When I graduated from The Boston Conservatory, I had high hopes of moving to NYC and becoming a famous actor. I cringe just typing that, now, because those hopes were at odds with something else I carried in my heart at that time: the belief that I was a terrible actor. I did in fact move to NYC (Corona, Queens, to be exact), with a girlfriend for whom I was ill-suited and a half-formed plan to get a job and save up and then audition for things. That was fear-induced stupidity. The fact was, I had no idea what to do next or how to do it. My time at TBC had been marred by deep depression, and while I had graduated, it was three years later than what I was guaranteed by Neil Donohoe when I met with him at the beginning of my sentence. Of course, disorganized transfer student that I was, I lost the paper upon which he'd written all this down. And, of course, it was policy for his office not to keep a copy on file. It's what I like to call, The Conservatory Shuffle.
Very simple, really. Here's how it works:
STEP ONE: Accept every student who fills out the paperwork properly.
STEP TWO: Make lots of promises, sign nothing, trust the student to lose the document.
STEP THREE: Keep raking in those tuition checks -- there's a lot of delusional would-be actors out there!
STEP FOUR: Don't offer classes in the business of theatre and before you can say STEP FIVE, enough of the unfit will have transferred to another school that by Senior Year your graduating class is almost manageable; bonus: all that extra tuition has kept you afloat long enough to hire a CFO who now wants to know one thing: ever heard of grants and endowments?
No doubt various TBC administrators would be very upset with this assessment, were they to read my blog. They were upset with my assessment of things when I was Student Body President, as well. But this is what all the students had gleaned, and Donohoe himself told the incoming class in 1995 that TBC had accepted everyone who filled out the paperwork properly. And, to be clear, I have only a tiny whisp of suspicion that they would be doing anything like this (or new but similar) right now. Once bitten, twice shy.
All of which is a lengthy explanation of the soil in which I was emotionally rooted when I moved to NYC, got a job at Restoration Hardware at 22nd and Broadway, and began to master the transfer points between the Number 7 and the other, newer, less rickety but also less purple trains. I believed in my heart of hearts that I was not an actor, while simultaneously telling anyone I met at work that I was an actor. I did not go to a single audition for anything of import; I did, however, go to an audition for an original play in Queens, in a tiny performance space -- one of those converted basement/warehousey spaces with little Christmas lights around the actors' headshots in the four-chair foyer. I was late. The audition went something like this:
Hot Asian Director: I'm Amy, you're late.
Edward: Sorry, new to these trains.
HAD: Where were you coming from?
Edward: Corona ... ?
HAD: Did you take the Number Seven and transfer at thus-and-such?
Edward: No, I transferred at this-and-that.
HAD: That's why you're late.
Edward: But the this-and-that transfer point is easier than the thus-and-such transfer point --
HAD: You're new here?
Edward: ... yes.
HAD: Transfer at thus-and-such. Only fresh-off-the-boats and tourists transfer at this-and-that. If you're serious about theatre, you'll transfer at thus-and-such.
HAD: Headshot and resume?
Edward: I'm fresh out.
[Pause during which the Hot Asian Director is clearly gauging the precise percentage of her time thus wasted.]
HAD: Okay. What would you like to read for?
Edward: The brother and the boyfriend.
HAD: Okay. This is Louise, she will be your reader.
Edward: Hi there, Louise.
Edward (reading): "So, hey, sis -- don't you think Johnny's kind of gay?"
Louise (utterly uninflected): "What, what are you talking about? That's my boyfriend you're calling gay."
Edward (reading): "No, Amy, I'm asking if you think he's gay. I'm not saying he is gay."
Louise (still nothing): "Why would I think he's gay when his cock is in me every night, pushing and pushing like an oil derrick that just keeps pumping my sex like the dry California earth until I have me a gusher? I have me a gusher, Todd!"
Edward (reading): "Should that be a 'gaysher'?"
[The reading is over, it was a very short side.]
HAD: Wow, Edward, that was a little homophobic for my tastes.
Edward: I'm sorry, would you like me to take it again?
HAD: Let's have you read the boyfriend. Now, remember, he's screamingly gay.
HAD: A towering inferno of faggot, the kind who goes to a musical theatre school.
Edward: I ... see.
HAD: Any questions?
