When I left drama school, I expected to become a successful actress immediately. I sent my headshot to directors and agents. Every time the phone rang, my heart convulsed, but usually it was my mother, wanting to know about my latest audition.
Finally, I was cast in a production of Everywoman where I played the teenage daughter of a woman dying of cancer. I have sex with the plumber in the bath in order to grow up. Fortunately, we manage to do this without removing our clothes.
One night, there was a casting director in the audience and I wrote to her the following day. She called to thank me for getting in touch, saying she’d enjoyed my performance – it had shown depth. I was glad because my mother had thought I was trying too much in the play: you were doing that thing when you stick your chin out, she’d told me.
I asked the casting director if she had any advice, or perhaps knew of any auditions I might be suitable for.
There was a pause.
This business is hard, she said. Then she told me it was important to get an agent. They’re the ones to find the auditions.
Right, I said, realising that her job was to cast shows – not simply look for any parts, calling for a 5’6” twenty-two year old, with a tendency to overact with her chin.
I said that I’d written to agents, but hadn’t found anyone prepared to take me on.
She suggested I get the up-to-date Actor’s Yearbook.
Do you know any specific agents who are looking for clients?
Go for a big agency, she said, not giving any specific names.
I got more headshots. Sent letters. Heard nothing back. I knew it was important to chase everything up, but I wasn’t good at that. I thought about phoning the casting director again, but she would only tell me to send out more enquiries, make as many phonecalls as possible. Did I want her to come and hold my hand? Probably.
That’s when I decided to go on a quiz show.
Afterwards, I told people I did it for the car.
The first round of auditions had a group of us seated at a large table. We talked about ourselves. I said I’d recently finished a history degree, loved squash and that I’d grown up on a farm.
All the time, I wondered why I wasn’t mentioning the fact that I was an actress.
We had to perform a party stunt. I’d been up late the night before, learning a magic trick, but the whole thing had made me so nervous I decided to do something simple that wasn’t going to make me sweat. I put someone’s cigarettes on the floor, laid my feet out as wide as I could, and then bent at the waist and picked the pack up in my teeth. It was enough to get me on the show.
Normally, I wouldn’t have entered a quiz show because I would have been worried about not knowing any of the answers. But the point of the show was that the questions were easy – the hard part was the amount the contestants were ‘distracted’ when they were trying to answer.
Even though I didn’t believe it at the time, I was lucky. Later shows had contestants, sitting on perspex cubes with a hole in the top for their bare bottom, which had been smeared with peanut butter. There were dogs in the cubes.
What’s seven times three? the host would ask as the dogs licked.
The show was filmed in front of a live audience. We were brought into the studio, shown the stage and then taken back to a small room where we could get ready and meet the ‘stand-ins’.
In case someone has an accident, the producer said.
We were all talking about the brand new, canary yellow Volkswagen that was up for grabs. The week before I’d smashed into the back of someone who had pulled out in front of me on the dual carriageway without indicating. The producer of the quiz show was very interested in this crash, and the fact that the repairs were deemed more than what the car was worth. He took me into a separate room and questioned me about it. Then he brought me back with the others. I was certain they were going to rig the show so that I would win the car. My life was falling into place!
Drink plenty of water, the producer kept saying. The studio is really dry, and nerves can make your throat parched.
I knew about water. We’d spent a year at drama school, learning the importance of water. Nerves were something I could handle. What I didn’t want was to be answering questions in front of a live audience, having to pee. I took the kind of sips I’d been trained to take, and kept doing throat and tongue exercises to keep the muscles supple.
When we finally got out onto the stage, I couldn’t believe it. The applause was raucous. It felt wonderful to be hearing that crash of hands, standing beneath the bright lights.
The host began to question us. There had been dozens of forms to fill in during the audition process, asking about embarrassing moments, strange habits, things we regretted.
So, the host said to me. I hear that you once threw yourself down the stairs at work just to get out of your shift? The audience laughed.
Yeah, I said, feeling popular and hilarious.
Don’t you have any grandparents? the host said.
I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
What’s wrong with phoning up your boss and saying that you can’t come into work because it’s your granny’s funeral?
The audience laughed again. I began to feel uneasy – though I couldn’t place it.
Yeah, I guess that would have been a better idea, I told him. The studio was quiet – too quiet.
Now, I hear you’re half Brazilian, the host said.
I am! I told him, swinging my hips a little, feeling better as I sensed the energy of the audience begin to rise again.
