Vegas in Hell with the Fairy Queen

As a good, polite Canadian, I spend a fair amount of time wishing I were cooler and having a laugh at my own expense.

This does however put me in some precarious emotional spots. As I am more likely to make a self-deprecating joke about myself than toot my own horn, I sometimes become a doormat for those who like to wipe their feet on others.

When I returned from a year abroad of swilling Norwegian “hooch” and consuming Jarlsberg by the wheel, I waddled my way into a theatre and drama program at the University of Toronto in Mississauga. Great program, but like most college and university theatre programs, in your first year, the closest you get to performing on the main stage with the big kids, is hemming their rented pants while they forget your name. But it’s all about earning your stripes, I guess.

I really hated not being allowed to act in the main productions. If I don’t get the chance to perform for an extended period of time, I start to get crazy. I chat with random strangers and use overly-vigorous hand gestures; I lose the ability to realize that I’m yelling; I become very passive aggressive and my emotions become wildly exaggerated. I become Don Cherry, really.

After having mastered networking in a foreign country (while overseas I tracked down and became very involved with an English-speaking Shakespeare company in Oslo), finding some extra-curricular theatre work in the region of Peel was a piece of cake.

I was cast in a Canadian play to be mounted in Brampton. To get to rehearsal I had to either take a Mississauga Transit bus, followed by a Brampton Transit bus or the combination of a Mississauga bus and a ride from another cast member. I remember a few dark nights there… waiting outside the Brampton Shoppers World with the winking 1970s orange sign, imagining how to use a highlighter as a weapon against rapists, praying to the patron saints of public transit to make the bus come faster.

But I digress… The production went up in two different venues and truly, during the first year of my theatre degree, it was simply a relief to be performing on a main stage somewhere. During the run of the show I became friendly with everyone, cast and crew alike. However, one cast member was a slightly prickly and abrasive fellow. I got the impression that he thought fairly highly of himself and he was a total foot-wiper. Eventually I worked out a kind of stupid repartee with him that involved him calling me “Gearbox” (a neatly packaged insult to my intelligence) and in turn I called him “Shitface” (so there, Jackass.) The relationship, I admit, was flawed, but at least we found a way to stand each other’s grating company.

The following year, the same theatre company put the word out with a casting call for their upcoming summer season. I figured I’d be a shoo-in as, who should be head of production this year? None other than ol’ Shitface himself.

I checked the audition requirements, brushed up my monologues and learned a Gilbert and Sullivan tune for the occasion. The day of my audition, I put on my favourite spring dress (a little June Cleaver, a little Morticia Addams), borrowed my mom’s VW Golf and drove to the theatre, windows down, confident and cocky as hell.

After boisterously running through vocal scales and arpeggios in a ladies room stall, I sat myself down on a plastic chair near the entrance to the auditorium, and waited to be called in. Ho hum… at least the dated décor of the lobby was entertaining. The theme of it must have been “Vegas in Hell” with its red and orange carpet that spanned the floor and ran up the walls to meet the bronze –speckled mirrors on the ceiling. Around me, the room was peppered with nervous candidates, talking to walls, thumbing their resumes, dropping names at fellow auditionees and loudly pretending to be old friends because they both know and “loooove” James who was in that show “that we did in Collingwood.” Oh em gee. Shoot me.

An annoyingly cheery girl popped her head through the entrance of the auditorium and motioned for me to come in. I burst through the double doors like a returning champion, arms open and swept down the aisle. Ahead, I could see Shitface in his producer turtleneck, all clean and serious and respectable.

“Shiiiiiiitfaaaaace!” I exclaimed with joy and familiarity.

The room went immediately quiet. I even think the A/C cut out.

Looking down at my eight by ten photo in his hand, he slowly sounded out my name like he was reading it for the first time.

“Hi. Wwwhitney?”

Oh my baby Jesus in dreamland.

He didn’t remember who I was. No clue. No memory of our work together. No repartee. I was just an asshole actor who’d strolled into an audition and called the producer “Shitface.”

The pianist was an alumna of the company and gave me a nod of welcome –slash-bewilderment as I dragged myself up onto the stage with – yes - my arms still open. Shitface sat behind a table in the audience and whispered with his cohorts while Miss Cheery Sunshine Satan tittered at his remarks.

My face frozen in the expression of “do-you-think-you-could-plunge-the-straw-of-your-Sprite-into-my-neck-because-I’d-rather-not-go-through-this-incredibly-awkward-audition,” I handed the pianist my music and croaked through the Fairy Queen song from Iolanthe at break-neck speed. All I wanted was for this to be over. My monologue came out of my mouth in a sort of Gilbert Gottfried whiny squeal as I grappled with the audition suicide I had just committed.

It finally all wound down and I slunk to the apron of the stage. I blocked the lights so I could see the panel members’ faces.

“So… you ‘member when we did that play last year?” I pleaded, still Gilbert Gottfried.

“Yeah, of course I do.”

“Remember our thing?... You used to call me ‘Gearbox’?… I called you ‘Shitface’?... You know that funny banter we had?” For the love of GOD, please say you remember…

With a glimmer of remembrance and a touch of pure, distilled, consommé of evil he said, “Yeeeah. Oh, um I guess. Sure.”

I didn’t get a call back.

Exit, pursued by FAIL.

What I learned from this: Don’t call a producer “Shitface” until you know he doesn’t have selective memory loss.

1 comment

  • lynguist
    whitney! you are such a fantastic writer. a little bit of the old Ted Barris in ya, I see? no, no, you are your own writer, my dear. keep it up!

    whitney! you are such a fantastic writer. a little bit of the old Ted Barris in ya, I see? no, no, you are your own writer, my dear. keep it up!

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