Edward: So ... if the earlier reading came off as homophobic, um, what exactly are you looking for ... with the boyfriend?
HAD: Do I need to repeat myself?
Edward: I guess not, no.
HAD: Any time now.
Edward (reading): "Oh my gawd, Amy! Just look at your shoes! Where did you get those darling little numbers? I'll bet I have a little pillbox hat and veil that would match perfectly!"
Louise (Arizona creekbed): "Pertweeb, I really want to talk to you about what my brother has been saying."
Edward (reading): "That's fab-ulous, but first! Let me tell you about what happened at rehearsal today. So: Jimmy came in late and Jill was like, 'Oh no he di'int,' and I looked at him and he had this sticky white residue dried all around his mouth! Oh my gaaaaawd! And I was like, 'Girl, you know that's just the glaze from a donut, that queen cain't resist no Dunkin' Donuts en route to rehearsal!' But then Jill jump up close to him and get a good whiff and say, 'Bitch, why do you smell like pancake batter?!'"
[Silence of the grave. In this case, the grave of my chances in this show.]
HAD: Thanks for coming in.
Edward: Do you want me to try either of those again?
HAD: Thanks, we're all set for today. Louise, do you have those sketches from the designer?
[Dismissed, I head for the door. As I'm reaching into my satchel for a train map, I find a headshot and resume. The picture was taken by Kathryn on a street off Hemenway, early one morning the previous Spring. It's actually an excellent picture. Triumph supersedes caution:]
Edward: Oh! I ... it looks like I have a ... headshot and resume ...
[HAD looks up from sketches of set design, lovely sketches actually, and doesn't seem to know who I am. Her eyes move from my face to the proffered headshot and resume. Silence. Louise slowly reaches out and takes it from me, glances at the picture and hands it to HAD. Slow sigh from HAD, eyes rolling slightly, as she looks at the headshot and turns it over to read the resume. Sudden intake of breath, she turns to me.]
HAD: You were in the workshop of Beasts and Saints?
HAD: With Jennifer and Allen and Joe Machota?
Edward: Yes. Amazing score.
HAD: I know, right? Who did you play?
Edward: I was ... ensemble. One of the maids, the boss, those roles.
HAD: I love that show. Too esoteric for anything in the city, but ... wow.
[She is looking over my resume with more interest.]
HAD (cont.): So ... oh. Boston Conservatory.
HAD: That's a musical theatre school.
Edward: Well, they teach music, dance and theatre --
HAD: Thanks for coming in. Make sure the door shuts completely.
[HAD hands the headshot and resume back to me, turns back to the sketches. I am frozen in place. It feels like a slap. For a moment, I have no idea what to do. It feels rude to just turn and leave, but I'm pretty sure she never wants to see me again. This is weird. The moment stretches. I have no idea how to proceed. I am rooted to the spot. I can't make myself move. I am screaming inside, 'Move! Turn! Go!' I just can't do it. HAD glances at me peripherally, big sigh, stands and crosses the small theatre space to a curtained doorway, goes through. Louise follows her. The lights where I'm standing go out. It's the final straw, my camel is collapsed, dead. I turn to go, released from torment but more humiliated than I would have been if I'd just kept going instead of handing her the headshot and resume. As I'm crossing the tiny foyer and about to open the door, a voice speaks from my right. There's someone in the shadows where the little white lights don't shine.]
[Terrified for no definite reason, I slam through the door to the street, practically sprinting back to the train. My breathing only calms down once I transfer (not consciously) at thus-and-such. I see at least three people who graduated in the two years prior to me on the same car. None of us acknowledges the others. I realize that none of us are gainfully employed in theatre. This is the polite social veneer of artistic shame. To this day, I have no idea what the person in the foyer said to me.]
Thus began my intimate acquaintance with all things Rinky and all things Dink. Within six months I was trapped in California with no money to return to New York. I lost my job, broke up with my girlfriend, and (praise be to the woman scorned) lost my sizable portion of the security deposit. I still believed I could claw my way out of California. I still believed I would escape. I had not yet sunk much below my ankles into the swamp of theatrical mediocrity that is Community Theatre in the East Bay of the SF Bay Area (howls of torment from the bright lights in that incestuous little constellation), and I knew that with enough pavement-pounding, I'd eventually stop tracking that tar behind me at every audition.
I still had hope.