Okay, the host said, winking and gesturing to his body. Which half would that be?
There was laughter again, too loud for me to bother answering the question – not that it wanted answering. I was standing with one of the funniest men on TV. What did I think? That I would steal the show; have people chanting my name and land a super-sonic agent?
The host was now questioning one of the other contestants. This was a camp chap who wanted to get into musicals. There was nothing secretive about his desire to act. He was now singing the opening lines to a musical he was writing. Again, I felt that sense of disquiet.
Then there was the policewoman whose ex-boyfriend pays her for sex every now and then, and finally the other guy – who I hadn’t really got an opinion on, other than to think he was the last person I’d imagine wanting to come on a TV show: he’d looked annoyed every time I tried to speak to him.
The audience is charged up now. The host has them mesmerised. He announces the first round of questions will begin.
But first, he says, rubbing his hands together – we need to bring on the toilets!
I’m certain I’ve misheard him, but the audience are cheering about something.
I glance at the policewoman who looks like she sucked on a lemon. The side of the stage opens and a four cubicle, toilet block slides towards us. I remember how desperate the producer had been to make us drink. I think of the two stand-ins, and I understand now: it’s not that one of us might break our arm, it’s that we might refuse to take part.
The stand-ins had had this desperate, obsequious air about them, while the rest of us had acted like celebrities: we were the ones who’d been chosen. I pictured them in the wings, waiting for an opening. I know what it’s like when you don’t get chosen, and then suddenly an opportunity comes. They’d be out here, sitting on these toilets, happy to leave the door open, if it meant they had a chance.
I finally realise how shameful all this is, and why I was never able to tell them I wanted to be an actress. I would have been admitting I was prepared to do anything to make it. There’s no Steven Spielberg, sitting in the audience, thinking: wow, that girl has talent! Besides, the talented ones are at home, learning monologues, putting genuine work in.
Each toilet has been fitted with a sensor, the host explains. Pee if you know the answer and a red light will come on above your cubicle. It’s that simple!
We’re led around the front of the toilet block. Each cubicle has a pair of swing doors set in the middle, about a foot high. I can feel my bladder, gripping, saying: even if you did need to pee, there’s absolutely no way it’s going to happen in front of a live studio audience. We have to pull our trousers and pants down to our ankles. Everyone cheers when my red, lace knickers come down. I rest my arms on top of the door and bury my head.
There’s no express train to success. How can we hope to make admirable achievements without putting in the work? I’ve begun to learn the difference between the short stories I send out that get published and those, which barely even get a reply; and the fact that I’m the only person responsible – not the editor, for being unable to see my visionary style, or the magazine, for publishing crap anyway.
These days, when I sit down to write, I try to be honest about what I hope to achieve. If I just want to make some money with this one, get my name in neon lights, I know it’s time to back off – otherwise I’ll end up with my pants down again, full of regret. The days I work for the love of it, knowing that all I’ve ever wanted is to tell stories to people, it’s safe to continue. It’s better not to focus on the canary yellow Volkswagen, but to simply think about the next word.
Worth checking out
An agent’s view on short stories: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/books-and-reading/short-stories/articles/an-agents-view-luck/
Blogging as virtual love-making: http://deborahbrasket.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/blogging-as-virtual-love-making/
Language is for articulating how we feel now: http://alisonchandlerwriter.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/can-you-feel-it/
What you can’t fault is your ambition, but the price of it, written here, is quite expensive. You know that stuff about performing seals, when they spend your dignity on cheap laughs. I wonder how you felt as you left the studio. You’re a very talented person but that was a hard read.
Yeah, I’ve always been ambitious, but sometimes my drive has forced me to push in directions that have turned out to be not so great!! When I left the studio, I think I was more gutted about not winning the car – but I did get a brand new belly button piercing. That was a later round in the show…I might talk more about this some time 😉
That was excellent! What a story. I know that show, too. Can be a nasty bit of work, that host. I applaud you for finishing school. I got accepted to one of the best theatre schools in the country and drank my way right out of the opportunity. I agree 100%. There are no shortcuts to success and as I grow older, I revel in the small successful steps that are bringing me on my way to what I would call an adjusted view of success.
I like that – an adjusted view of success. And yes, it’s about small steps because if you overextend yourself it only means the foundation is going to turn out to be shaky. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I had no idea what my readers were going to think of this one! There’s something about blogging that means you can never quite sit back and relax.
really love your stories, gabriela. i was riveted! i have no clue about your acting prowess 😉 but even if you don’t end up becoming an actress, you sure are a writer in my book.
