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WEEK ONE – THE ORIENTATION
Sometimes…rarely but sometimes…there is a moment where life is perfect.
As I sat in the windowless basement buried snugly in the bowels of Tribeca, I reflected that this was one of those moments.
For in the next ten minutes, Mr C would walk into my life and all would be right for the world.
For the sake of privacy, I shall not reveal Mr. C’s true identity. Suffice it to say, he is only one of the most talented musical theater actors to ever grace a Broadway stage. Mention his name anywhere in the world and it would be recognized. You may wonder why such a celebrity would deign to teach a Master Class in Musical Theater at this rather old and dumpy Tribeca acting school. It is true that his career had suffered in recent years. His last projects were a little too unsuccessful. He was no longer fashionably young. The romance of his image was now shunned in a world who considered sentimentality to be passé. The fickle public had forgotten him and all that he had given. I had not.
To me, he was more than just an admired stage star. He was my muse. And soon he would also be my teacher!
Could I ever forget the first time I heard his voice of magic?
It had been ten years ago. I was eighteen.
I was aimlessly driving down a Texas highway consumed with rage and pain after my ego had been torn to shreds by my ex-boyfriend. Having just recently graduated from high school a month ago, I did not have the distraction of school or other people to get my mind off of the nasty breakup. I was searching desperately for something…anything to get my mind off of him. I turned on the radio, looking for an angry rock song, something with a metallic 80s sound that was hard and violent and cold. But while I was making my way onto the entrance ramp of another highway, I was too busy concentrating on weaving my way through the heavy traffic to worry about what station was on the radio at that moment. Was it Classical or Easy Listening? I do not recall. All I remember is that voice of magic. Who was that?
Mr C was singing the ballad from LES MISERABLES: I Dreamed a Dream. Not only was his voice that of molten gold, but I felt as if he were taking the pain in my heart in as his own. Somehow, wherever he was, basking in a mansion in England or living in a penthouse in Manhattan, he was reaching out to me. For those three minutes and twenty seconds of song, we were one. I know it sounds creepy and psychotic, but I felt as if I had found some sort of salvation in his song. Eventually, I pulled off of the highway, turned off the engine and gave in to the tears that had been burning to come out. That was the beginning of a period of catharsis and rebirth for me.
Since then, I had become quite the scholar on Mr. C’s work and career. A scholar. I loathe the word ‘fan’. I owned all of his CDs, attended any concerts that were within reasonable distance, watched all of his film and television performances and kept up with any news of him on the Internet. As the years passed, he was no longer a favorite actor and singer, but an inspiration. At college, I used him as a character in Creative Writing. In Acting 101, I was acting out my love scene with him, not the nerdy freshman that I had been paired up with. And so on and on it went. Friends and lovers had come and gone, but Mr C was there to stay, ever faithful to me. Even when I graduated from college and moved to New York, a stranger in a strange land with the all-too-common goal of being a professional actress, he was there for me, always encouraging, always understanding… Not that the road was an easy one.
New York City had a way of wearing down a person, no matter how young and ambitious. There were the nonpaying off-off-Broadway shows where the cast always outnumbered the audience. There were the acting teachers, casting directors and agents all shaking their heads in disgust and telling me to go back to Texas. There were the temp jobs in offices with rathole cubicles and ghastly fluorescent lights where corporate types with overblown egos assumed that I was their personal slave to abuse and insult at will. There was the ever-present fear when riding the subways that Al Qaeda would decide to pull a sequel to 9/11 and I would be at the wrong place at the wrong time. And always, there was the wolf at the door…the too-expensive rent, the too-expensive headshots and acting classes, the bills, the cost of living…
But now all of the suffering and frustration seemed to have happened for a reason. And that reason would be walking through the door in…I looked at my watch…nine minutes.
Not that getting into Mr C’s Master Class was easy, mind you. The competition to be accepted into the class was fierce. Hungry actors were always anxious to attend a class of a well-known celebrity, hoping that a friend of a friend of a friend would get them that agent or a role in a movie. Even to just attend the class on the sidelines was not ankara escort cheap. But to actually participate as I was going to do, you practically had to take out a loan to cover the cost. Also, you had to sing your ass off in one very crowded audition. I still could not believe that I had made the cuts as singing had never been my strong suit. Also, whenever I wanted something this badly, I would invariably strike out.
