bag over my head.
My assistant called from L.A. "Dan, you have the film with you. There are only three reels."
Somehow in my fear of being unprepared Id imagined a fourth reel that never existed. The beauty of sheer panic is that the relief that follows promotes deep, restful sleep, even under the most pressured circumstances. I slept well for three hours. Now Id be functional for the rest of the day.
The afternoon was spent meeting people Id known only by name for the last five years. Our line producer, our associate producer. I meet the makeup and wardrobe staff, and was given a Halloween costume for my final scene. I sat in on a production meeting with a member of the cast. A face Id only seen previously in two dimensions. Familiar and yet unfamiliar. I went to the edit bay stage and set up the playback. I was doing the same editing on nearly the same equipment that I might do back home. Only it wasnt for real. It was part of this big pretend. But since I was doing what I normally do, Id be pretending to pretend.
I had dinner with my aunt. Shes lived in this town some twenty or thirty years, and I hadnt visited since I was a teenager. I was in a place both unfamiliar and yet, dimly familiar from boyhood memory; I had the sense that I might awaken at any minute. We sat on the outdoor porch, and I experienced yet another familiar yet strange sensation: being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Oddly, I was grateful for all the distractions, since the thought of shooting tomorrow was making me increasingly nervous.
I retreated to my hotel room at about 10:30 PM, unable to relax. I called Tamar, I flipped channels on the TV. I imagined what Id confront tomorrow: a room full of strangers; the peculiar metal machine pointed at my head; someone yelling "Shoot!" Would I remain sitting lifelessly in my chair, or could I rouse my spirit to defy this terrible firing squad? I finally decided that the only way Id sleep would be to befriend my demons. I did so by sitting at my laptop and pounding out my stream of consciousness thoughts:
Its almost midnight on the east coast, and Im sitting alone in a hotel room feeling very nervous and vulnerable. Scared, frankly. About what? A few lines of dialog, easy to cut around if the performance isnt great. Why am I so nervous? I was reading a book about the explorer Roy Chapman Andrews on the plane coming east, and he describes witnessing prisoners being wheeled out to a public square for an execution, and it struck a nerve. Performing is like a public execution, and if you bleed people enjoy your pain. Thats kind of it, isnt it? Nothing more interesting for people to talk about and enjoy than other peoples failures. Seeing others fail makes you feel better than, brave than, smarter than, more clever than. Is it the failure that does it, or whether I own it or not? Because if I own the mistake I take away the opportunity for someone else to feel smarter than me for seeing it first. So let myself feel vulnerable, and dont run away from it. ADMIT TO YOURSELF THAT YOURE NERVOUS, AND OWN THAT FEELING. IM SCARED. IT MIGHT SEEM A LITTLE DUMB TO YOU, BUT YOU MIGHT BE SCARED OF SPIDERS, OR FEINT AT THE SIGHT OF BLOOD. We all have our phobias, and my biggest is revealing myself. And yet the more I do, the more I discover how interesting I can be in all my weirdnesses and quirks. Its just like [my acting teacher] says being nervous is being alive!!! Life is challenge!! The trick is learning to embrace the risks, so that we get the rewards as well!! No risk, no payoff. It will go fine tomorrow. Better than fine. Have fun, and be interesting, and have a life and activity in each scene probably the most important thing.
I awoke the next morning feeling rested and calm. Strangely so. I made coffee and ate cookies from my gift basket. My stomach felt fine, but I wasnt hungry. Transpo picked my up at eight sharp. I was brought to a trailer with three dressing rooms. Each one had a shower, toilet, TV, VCR, CD player and couch. I felt like I was sitting on the bosss big leather chair, feet on desk, about to be found out. My costumes were neatly laid out on the sofa. Theyd bought new sneakers in my size just for the scene, since wardrobe hadnt any in my size. It was wonderful to be awake, breathing the sweet morning air, exhilarated and relaxed and in the moment.
If you want to send Dan mail about this entry, write him at daniel (at) berkeleyplace dot com.
copyright 2001 Tamar