Neil – you are such a dude! Hopefully one day I’ll have a book out and I’ll get to perform in a stage play. But no more short cuts. I’m going at it the long way round. 😉
i wish you all the best 🙂
Some of life’s lessons can be tough. It’s good when you can look back on them and keep a smile as you shake your head.
Sometimes it takes a bit of time before that smile comes, but it just means that when it does the sense of relief is greater. Thanks for the visit, Tim.
What a painful and hilarious lesson! Your stories are so much fun to read, and your titles! About the butter, and the orgasm, and then this! You really know how to hook a reader.
I’m glad you like the titles. I love it when one pops into my mind – it usually happens after I’m a way into the post, but with this one I knew what it was going to be. And yes, painful and hilarious is a good way to put the strangeness of that experience down.
Hilarious -and discomfiting- story, but worth the telling, if only just to hear how you grew stronger because of it.
Certainly stronger – but only after I was able to stop berating myself about it. I saw Sarah Silverman on a show the other day and she talked about the fact that the painful humiliations we have in life can actually become our superpower when we own up about them. I like that. It means that from every mistake comes empowerment – if we are honest about it.
Great story and great title, Gabriela. So vivid, the picture of your dignity going down the toilet. ; )
I think we all fall into this trap at one time or another… that’s why your story resonates so strongly. That sinking feeling… we’ve all felt it. Thanks for allowing us to share your story.
That’s exactly where my dignity went!! Ha ha!
You know what though – when I went into the cubicle, I noticed there was already pee in the toilet. I never actually ‘went’ – I couldn’t – but my ‘bell’ went off twice, which was enough to get me into the second round. The policewoman got knocked out. That was when I really thought the show was rigged…but sadly…not for me…
Truly horrible, Gabriela. Awful.
What a great, well-crafted piece of writing. Thank you, as always, for sharing it with us.
Glad you appreciated this. I’ve had a long time to think about it and therefore knew how I wanted to tell the story. I couldn’t have written about it sooner – it would have been a mess on the page. Probably words smudged from my tears!! 😉
This is an amazing story Gabriela. It was horrifying and captivating at the same time. What an incredible ‘life lesson’ …
It makes me laugh to think of the horror you felt, whilst having to carry on and read. I suppose that’s a bit like how I felt in the show – the camera crew managed to capture the expression on my face when we are told about the toilet round, and that’s a horrified expression – yet I felt I had to go on. It’s good to be able to laugh about it now. Though strangely, I was able to press ‘publish’ after I had written this piece, with very little concern. It was when I was wondering whether to share on my facebook page – where everyone knows me – that i had to think long and hard.
Great story and analogy. 🙂
Thanks, Rebecca. I knew that I was ready to write about it now – though for a long time I haven’t wanted to talk about it. It’s such a great feeling when those parts of our life that beg to remain silent finally come out loud and we can feel less burdened.
Rivetting story… I cringed with you as I read it. How is it possible that anyone would think that that TV show was funny, that anyone would even think it up, and that someone would so want to humiliate others that they’d base their show on it…. So this is civilisation… give me bread and circuses.. but even then, an empire fell…
Oh, Valerie – I was cringing through the whole show! In terms of how people could come up with the idea – it follows on from this wave of having to put people on tv in more and more extreme situations just to be different. It’s why every so often I like to get on my bike and cycle somewhere really remote and stay a little while with just the land around me.
Oh Gabs I just felt for you going through the humiliation 😦 I would stick with telling your stories …the ones that we all enjoy. This was a learning curve for you no doubt, however I am so glad doing these stunts is not on your agenda full time! 🙂 xxx
Yeah – telling stories is a lot safer!! But I have to say, I do hope to get back on the stage one day. That was one reason I started to write seriously. I thought that I could make a name for myself, whilst being in control of my creativity, and once I had made a name, I would have more control over myself as a performer. We shall see if the plan pays off! Watch this space 😉
Gabs! What a dire experience but one which you have used so well now with the sharing….hope that makes up for it and did anyone end up with the yellow VW?!
Eve – it was so awful!! As for the VW the weird moody guy won it. But in the last round, which is just him and host. He gets asked 5 questions, and for each one he gets wrong they smash up the car!! About a year later I met someone whose boyfriend was a script writer for the show – and that’s when I found out it was rigged – just not for me ;-(
Ooph… that makes my heart hurt.