It must have been fated in the stars. Also, the fifty-dollar-bill I had given to the Managing Director of Student Relations, who was in charge of auditions, worked wonders. I do believe in the concept of making my own luck. Sometimes, that is a lot more effective than destiny.
Fidgeting about in the plastic blue chair that annoyingly teetered about on uneven legs, I glanced at my watch again. Eight more minutes! Oh, God, this was going to take forever!
I was so edgy, pumped up on too much coffee to make up for the eager tossing and turning of the night before. A class at 10 am on a Sunday morning was enough to screw anybody’s system up. With the caffeine taking its toll, I simply had to stand up and walk off some of my nervous energy. Descending from the second row of wooden planked risers, I walked about the basement which was being called a classroom by the school. All of the walls were painted black; thus, the name of a ‘black box’ theater. There was a small curtain at the back of the room, covering up another room with a variety of torn-up furniture and props donated for use in scene study classes. There was a piano in the far right corner of the room. A small desk with a blank notepad was at the left side.
Making my way past the furniture and props, I checked myself out in a full length mirror that was nailed to the back wall. This was a mistake because my neurotic worrying began to kick in. Had I dressed up too much? I was wearing a black vee-necked silk top and a red and black plaid skirt with a sexy pair of fuck-me heels. I had even gone to the trouble to put on a red headband in an attempt to control my wild curly hair which had a mind of its own. It was nothing all that fancy. I would have worn these clothes to any audition, but today I felt like I was trying too hard. And whenever I tried too hard, something always seemed to go wrong. People could smell my desperation or something.
Fortunately, students began to pour in, striking up conversations that got my mind off of my frayed nerves. Wasn’t it cold outside? What song did you pick to sing? Have you ever taken any classes at this school before? Who with?
Seven minutes later. The room gradually began to fill up with actors and singers, most of them not feeling my obsessive need to dress up.
There were the unavoidable young James Dean and Marlon Brando types, all ruggedly handsome in their torn jeans and flip flops. I always got along with these guys and enjoyed doing acting scenes with them. Usually, one of them would go out of their way to work with me when I took a class like this. Probably it was because they correctly sensed that I had no interest whatsoever in fucking them. Therefore, they weren’t threatened by me. You have to understand that these kind of guys always have women falling all over them all of the time. It wasn’t that I didn’t find them attractive necessarily. It was just that they didn’t have what I needed. Whatever that was. So I usually enjoyed being in class with these guys as I wasn’t threatened by them either.
However, the women in the room were a different story. This class in particular had entirely too many thin blondes for my taste. Cameron Diaz types. Charlize Theron types. I loathed them. Such actresses made me feel helplessly ordinary.
I was not bad looking with my dark brown hair and blue eyes, but I was no cover girl on a fashion magazine. My curves were a bit too full for what was considered popular to the Madison Avenue publishing crowd. My face was a tad too boring. Indeed, my looks usually proved to be instant death in a casting agent’s office. If I got a chance to do a cold reading or perform a monologue, I had a possible shot at some sort of success. Otherwise, no way, Jose. If you were beautiful, you got lead roles. If you were ugly, you got character roles. If you were average like me, you did not even rate a call back. Surrounded by this bevy of beauties, I felt a bit like the neglected stepsister, a thorn amongst a garden of roses. And an elderly thorn at the ripe age of 28. If only I could start over again as a baby, I would try to do things differently. I would have eaten less carbs and junk food. I would have stuck with religious dedication to my skin regiment and aerobic workouts. I would have…
Like a whirlwind, Mr. C rushed into the room, dressed in a tan windbreaker and blue jeans. My heart stopped.
