Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cue Background (Part One)

I spent a day trapped in a small room with thirty-nine other twenty-somethings (and one really old lady), scarce food and water and a general tone of disillusionment. I was an unpaid extra for a major motion picture.

Finding out via text on Tuesday evening that I needed to report for duty at 7:00 am the following day gave me no time to prepare either mentally or wardrobe-ally. What could barely be called instructions were simply: “7am call time, GVSU Mackinac Hall, dress 90s.” Luckily I had previously started stalking the production in very nerdy fashion. I had ordered the book on which the movie is based and was pretty well versed in the plot. I frantically googled “1996 street fashion” and basically copied the wardrobe from Empire Records as best I could from my own closet, pulling anything I thought might work for both myself and my sister.

We arrived on set promptly at 7:00 the next morning, called the number we were provided and spoke to a very confused Casting Assistant named Mike (but who would later be re-named “Snuggleupagus” by my sister). He didn’t seem to understand why we were calling him or why we were there at 7:00 rather than 8:00. Hadn’t we gotten the memo that the call time was pushed? We hadn’t. In fact, since we didn’t go through casting and had instead been invited by a very tight-lipped friend of a friend who assisted on the production, we weren’t on any lists that would result in memo-like emails. We were clueless. And not in an appropriately 90s sort of way. The cherubic youngsters whose power lived in the walkie-talkies strapped to their barely post-adolescent hips basically told us to go away for an hour because there was nowhere to “put us” at the moment. So we did. But you better believe I left a trail of snark in my wake.

At just before call time, we made our way back to the sassy, walkie-talkie-toting girl and were told to sign in with Snuggleupagus. We signed our photo-releases, gave him our pertinents, and dodged a bewildered look in response to my age before being told to go wait in the “holding room” which was also labeled, “Craft Services”. There were helpful signs throughout the building, letting us know which way the sets for different scenes were so we knew exactly where we weren’t allowed. In fact, we were really only allowed to exist inside the “holding room”, which was a small classroom that I may have once inhabited to barely pass an Algebra class. Just like the first day of Algebra class, everyone turned to stare at us as we made our way to two of the only open desks, far in the front right corner. Once I hurdled over crossed legs and strewn bags and found my way to my seat, I was able to take inventory. Everyone was younger than me. That was evident but no different from most of my social experiences so I didn’t think much of it. The attempts at “90s fashion” that I could see made me giggle, knowing that most of these people were still pooping themselves in 1996 when the movie is set. They were confusing 80s with 90s in a very big way, and those who weren’t confused about decades all seemed to think that grunge-flannel was the only thing people wore. I was 12 years old in 1996 and I knew differently. I was very smug in my outfit choice, and that of my sister.

The next hour or so felt very much like the first day of class. Nobody talked. Everyone looked terrified and found solace in the blinking screens of their phones. I don’t like awkward silence so to combat the deafening din of nervousness I struck up a conversation with the adorable Jo-Bro candidate behind me. I’m not sure I ever learned his name, though he did tell me quite a few times. But I did find out that he was one of about five paid extras in our midst. He had headshots. It was a big deal. Apart from automatically being in every scene and being paid a whopping $7.40 an hour, there was no difference between Jo-Bro and us. Except that he was taking his day a lot more seriously. After an eternity of sitting around silently sizing up the room, someone finally came in with a bit of direction. We were told that we’d be “released” to wardrobe in groups of five, and to sit tight until we were arbitrarily pointed to at some point in the next millennium.

Walking into wardrobe was the first of many sobering experiences of the day. Set up in yet another classroom, racks of ugly stripes, corduroy and stiff denim gave off a very “Goodwill” odor and really had me hoping my outfit would pass inspection. It didn’t. One of four tiny women scanned me quickly, called me “lady” and said I’d be a member of the faculty. This might not sound so bad. I am 29 years old, after all. But they didn’t know that. They were laughing and assigning archetypal college personalities to the kids who went before and alongside me. There were “druggies”, “cool girls wearing their boyfriends’ leather”, “smart/good girls”…and me, the faculty member. Barely recovered from that blow, I was asked (in a shout from across the room) what size I wore. Oh dear. Without much choice and with only a shred of dignity left anyway, I returned just as loudly, “I’m a 16, but I haven’t eaten yet today so a 14 is also on the table.” I shouldn’t have said that. Should not have offered the option of a 14 because that’s what I got. A size 14 pair of “mom jeans” in the lightest blue denim you’ve ever laid eyes on. The fabric was so stiff and structured that I had to literally jump and tuck myself into them before praying to every iteration of a god and sucking my stomach inside out to zip up. It worked. I was in. Topping it off with some rubber booties and a crushed velvet sweater underneath a giant purple windbreaker and knit cap, I was given the “100%” from wardrobe and ushered into hair and makeup only to be shuffled out again with no additions.