My heart hurt for a long time after that. It was wonderful when I felt that I could finally write about it and let it go.
At first I thought the title of your post was funny, but by the end I realized it was tragic. If I ever find myself in a similar situation, I hope I have the strength to persevere and the insight to learn from the experience like you have. Rarely is there an express train to success.
Also, I now understand why the car was yellow.
Hi Tracy – I suppose the humour in the title was my final position on this, which is to be able to laugh about it. But essentially the story begins with tragedy, yes. I think being honest about why I went on that show has enabled me to laugh at myself for being such a dummy – did I really think that by being an exhibitionist I was going to make it big! Talent is more subtle than that. As for yellow…hmmm…I don’t follow you.
Toilet challenge = pee = yellow
Sorry! Maybe listening to Coldplay’s Yellow will make me feel better about this comment. >_<
Ha! Okay! I was thinking: yellow…Jealousy? Cowardice?
At least I haven’t been put off the colour – and the sight of a VW doesn’t make me cry (anymore!!!).
Wow, what a horrible situation you found yourself in! I can see what you mean by acting and performing bringing vulnerability to your work, but goodness that takes courage too. This story was hard to read at times but precisely because of its honesty. That’s what makes it wonderful too.
It’s strange because people often talk to me about courage – but from my perspective I don’t feel brave, I actually feel quite scared. What makes me ‘perform’, or write with honesty, is simply that I can’t not do it – if that makes sense. Thanks for stopping by, Letizia. It’s been lovely ‘chatting’ with you these last few days 😉
Thanks for sharing. 🙂
A pleasure! I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful community of followers that it makes all this sharing possible. Have a lovely day, Yogini!
Thank you! I greatly appreciate your kind visit to my site, likewise, your generous comments! More power to your blog! Happy Valentine’s Day!
Thanks! And Happy V day to you to – may love seek you out 😉
Fascinating details, and a wonderful retelling of your experiences!
Apart from playing love scenes with a plumber, remember to drink plenty of water. And keep your chin in. (Don’t you have to love mother comments…)
The mother comments always make me laugh – and at least they develop my capacity to brush things off without too much upset!! Thanks for your visit Marylin – and for your appreciative comment.
Wow, darling! Thanks for your bravery in sharing your story in order that we may learn from your experience.
Hi Fay! The great thing about those awful situations that we find ourselves in, which feel so cheap at the time, is that they finally get value when we share them 😉
My friend. The magic in your writing is that after reading them, the story stays in my head. The pictures you have painted with your beautiful words kept running again and again like a film reel not wanting to stop. And after “watching” it, the inner message appears to complete it with perfection.
Danny, I think I should take you on as a full time reviewer of my work. You’ve even sold it to me!! As I write, I do ‘watch’ each scene play in my mind, and then I think of the best way to get the image on the page. The important thing for me is not to make things too cluttered that the pace of the story is held up by the writing – so the film can run without jumps etc. I think it’s similar with film perhaps, in the way that you want to draw the viewer’s attention to the right thing, without signposting it. This way, they aren’t reminded that they are watching a film, and can therefore lose themselves in it. That way the message can be absorbed, rather than leaving someone with the sensation that they have been preached to. Nice talking to you 😉
I’ll be honored 🙂 You have described it better. In tv promotion, there are tools that uses core emotions to connect with people. The most challenging one is “human connections” and you have certainly achieved it really well.
Well said, and all the commas in the right places too!
He he! Thanks, Ray – that’s a compliment coming from you!
Thanks, this definitely felt courageous and vulnerable to me. While I was reading the description of the game show, I think I was feeling something close to the sensation of unease that you felt when you were being questioned by the host. It seems like the message of this is that, ultimately, feeling good about your contribution is the highest priority, no matter how many people know about it or praise you for it — that’s the direction I definitely want to move in for myself.
Chris – I do enjoy your feedback. The way I shaped this story – admitting that yes I tried to do something that I thought would jumpstart my career is not something I was able to do before. But in order to feel truly good about myself, I’ve had to be honest about a lot of stuff, and also be happy with where I am – like you say whether people know who I am or not etc.
What a story. it just goes to prove that everything, no matter how mortifying at the time, is material, you just never know how and when you’re going to be able to use it!
