theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
Once upon a time not so very long ago there was an actor. He had been popular on stage and screen from the early Seventies through to the end of the Eighties and had made a great amount of money in that period, but eventually his career and spirit flagged.
Where once he had had confidence unbounded he now shivered and shook when even the idea of performing entered his mind. Not to mention that casting directors seemed to have lost his agent’s number (the agent, meanwhile, had joined a certain cult, and was more interested in serving a not-at-all fictional alien named Testi than serving his clients – some of whom had passed from this mortal coil waiting for the telephone to ring).
Years passed and the actor lived a peripatetic existence flitting from abode to abode, country to country, lover to lover.
Then one day, when his not-inconsiderable fortune had dwindled to a not-so-considerable one, the actor became possessed with the need to Act despite his undiminished fear. He found himself a new agent, a twenty-nine year-old who preferred to be known – for reasons obscure – as Pi. Pi guided the actor into the strange new world of auditions before what seemed to be the population of one of the smaller European principalities, auditions on tape et cetera.
It will come as little surprise that the thought of auditioning sent the actor to a-gibbering while his sizeable ego recoiled at the notion of even having to audition. Pi assured him however that, although he was still highly respected, the notion of him being cast without an audition was as likely as Putin naming Nathan Lane or Sir Ian McKellen as his favorite thespian. The actor reacted to Pi’s statement with equanimity.
Well, he did after spurting forth a cloud of viperous vituperation not heard since someone burnt Elton John’s toast. The actor and Pi now united in determination to do all it took to garner the actor a part, a Good Part – one worthy of his stature, such as it was. A day came when the actor was invited to audition. A day of Nightmare.
The audition was for a notably eccentric director, and Pi had neglected to inform the actor that it was, in truth, a high-class cattle call, the competing performers drawn from a pool of has-beens, almost-beens, didn’t-you-used-to-be’s, and never-quite-weres. The only description for the role that they had been given was “Male Lead”, a description only slightly more useful than “Human Being” and each hopeful had been told that they would be asked to read from sides as well as to present a “party piece”, a speech performed as a character with whom they identified. The actor had chosen Hamlet, a choice on which it is unnecessary for me to comment.
The actor arrived at the squat, dull-looking building in which the auditions were held with the appearance of utter confidence, he looked like he could wrestle a tiger for breakfast, and his advanced years did not show in his face. Within, though, all was turmoil; he felt as if he were trapped in a bathroom with a maddened, knife-wielding and incontinent baboon. He was not feeling at all well. If only they had allowed him to audition on tape! How little did he suspect that he would soon have much greater cause to wish that.
He had been waiting for not more than twenty minutes, endeavouring to ignore the many vaguely-familiar and all-too familiar faces around, attempting to ignore the curious glances that slid off him, when he was called forth. He rose to his feet and immediately felt peculiar, as if a tremor was travelling within the marrow of his bones. The actor became oddly conscious of every part of himself.
Of his flesh, of his eyes, of his heart beating, of his liver, of feet, of his femur, of his ears (a trifle small), of his nose (imposing), of his… (we won’t go there…) He walked to the audition room with a noble gait but experienced the strangest sensation throughout his frame. In his right hand (through which a curious non-pain coursed) he held a Gladstone bag, an eccentricity which he had had for decades, as if he were some analogue of a cinematic Jack the Ripper.
Entering the room he beheld eleven faces, at least ten of whom looked pleased to see him (the eleventh had one of those permanent scowls which makes them hard to read); this gave him a boost and he bestowed on them all, male and female (he had never been fussy), one of his collection of charming smiles. Three of the gathering spoke to him while a lackey handed him two sides of script.
When the pleasantries were over the actor placed his bag on the chair offered to him, opened it, withdrew his glasses, scanned the script then began to perform. He made it through the second sentence when the index finger on his left hand fell off.
“Oh! God! I’m sorry, do you mind if I start again?” The producer, concerned, answered in the negative, told him to go ahead. The scowling man, who turned out to be the director, was the only one whose expression showed nothing.
The actor started over, despite the tremendous juddering he felt racking his body. He got to the fourth section of underlined dialogue before his right arm dropped off at the elbow, which was especially awkward as he had been holding the sides in his right hand. “Jesus! Sorry, this has never happened to me before! And now TWICE in one audition!” The producer assured him that it had happened to many actors and not to worry. The actor bravely retrieved the sides with his left hand, though only after placing his detached finger and forearm in the bag. Even more courageously he fought through further inconveniences to read his lines. His nose sprang off. His left eye popped out.
His hair sloughed off. His buttocks drooped like dough past his ankles. His right leg began dangling like a conker on the end of a string at the knee. His left ear “Pinged!” off his head, leaving his glasses askew on his face, although, fortunately, he was still able to see out of his remaining eye, the other having rolled down his cheek when it popped out. And still he read on. Finally, despite being a wreck inside and with half of his body parts now sticking out of his bag in a most unseemly fashion, he began to perform the “Paragon of Animals” soliloquy from Hamlet.
Those within the room who weren’t passed out or vomiting, watched the actor rapt as he gave the greatest interpretation of a piece he had ever given. He had reached “this other Eden” when, quite unexpectedly (and not to say unfortunately) his tongue propelled itself out his mouth with some alacrity and a quantity of saliva. The actor looked up shamefacedly, spreading his arms (I say arm but neither was whole) as if to say “Well, what can you do, eh?”
The director at last roused himself to talk, “I can’t speak for anyone else here but I’ve never seen anything quite like that! Truth to tell when we invited you here you were at the head of my list for this role. And, really, today you were great, GREAT! You surpassed my expectations…but I just this minute realized that I want the opposite of that, so I have to do you the courtesy of telling you that you haven’t got the part. BUT – I will definitely think of you for something in the future.” The actor glared at the director through his one eye and said one word “BATHTUD!” Then his head fell off.
© George Kaplan
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