I should have been nervous that day.
It stands to reason that I would be. I was a nervous kid. Like many evangelical padawans I was terrified of ever getting in trouble or making a scene and was afraid of pretty much everything at all times.
But, there was a unique element to my very first professional audition that nobody could have predicted or prepared for.
My favorite person that ever walked this earth was my grandfather who I’m named after. And it just so happened– a LOT of justsohappened around this event, didn’t it?– IT JUST SO HAPPENED that my grandfather who I hardly ever got to see but once a year during the summer was gracing us with a rare visit right after we had moved to Southern California. And he stayed with us for a couple weeks which had never happened.
And it just so happened that he was the one who drove me to my very first professional audition for reasons that time has long forgotten. To bask in the glow of my grandfather and be around him always put me in such a good mood that nothing could have made me nervous on that day.
And I should have been nervous that day.
Yet every memory I have of that audition experience is happiness and joy.
We drove to the location– I’m sure anybody who has stuck with this blog this far would know this location’s address by heart. As proof of how little I ever listened to the show… I don’t know the address to the Pomona facility. Yeah, I said it.
In fact, when I auditioned that day, the Pomona address didn’t technically exist yet as the organization was in the process of moving into the building.
The building was basically empty except for stacks of chairs freshly delivered from some factory. Desks stacked up. Carpet being installed, the plastic still on it. No pictures on the walls yet or signs of life.
It was eerily empty.
And this would weirdly set the tone for the next 35 years of my relationship with this show. This odd… isolation. It’s very hard to describe and I don’t know that there’s another person on the planet that had the same shared experience as I have had over the years with the show. I don’t know any other child actor ever who has reported a similar… scenario. I’ll get into this more later when I write about “Peers and the Lack of Them”.
The building was virtually empty. There were other kids, most of them I didn’t know. 1-2 of the kids I did know from the Joni play and when the time came the creators of the show brought two of us back into a hallway that lead to an office that would later become a head writer’s office… and there on the recently installed desk were two microphones on short stands and a flat tape recorder.
One of the other really fortunate things that worked in my advantage was that I JUST SO HAPPENED to audition with one of the kids that I was performing with in the Joni play described in the prior post. So, I’m super comfortable. Happy. Having fun. Completely relaxed.
They hand us a few pages of script. A two character scene to read.
No prep. (This would become a hallmark of the show’s internal process.)
And they pressed record.
I want to take a moment here to talk about a facet of Acting that never gets enough attention.
If this blog is going to maintain interest for me then I have to write about stuff that I geek out on. And one of my favorite things to talk about is Acting. And I almost never get to talk about it.
As we move forward through this story I want to incorporate elements of this part of my life because I think it helps to explain why I’m good at certain stuff that comes later, like politics and psychology.
I have been asked more times than I care to remember “how do you become an actor?”
And if I were trapped in a 5th dimensional prison by some asshole genie that I upset by accidentally touching a cursed vase in an antique shop in that back alley last week– this is purely hypothetical I want that to be clear– and the only way I could get out of said 5th dimensional prison was to only give one answer– and one answer ONLY– to sum up the primary skill needed to be a successful actor I would say….
The ability to cold read.
That’s 99.999999999999% of the job. If you can’t do that, you will struggle.
I don’t want to deter anyone who struggles with reading… but if there is one skillset that I had been privileged from birth to have a clear advantage it was having an english teacher for a mother and a father who sells printed words and being read to and having books everywhere. Reading was something I loved to do and never sweated the times in school when everyone has to be reading a paragraph out loud from the same story. That was something I was good at! I knew how to do that. I looked forward to reading out loud.
The ability to cold read is probably the core learned skill needed by actors because everything you do involves a script. And much of the time you won’t have time to see the new pages freshly written beforehand. Or they ask you to read a second scene during the audition– usually the first scene is sent to you– but it’s very normal to get new pages on set and only have a moment or two with them. In Voice Over work that can be even more pronounced. At least in visual mediums you don’t NEED a script in every shot. Some footage is silent. In V.O. work your entire job is saying words written on pages. The ability to quickly read accurately and to express emotion appropriate to the content is probably gonna get you the job over an equally talented actor who struggles with that skill set.
Being directable helps too– having an evangelical kid REALLY helps here cuz we’re good at taking orders we can’t say no to and performing under discipline and pressure.
Being empathetic helps too. Nice to have the ability to express a majority of human emotions (although I would get called out for my inability to not cry or laugh later).
But reading. Out loud. That’s the whole job in a nut shell. My children will never appreciate the 10 years of bedtime stories I read in character as practice while my life path took me further and further away from the industry. Bedtime stories were often my only Acting outlet– so if you wanna do Voice Over… read out loud with silly voices. Make kids laugh. It’s good practice.
That part of the audition process was a very comfortable space for me to be in. Read words I’ve never read before without making mistakes and put the proper emotion into it? Pssh. That’s a Thing Dave Can Do.
I will never be able to fix a transmission or write code or swing a hammer with any sort of competency.
But reading words and giving them life and not messing up… I can do that.
And I’m comfortable? And happy?
And if ever there was a kid looking for that next fix of the Acting bug and was in the right place at the right time with the perfect skill set in the best mood possible…
I. Was. That. Kid.
It didn’t surprise me when two weeks later my mom came into my room as I was getting ready for school and she said, “that radio show you auditioned for called and they want you to play a part!”
I wasn’t surprised… but I was ecstatic.
And I had no idea what the character was gonna be. What the show was called. There was no script sent. Nothing. Just show up at this location at this date and time.
And for the next two weeks I was floating on air. The drudgery of school and my sadness over moving and not fitting in and having no friends….
NOW I’VE GOT SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO.
I wonder what the part will be like?
I wonder how many lines I’ll get to say?
I wonder if it will be funny or scary or sad?
There’s a classic Calvin & Hobbes storyline where Calvin is waiting to receive a propellor beanie in the mail after eating 9 metric tons of cereal to send away for the beanie. The strips play out as Calvin goes about his day oblivious to the world around him because he’s fantasizing about how great his propellor beanie is going to be.
That was me for the next two weeks.
A miserable kid suddenly made happy who can hardly focus on any of life’s problems and has something cool to wait for.
I can’t remember being that excited for anything in my life to that point. It was better than birthday’s and christmas and the Joni play all rolled into one.
I hope I don’t mess it up.
I hope I do good.
I can’t wait.
if I do good enough…
I’ll get to do other radio shows and plays.