This episode is dedicated to Kathleen Dennehy, who I met when we were both so, so young, during rehearsals at a Community Theater and whose life has become the stuff that would make Shakespeare applaud. I know I do. Read all about it in her blog here.
Week Four found me developing a mild dislike for our Turned-Out-To-Be-Canadian-Not-Mid-Western teacher, Jaret Sacrey and the beginning of a strong hatred for Canada in general, especially after I entered WEEK ONE of Killian’s Adult Commercial Workshop.
This week was our last week and we were told that we would be doing a re-run of the Amex spot from WEEK ONE, to be taped (of course) and distributed to agents so that those of us un and/or under represented, might be signed.
This was a terrific opportunity, graciously provided by Killian, who we still hadn’t met.
Jaret had told us about it at the beginning of the Course, but at the time I was still so overwrought by the traffic and the parking signs and the evil Valets at the corner, that it had slipped my mind. But he refreshed it at the end of class on WEEK THREE, so we knew what we were walking into, so all was well.
Unfortunately, that is all I thought we would be doing, but Jaret and I’m sure to some extent, Killian, had other things in mind.
Like a particularly idiotic spot poached from a pivotal scene in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind” where we, instead of gaping in shock and awe at the sight of an extremely large and heretofore undocumented Flying Saucer, were to affect the same reaction for some SUV that had just come from the clouds or outer space or over the hill or someplace that I really can’t remember because once again my brain froze after Jaret gave us our group instructions.
The other spot we were given involved Shakespeare, Community Theater and 8 Seconds. In that order.
Now my brain likes Shakespeare quite a lot, so it was pretty happy.
Until the You-Think-All-Canadians-Are-Nice-But-You’d-Be-Wrong teacher, Jaret, told us we had to do the death scene from Romeo and Juliet in 8 seconds or less.
The reason (and he told me when I asked him – before the slate, which I’ll explain eventually) had something to do with a man reviewing the highlights of his entire life, and this 8 second snippet of a Community Theater performance of Romeo and Juliet seems to have made the list. Why anyone would ever mount a Community Theater performance of Shakespeare is beyond me. Those plays are long, and even watching a Joe Papp Production can be exhausting.
Shakespeare uses a lot of words even when he is being brief. I just think that’s how they spoke in those days, most likely because they had more time than we seem to today. I can’t even imagine how Bill would handle a tweet, nowadays.
“Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
“Dude, where u at?”
Anyway, we were paired up, one to play Romeo and one to play Juliet and then we reversed roles, so that at least at some part of the exercise you got to lie down – for at least 8 seconds.
It was kinda fun watching the replay on the monitor. It’s very easy to mangle Shakespeare, even on a good day, and this was not one of them.
At the end of the Course, I thought I understood why we were given such bizarre commercials to attempt as novices. With commercials and the auditions you hope to attend, you just never know what you are going to walk into. You usually do not get the copy beforehand, as you usually do with theatrical auditions, because the Ad Agencies don’t want other Ad Agencies to know what they’re doing.
You’ve seen Mad Men, so I really shouldn’t have to explain this to you.
Unlike what happened next, which still mystifies me and still makes me smile when I think about it.
Did I mention that besides myself and one other women who was around my age, everyone else in the class was roughly 25? I think I did.
Which means, if you do the math, which was never my strong subject, they were born in 1992, shortly before the turn of the century and all that Y2K hoopla. Ross Perot announced his run for the Presidency, Wayne’s World premiered, Madonna was still charting and I was 36 years old.
So I was old, even if I had taken this class in 1992.
After we had finished with Shakespeare and just before I thought we were going to be tossed back into the cold cruel world of Commercial Auditions, with fresh knowledge and roughly 8 hours of newly minted classroom experience, in walked the Man himself.
The Man whose name alone had struck terror into the hearts and minds of many, many of my acting compatriots. The Man whose class, Scott Sedita, my personal Wizard of Hollywood, had recommended to me, along with the words, “If you survive, it will be good for you.” The Man who presumably had penned the extensive email that had thrown me into a neurotic meltdown of such epic proportions that I will no longer eat at ANY restaurant that is 1) Situated on a corner and 2) Employs Valets.
He walked into class, and started pacing, just like he had done on the video that had featured the Sneaky Canadian Jaret Sacrey, which had lulled me into the false sense of security that would dissolve mere moments after stepping through the doors on the not-so-trendy-and-would-never-be stretch of Melrose Ave in Hollywood.