To say that Mr. C was so much better looking in person is a hopeless cliché, but it is the God’s Honest Truth. I hungrily drank in the sight of his curly auburn elvankent escort hair, lightly-freckled complexion and deep brown eyes. Although he was a man in his late forties, he moved and carried himself with exuberant energy as if he were much younger. True, he probably had more wrinkles on his face than the teenybopper set would go for, but as far as I was concerned, he was ‘sex on a stick’. Age only meant that he might know what to do with those elegant large hands of his. With his barrel-shaped chest and large frame, I could easily imagine him carrying a woman off somewhere like a savage caveman. I eagerly awaited for him to speak with that gorgeous voice of his, perfectly tinged with an Irish lilt. And I looked forward to that smile that he would give out at his concerts, that big teeth-flashing grin that would make my toes curl.
However, as the star-turned-teacher took a final sip from his Starbucks Styrofoam cup, there was no smile. In fact, he looked downright surly as he pulled off his jacket, revealing a plain forest green sweatshirt underneath. As he walked over to the desk, there was a hardness about his eyes, implying that it was not his first time at the rodeo and he would tolerate no bullshit. My lovesick giddiness metamorphosed into pee-inducing fear. Maybe he was angry because his career had gone so stale that he was reduced to this level. Maybe he took one look at all of these deadbeat actors and decided this was not his bag. God, if he was already going to look like a tyrant, what was he going to be like as a teacher? Well, maybe he was just grouchy on Sunday mornings like everyone else.
This first class was set up as an orientation. Inevitably, we would be besieged with handouts and lofty expectations. I knew from my ten-year study of Mr. C that he was a hardcore perfectionist. Great. Then we would all get up individually and sing a song that was prepared in advance. No time to waste with Mr C. I had brought Time After Time, a song that I had sung repeatedly at auditions and was fairly certain that I would not fuck up too badly. It was always best to start out easy with this kind of a class. Still, as Mr. C stood up in front of the class and looked at us appraisingly, I could not remember a single word of my song.
For one brief moment, his eyes even met mine. Something sparked in his eyes. He looked like he was about to wink at me. What was that all about? Curiosity? Amusement? Was he already maliciously thinking of how cruelly he could intimidate the almost middle-aged plain-looking woman sitting in the second row?
Every teacher had their set of Rules, a set of Ten Commandments that must be obeyed. Of course, he was no exception. First and foremost, there would be no absences unless you were at home on your deathbed. And death might be preferable to the wrath of Mr. C when you returned. He made it clear that there were plenty of others on a Waiting List who would be eager to step in at the last minute. Secondly, you were expected to do your ‘homework’, meaning rehearsing all songs and doing all vocal exercises he assigned for at least thirty minutes a day. Otherwise, there was little point in wasting money and time. We were all to get up and sing for every class during the next twelve weeks, no matter what. Mistakes were acceptable as this was a class, but not being prepared was a sin of the utmost gravity.
The setup of the class was a simple one. After the song, the floor would be opened up where all of the students could comment about the performance. Then Mr. C would give his own critique and suggestions. The format was nerve wracking. Your own peers were usually worse than any audience if they didn’t like your work, particularly if they were going to be brutally honest.
“You may be as verbally violent as you wish in your comments,” Mr. C announced. “But no physical violence shall be tolerated. Now that we have that settled, who shall go first?”
No one volunteered. “Come now, you are all performers. You have to show initiative if you want to get ahead. No one is going to hand opportunities to you. You have to make them.”
He was looking right at me as he said these damning words.
God, he was expecting me to go first! Why was I being singled out? Was he that eager to torture me first?
Fortunately, a lanky young guy in his twenties with straw-blonde hair volunteered, unwittingly becoming my savior. He began to sing This is the Moment from JEKYLL AND HYDE. I almost groaned in agony for him. Any song from a hit musical in the last decade was bound to be overdone in an audition setting. Even my song wasn’t great, but this guy was a glutton for punishment to sing this song. He did have a good voice though; and he really seemed to be getting into it. Well, this would be a good test to see just how vicious Mr C was going to be. Most of the class raved about how good the guy was in their comments. I was tempted to give my feedback about the overdone otele gelen escort nature of the song but was too nervous.
“A good start,” Mr. C remarked. “But be careful of your musical selection. This piece is extremely overdone as an audition piece. I can give you a few suggestions of some more obscure pieces that would suit you after class.”