Advertisements

As an Audience

What I’m aiming to write about here is plain old inspiration. The stuff that I have been so fruitlessly searching for these past few weeks. It was only last night, as I swilled whiskey on the rocks and pretended to enjoy it, that I realized my friends and my city are a constant source.

Most Monday nights, when I can be bothered to put on my eyebrows and some pants, I can be found in the back bar at Stella’s among the troubadours at The Drunken Retort. While my friends bravely march (or stagger, depending on the hour) up to the microphone to spew new, old, memorized or written down “shit”, I get to sit in a cozy booth and practice the art of facial expression and observation. It truly is something to behold.

There are the regulars:

When Poe oozes with the suave-yet-rugged charm of an inappropriately sexy English professor, the ladies and gays listen, chins cupped in sweaty palms, sighing their intentions into the electric air. When Fable skips fearlessly along the edge of emotional, daring anger and flirting with punchline the atmosphere feels solid, like if he needed it, we’d all form a human chain around his life to keep the badness away. When Autopilot switches on and positions himself atop the lyrical soapbox, he makes us nod along, both to the cadence of his diatribe and in agreement. Because of course, he’s right. NoMic bellows into the packed space about simply being decent humans. Decent to ourselves and by extension (but not hair extensions) to our loved ones. Our chests collectively puff out as we all try to instantly assume a more commanding posture, to match even a hint of his confidence. And then Rachel. Rachel who merely touches the microphone and elicits goosebumps throughout the house. Full-body ripples. Skin that rises and reaches out to be even millimeters closer to her haunting voice. The lyrics are a tad morose but “Whiskey” has become our anthem. Fifty women in black, sitting at a table in back, maybe hoping for the opportunity to scream at someone to “Get the f*ck off the stage!”

Because it makes us feel better, right? We like when someone is terrible because it reinforces our fears of participating while also helping us maintain a charade of being even marginally talented. At least for me, it does. When I hit “publish” on a new blog, nobody can ring a boo-bell and force me to stop opining. It’s already done. Already out there and I’m safely behind my computer and away from raised eyebrows of criticism.

Maybe it’s easy for the regulars. For those surrounded by familiar faces that allow bravado. But what about the virgins? The ones who get belled time after time and come back for more. Fifty Shades of Punishment Gluttons. Last night was a virtually bell-less evening. All beast. The guitar-toting crooner, mopping up the void-puddle left by an absence of Jason Mraz, stirred the familiar excitement that comes alongside cute boys with pretty voices. There’s the big bang in a tiny package that is Brooke Bing. She needs a soapbox, but only to reach the mic. Bing somehow has the ability to drink her way into flowing genius. Her night-ending freestyle put the seasoned rappers to shame and prompted me to toss aside my stoicism and scoop her into a lifted embrace.

The only things I can drink myself into are bathroom best friendships and outrageous claims. So I sit as a member of the audience. Close enough to belong, but with none of the responsibility. All take, no give. And it is taking. The performers give so much to us as an audience. And it doesn’t hurt that everyone is beautiful. I don’t mean beautiful in the Aguilerian sense of “everyone has inner beauty”. I mean that I wouldn’t turn down the invitation to see any one of them naked. Bing and Rachel included. Or maybe especially. The teenybopper in me can’t help but note the aesthetic value of this group but don’t mistake the fact that their talent and sheer ballsiness would be enough.

So if you are a performer, a writer, a painter, whatever…keep doing what you’re doing. Somewhere there’s a shy soul, watching you and (not so) silently adoring. Be their inspiration.