This episode is dedicated to my High School Calculus Teacher, a memory that haunts me to this day. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
ADULT COMMERCIAL CLASS – WEEK 2
Week Two found us once again in a costume of sorts. This time we were given copy for Terminix, a company that gets rid of whatever unwanted inhuman visitors that have invaded your home, Zombies excluded.
This was a partner spot, one playing the Human Homeowner, the other the Wall. I remember this spot from TV. It was well written and it was funny, even though it relied heavily on one actor playing a wall, which required hanging a piece of black foam core with a hole cut out in the middle, on your head.
Part of the reason was the relationship between the wall and the homeowner. I mean, we all have walls in our domiciles, but no one really stops to consider them as family members or, at least, occupants. And then there’s the underlying joke about “talking to walls” and also the expression “if walls could talk”.
On the whole, it’s a very clever spot, so I was very relieved, after the first week’s clusterf*ck of dialogue on top of the insane blocking required for the “audition”, as were, I am pretty sure, the rest of my classmates.
But even though this was a far easier spot to work with, the damage from the previous week had been done. Our Adult Class sat stiffly in the lobby, speaking in hushed tones, grasping backpacks and pocketbooks to our chests, as if for protection from some unknown but anticipated attack, compared to the new Foundation Class that had just started and occupied the lobby with us.
They were happy and excited – almost exuberant, as they spilled out of the downstairs room, holding their copy, which, I was pretty sure, was The Amex spot we had also done in Week One.
Once again we all trooped upstairs for the Group Explanation, given by the schizophrenic Casting Associate, Jacob. Did I tell you about the Actor’s Gym I had been attending during the short hiatus I had between The Foundation Class and The Adult Commercial Class? I will. That’s where I first met Jacob, who ran the sessions for The Gym, and how I knew that Jacob actually had two personalities.
Not unusual for an actor, but very curious in this situation and very understandable once I remembered who signed his paychecks.
But I digress.
We were to pair off, one Actor to play the Wall, one the Homeowner. The Wall, not surprisingly, was to stand there while the Homeowner entered. We were to act, then switch roles, then act again, then exit, Stage Left, into the next room to wait until everyone had their turns.
Here’s where I ran into a bit of a problem.
I am not fond of rehearsing commercial copy with a partner. Commercials are not like theatrical scenes. There just isn’t time, after “action” is called, to create a mood, for one thing.
The other thing is that, as with everything acting, you are creating a relationship within that mood, and that is where everything can go south, fast. For me, anyway.
I don’t mind running lines to get them down. I will do that all day, if that’s what it takes to get them down, but the moment another actor opens their mouth to act while rehearsing commercial copy, I get into big trouble.
Unless they are surprisingly good, which, in a classroom situation, is not always the case. Even in real auditions, it is not often the case.
This is not to say that I am good at this, and that is the other part of the problem. I am also trying to find my feet within the copy, so I do not want to start worrying about the strength of my partner before I even get in the room.
One week, at the Actor’s Gym – (ok, In a nutshell, we are emailed a time to come and “audition” in an “audition” situation, to work on our skills and keep up our chops. Jacob runs it, and runs it extremely well) – my partner was a very nice Asian girl who spoke barely a word of English and understood, I was to find out, even less. So she didn’t even understand the Group Instructions, even after I spent more time explaining it to her out in the lobby, and more so when it was our turn to “audition” the spot.
Needless to say, the “audition” didn’t go well. I spent a lot of time throwing her cues for what she was supposed to say and do, so I could say and do what I was supposed to say and do. So this 30 second spot ran about an hour and half – and it didn’t get any better after Jacob’s adjustments (things that the Casting Director wants you to change in the next attempt).
To know that going in throws me off-balance, and with commercials there is absolutely no time to recover, so I don’t want to know what the other Actor is going to do, because then I spend all my time trying to find our balance. Or picking myself off the figurative floor.
Another thing I like is to surprise myself. In real life, I hardly ever know what is going to come out of mouth before I open it. Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes, according to my friends, it is not.
But that’s how people talk and that’s what makes real life, real. It’s also how scripted copy is supposed to sound. As if what is coming out of your mouth hasn’t been desperately committed to memory mere moments before the audition.