So Mr. C and I saw eye to eye on that one. Good, very good…
He continued to speak about the importance of focus and control while singing, to remain in ‘character’ for some length.
“Next?” he asked expectantly. Again, that awkward nauseating silence. And he looked at me once more, daring me to volunteer.
Damn it, why did my muse have to be so fucking obnoxious in reality? I did not like it one bit. We had gotten along so swimmingly when he was just a figment of my imagination in my psyche. I never dreamed that he would be such a bully.
Another young Dean-wannabe got up to sing. This song was more interesting. I’ve Got to Sing a Torch Song. A fairly well known song to the Turner Classic Movies crowd, but a good bet that it was unknown to your average auditioner (who probably thought that Gold Diggers of 1933 was the name of a rock band). I was immediately charmed as I loved Dick Powell and classic movies. For once, I was actually doing what I was supposed to do. I was watching one of the other students in class instead of the teacher. However, I did think that Mr. C would be awesome if he made a recording of this song. I was even sufficiently enthused enough to make a comment in the open forum.
“Good audition choice. Very retro.”
After all of the comments of the class were over, I turned to see Mr. C once again scoping me out. My heart was beating so fast that I thought I would have a stroke. I prayed that I was not blushing because I suddenly felt very hot. I was the one who was the obsessive fan…I mean, scholar. It was my job to do the staring. Why did he keep looking at me all of the time? Why wasn’t he ogling the Uma Thurman-lookalike on the other side of the risers? What was wrong with him?
Unfortunately, any comments he had given to the singer went through one ear and out the other for me. I simply could not concentrate. And then I started to worry about the song. One thing I had not considered was that I usually thought about him when I would sing Time After Time. But how could I think about him when he would be sitting there in the corner, coldly staring at me like a starving crocodile? For the first time, I wondered about the wisdom of attending this Master Class with Mr. C. In my past experience, reality usually proved to suck. I liked Mr. C the way he had always been as my imaginary friend and lover who urged me on to do my best. But I just knew that the real man was going to rip my heart out of my chest and eat it.
Hearing him say my name with his Irish accent nearly caused me to jump out of my skin, although I suppose I should have expected it.
“Would you care to grace us with a song today?”
“Okay,” I said, faking an easy smile as I grabbed my sheet music in sweaty shaking hands.
As I made my way down the risers, my mind was racing. Why had he just volunteered me like that? How was I going to sing when I was shaking in my high heels? Why was it so cold in here? What was the first word of my song?
The intro of the song started. I stared at a spot of the room and tried to focus.
Time after time, I tell myself that I’m so lucky to be loving you…
The words felt empty and meaningless. I felt naked and exposed in front of everyone. Trying to act or sing when you weren’t into it was like a dry fuck. Not only was it not fun, but it was excruciatingly painful. I had to psyche myself out somehow. I had to get away from this miserable reality. So I relied on the good old stand-by of acting class. Tricking the brain.
Of course, this was all an act Mr C was putting on, I told myself. He couldn’t very well show his preference for me in front of all of these other paying students. Of course, he wanted to help me and see me succeed. That was why he kept staring at me. Somehow he must feel this cosmic connection as well. After all, wasn’t this class fated? Think of the song. Wasn’t I lucky to be with him at last? Wasn’t I lucky to be in this class? And then I saw him standing in that fixed spot ahead. My muse. The real Mr. C.
My body relaxed as I felt myself get into the words of the song.
So lucky to be the one you run to see in the evening when the day is through…
The rest of the song floated by like a pleasant dream.
After my final note, the room was silent. So much so you could hear a pin drop.
They hated it.
I churlishly moved toward what Mr. C jokingly called the “hot seat”. This was basically a chair on the other side of the room, directly across from Mr. C’s desk, where you sat sweating while you were being flayed alive by your teacher and classmates. No one contributed any comments as if they were unsure of what to say. God, this was so humiliating! I just wanted to fall through the floor.
“No one has anything to say at all?” Mr. C asked. “Tommy, you have any comments for Miss Spencer?”
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