Yes! True! I’ve also noticed, writing memoir, that the material often gets used in a way that I didn’t anticipate – certainly not at the time, at least. I got some really good advice from an agent the other week who had read my blog, which was about transcending your material, so that it isn’t just like a diary, but something that has a lesson learnt that others can benefit from. That helped when i was crafting this story. Thanks for visiting this week, Rowena – I always love your hat every time I see it!
Glad the hat leaves an impression! The lesson learnt is an interesting point, but the act of turning something into an engaging story can also be an end in itself.
I’ve nominated you for an inspiring blogger award. Hope you’re OK with that.
How lovely! And thoughtful! I’m certainly ok – though I’m not sure I follow the rules…I shall come and have a look at your post because this normally means lots of interesting information about yourself 😉
Yeah, just a couple of things about yourself and pass it on to whoever you want. Most people put the logo of the award on their page somewhere. If nothing else the awards help cross pollinate the blogs and you get to show other bloggers what’s interesting out there.
Oh gosh! How very brave of you to admit this and tell the story. I could so see me ending up in that situation too!
I’m glad I’m not the only one!!
i love the way the title turns to be literal 🙂
Ha, thanks! I did think when I put the title in that a lot of people would think it was just about using a turn of phrase.
You know that saying “Youth is wasted on the young” ? Like you, like so many of us, I lined the footpath of youth with mistakes, faux pas and just plain kookoo behavior. Thank goodness for modern life where we now have a grace period called our 40s where we are old enough to know what mistakes we made and still young enough to repair them—and laugh about them. Thanks for sharing this bit of high jinks… conscious honesty is so liberating. cheers.
Thanks, Bllu. For me it’s great validation when those ‘mistakes’ made in youth cease to bother me. It must mean that I’ve either got to a good place, or they’ve taught me so much that I now realise they were totally worth it 😉
Love, love, love this post. Your descriptions are so vivid; the characters are so intricately mirrored in prose to the point where I’m pretty sure I can see them right in front of me. Thanks, as always, for sharing the rich tapestry of your life with us x
Ooh, this comment has been sitting a whole week, neglected by me. I’ve had a lot to do, I’m sorry. But it’s a really gem of a comment – just the sort of thing to make me smile and feel that this blogging thing is really worth it. Thanks, Laura – enjoy your weekend, and I’m sure you’re going to be cooking something lovely!
That’s a game show for ya. Great story!
Yeah, you’re right – it makes many of them look tame, but I couldn’t bear to watch it after my ‘ordeal’. Thanks for your comment 😉
Yes, Gabriela. I felt the same way in my approach to relationships. I felt secretly desperate and didn’t at first want to pay the price of true healing, so I set myself on a headlong course. Fortunately I came to the realization that I needed time out… time to know myself for these last eight years and I don’t regret it. Vincent
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This comment is about a year “late”, I’m aware, but I wanted to make it anyway.
I happened to catch your appearance on Distraction last night on Challenge TV, of all things. I was totally unaware of the show’s existence prior to last night, and was very surprised by what it involved. I was, I must confess, initially amused by the concept, but as it progressed it became more and more uncomfortable to watch until, by the end, I was left questioning why I’d watched it at all and if I could stomach another one. (The answer? Probably not!)
Anyway, the reason I’m writing is because moments after the show started and you appeared, I thought to myself, “I think I know her”, and said as much to my partner. These thoughts intensified after your name was given. After the show I decided, on the off-chance, to look up who I thought I had seen along with the show’s name — and sure enough, here was this post, confirming pretty much how I thought you had been feeling from watching the show. Sorry you went through that — it sounds (and looked) like a hellish experience, but it also seems that through reflection you’ve been able to draw strength from it.
I’ll be very surprised if you remember me, given our very limited window of acquaintance, but let’s try anyway: we were at university together, and we knew one another briefly through a Theatre Group production of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country that we took to the Edinburgh Fringe and made the at least partially ill-advised decision to perform outside in the botanical gardens. I played Bolshintsov, tinged with a dash of Harold Bishop.
I don’t really have a point to make with this comment save to say that I was surprised to see you on my television, happy to remember the brief good times we had together with the rest of Theatre Group in Edinburgh, and that I’m glad to see you seem to have found your “muse” since. Speaking as someone who has been “drifting” somewhat for the past few years and is only now, at 33, starting to find a bit of stability and peace, I hope that you are now finding your life to be proceeding down a path which you’re happy with. Best of luck with everything that you do, and I shall be sure to add your blog to my Following list!
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