But Actors will be Actors and my partner wanted to rehearse, so we did. I liked being the Homeowner better. Not that I mind standing on camera with a piece of black foam-core hanging off my head, but the Homeowner was distracted by flipping through mail after coming in the house, which is something I do quite well and often, in real life.
It required a “deadpan” delivery, something I am not great at. I’m good at it if it has some kind of sarcasm attached, but my face does things my brain has no control over. I am Italian, so I tend to unconsciously talk with my hands, which is something I am practicing not doing because I am trying to “stay small for the camera”. So now my face is picking up the slack. My eyes, in particular, are a coalition unto themselves. They betray me every chance they get.
I also live alone, with the exception of 3 dogs, so I am very much used to talking to Walls.
I had a little more trouble being the Wall, for the same reason. Whenever there is bad news at my home, like an invasion of 50 million termites, my Walls do not share this information with me. They are characteristically silent.
But because this is a class where we are supposed to learn, I have recently asked my dishwasher to start running lines with me, just in case I am ever called in for a Cascade commercial.
It should have been a fun spot and a fun day, not unlike the Foundation Class, whose squeals and laughter could be heard in the small, moderately lit room next door, with the great wall paper that echoed the wallpaper from the PBS Masterpiece TV series “Sherlock“, from the lobby below, but the tension that had been created during Week One had continued during Week Two, even with the new-and-improved copy we were given.
I learned a tremendous amount in Foundation Class, and had fun doing it. I practiced what I had learned at home, and quite a bit of it was just almost starting to become second nature.
I had gotten an Agent based on my Foundation Class Final Amex Audition that was taped and sent out to Agents, courtesy of a generous Killian.
As a matter of fact, 3 Agents had expressed an interest in me. So whatever I had learned in the Foundation Class was working.
I was doing well at The Actor’s Gym, with Jacob running the sessions, putting what I had learned into practice.
But this Adult Class was run so very different, and I just couldn’t figure out why.
I remembered during the First Week, we were told in no uncertain terms that auditions were, above all else, a competition between Actors, and we were never, ever to give our competition any edge whatsoever.
I get that, although I have never met Actors who were not generous with each other, and I agree with that in some of the technical aspects required, but there is also no one quite like me out there, and if they don’t want that, nothing else I do on camera is going to make a bit of difference. I just do the best I can & have as much fun as I can, while I’m doing it.
We were told about the insane amount of money an Actor can make appearing in a TV commercial. This Terminix spot ran during the Super Bowl, which is the Super Bowl of Paydays, if you are an Actor who appears in one of those spots.
I know that not only does Killian want us to book the commercials we go out for, he wants us to book the commercials that could possibly set us up for life; a life that could include owning a home where walls would actually tell you there are 50 million termites who have just moved into the dining room. And maybe a swimming pool that sings.
So with the stakes that high and the bar set even higher, he runs his classes as if our next meal, or perhaps our entire future, or the future of our dependents, well… depends on it.
And that future seemed to include a heck of a lot of tension, angst & paranoia.
It’s been a long time since I had auditioned for anything, so I was having trouble remembering if the tension before, during and after each class was something I had experienced in real life audition situations.
I had vague memories of Casting Directors who were supportive, who wanted us to do our best, to help us shine so that we in turn, would make them shine. It always seemed a little collaborative, the “relationship” between the Casting Director, The Casting Associate and the Actor. We are all dependent upon each other for our next gig.
I know to get to that place were you can nail a Super Bowl commercial, you need one thing, after talent & technique, and that is confidence in your abilities.
I just wasn’t quite sure how all this tension was supposed to help create confidence, but I was willing to keep moving forward. After all, Scott Sedita, my personal Wizard and friend from High School, wouldn’t send me to a class where it was run like some psychotic hazing for a hostile Frat House, or one of those weekend Pop-Psychology Transformational Seminars that ran in the ’70’s that promised enlightenment if you didn’t go to the bathroom for 48 hours. There had to be some method to this madness… I hoped.
I guess only the future would tell.
Don’t Go Away! We’ll Be Right Back After A Word From Our Sponsor!