In This Scene…on March 3, 2013 at 6:00 am
When I was younger I wanted to be a stuntman. Then I graduated to wanting to be a stand-up comedian. Then eventually an actor. After my first acting experience in college, I quickly graduated to producer / director because I got to experience first-hand how something run so very poorly can ruin it all.
In college I was talking acting and improv classes and one day a friend of the teacher’s came into class to say they were holding some small auditions for people which would be an interactive dinner theater type of thing. Wanting to really get my hands dirty I volunteered and went to the audition not knowing what to expect. It turned out that a local credit union was having their company event and wanted to do a 1920’s gangster theme wherein we would dress the part, have backstories and classic gangster names, and walk around interacting with the people there. Subsequently I was one of 8 people that got selected.
After some meetings, some rehearsals, and shaving my goatee for the second time in 10 years, I battled some last-minute jitters where I almost bailed and went to the hotel where it was being held. We got into costume and did a couple of runthroughs of the 3 acts we were set to do, and then we got some of our pre-act assignments. Basically we were just supposed to interact and mingle, rotate between greeting people at the front door with our plastic Tommy Guns, and one person named Mike would later play the head honcho gangster who I think was named Scarpelli. But we quickly started to see some…weirdness.
First of all, none of the guests arriving had been told that the theme for the party was 1920’s. So everyone was showing up in regular clothes with the exception of some of the credit union higher-ups who were involved in the organization of the event. This led to a lot of people asking us what the theme was or things like that and one of the things that our director stressed was never to break character. If that came up we were supposed to respond with some kind of confused response about not knowing what they meant and we just quickly found that most of us couldn’t do it. And then things got worse.
There had already been some dissension between the director and the producer in the beginning when Director had decided to put on a costume and join the fun and Producer had not been invited to that party. Don’t worry, she was plotting her revenge all the while which I will get to. But Mike, as Scarpelli, was also just a guy mingling with the crowd and greeting people at the door, so when Act 1 started and his first line is “I didn’t authorize this party!” it loses most of its affect. Or would have had anyone been able to hear it.
The banquet room, which is where most of the guests were situated, had a bunch of tables and a stage up front that we had set up. To either side of the stage were stacks of speakers which, we quickly realized during rehearsal, that we could not increase the volume of because we were all wearing lapel microphones and us walking around in front of the speakers would cause massive and instant feedback. This meant that in order to have the speaker volume at a level that would resist feedback it had to be so low that a room full of talking people cannot hear you. And yet we started anyway.
I was supposed to be Scarpelli’s bodyguard, Smiley (from Boston). So when he started his “I didn’t authorize this party” speech and we expected to shove past people, he got accosted by someone that had already taken full advantage of the free bar. He starts trying to thank him for a great time and all this stuff and we broke away and made it up to the stage where we took our place. I’m not sure how far into Act 1 we were by the time people started to realize that something was actually happening and their voices began to fade, but in addition there were actors as a rival gang mingling in with the crowd. And of course they all missed their cues because no one could hear anything past the second row of tables.
Act 2 pretty much came on the coattails of the credit union folk making their speeches, congratulating employees and doing some recognition, and this is when the other people who were walking around the tables missed their cues. The director sees this and frantically tries to get their attention, which she eventually does after a lot of awkward pauses up on the stage. A fake fist fight ensues and the act finishes with Elliot Ness coming in and rounding us all up. We say some witty lines about how they haven’t seen the last of us and off we go.
It’s approximately this time that the disgruntled producer makes her move. Other rooms rented for the event included a dancing room which she wanted to commandeer and had a whole skit planned out about one of those classic dance-a-thons that used to take place around that era. She gave us all the rundown on what this new skit would be, we paired up with our female acting counterparts, and started some music…only no one knew this event was happening so there was no one to watch. Never the one to be thwarted she had yet another plan.
They turned the normal dance music on and waited until the room was full of additional party-goers and then randomly announced we were doing a skit and flipped the music back to tunes of the 20’s. The announcer says they’re on hour 20-something of the contest and proceeds to go around tapping those of us out who are not moving enough to be counted as “dancing.” This is the point where the producer magically jumps in, starts dancing like crazy, and is randomly declared the winner for pretty much no reason at all. A couple chuckles happen awkwardly and the music is flipped back to current dance tunes.
We are treated to a meal and mingle, taking a break here and there until the start of the final act which was supposed to just be us all playing cards and pretty much randomly being arrested, then making a scene as we exit. Only we went into the main room again and instead of random patrons mingling, they’ve set up a pair of dueling pianos as a comedy/musical act. So we have to wait until there’s a lull in there set (or maybe someone was actually douchey enough to ask them to take a break so we could do this thing) and Elliot Ness comes in again dragging us all away from our card game.
At the time I thought free dinner and a check for 50 bucks was a pretty sweet accomplishment even if I realized there were a lot of problems with how everything was designed and executed. And it was that experience that made me realize that the hardest part about acting isn’t the acting itself, but also trying to do it convincingly while all you can do is sit and think about how everything is kind of imploding around you. It was then that I realized I needed to be calling the shots and that’s what led me to sign up for film school.