He began talking, but to be honest, I have no recollection of what he said until he turned on the monitor and I braced myself for what, I wasn’t sure, but thought it would be really, really, really bad. Perhaps a frame by frame critique of everything we had tried, stumbled through or totally forgotten in our on-camera commercial performances.
Instead he turned on a video of Eartha Kitt, singing “C’mon A My House”.
Now I adore Eartha Kitt and I could listen to her sing all day, every day. In 1956, when I was born, she was already 31, so she would have been almost as old to me then as I was to the kids in my Foundation Class, now. And to the kids in my Foundation Class, well, they were not even born when she appeared as Catwoman in Batman – and I’m talking about the original TV series with Adam West and the Boy Wonder. Aside from a couple of Disney Animated films in the 2000’s, I am pretty sure that none, if any of the kids in my class knew who they were watching, and perhaps more to the point, why.
I have to admit I was a little confused myself.
“C’mon A My House” is a weird little song, even when it was made famous by Rosemary Clooney, Aunt to George. It was a weird little song to have become a hit, with a weirder background: written by William Saroyan, a playwright who once refused the Pulitzer prize for one of his plays but did accept an Oscar for one of his screenplays, and his Armenian Cousin. Bill married a woman named Carol who eventually divorced him and married Walter Mathau. What went on in Hollywood in those days I can’t imagine.
Anyway, I remember the song in some movie or some precursor to music videos musical short, I can’t remember which, where Rosemary Clooney played a singer asked to audition with a song written by an Italian – a song nobody else could articulate. Why they didn’t ask an Italian singer to audition is beyond me, but they brought in an Irish Broad who, in the vernacular of my current profession, nailed it & made the song and herself, famous. Like many Rap songs today, the title of the song is a phrase that is repeated over and over, with the tag line (songs have them, too) describes what that visitor of the house will receive once they get there. Because it is supposed to be an Italian song, the visitor, as every Italian knows, gets some kind of food & a Christmas Tree.
But that’s not really the point, or might be part of it, I don’t really know.
I guess what I’m trying to say is the song, with its crazy Italian-style lyrics, sounds even crazier in Japanese and even more bizarre sung in Japanese by Eartha Kitt.
I didn’t understand why we watching it, and I’m sure the kids in my class were equally as clueless, but I was pretty sure we were going to get some kind of explanation.
And we were.
It seems Eartha had seen some troubles in her day. I was around at that time, maybe 12 or 13, just about entering High School. To my best recollection, she pissed off Lady Bird Johnson at some White House Event, something I thought would be easy for almost anybody to do. Our First Lady (courtesy of the JFK assassination) was called Lady Bird, which should have been a clue, at least to Eartha. Eartha Kitt was outspoken, a euphemism at the time for I Have A Big Mouth And I’m Not Afraid To Use It. Quite frankly I think that just having Eartha Kitt at the White House in 1969 was enough to set Lady Bird’s teeth on edge. (And as an aside, Lady Bird was First Lady on a little technicality, so she probably should have had better manners, herself).
Anyway, the story goes she made Lady Bird cry and Lady Bird told her husband about it, The President Of The Free World.
So Eartha packed up her big outspoken African-American mouth and the lyrics to C’mon A My House and went abroad, learned, if not the Japanese language, as Killian told this story, but at least the phonetic pronunciation of the Japanese lyrics (which is what I think happened). Not being Japanese (although I am often cast as Asian), I couldn’t attest to their accuracy.
To make a Two Minute story longer, The Very Valuable Lesson we Learned watching this clip, was that no matter what – No Matter What – don’t give up on your dreams.
We all nodded. None of us were ever going to do that, even if we ever had the opportunity to piss off a First Lady. I, myself, had already started thinking about enrolling in some on-line Japanese Language Class, just in case.
He then said his goodbye and disappeared as magically as he appeared and the spell was broken. We had come, we had learned and we had been set free.
I had no idea why he chose this overly complicated, convoluted and confusing way of conveying this simple message to us, and I am absolutely sure that the kids in my class were even more confused than I was, but I soon learned why, after graduation from The Foundation Class and my subsequent attendance in The Adult Commercial Class.
And not to give away any spoilers, I’m just going to say that I’m pretty sure Scott Sedita now owes me some serious money – and his little dogs, too.