Thursday, 15 September 2011

Lights Up...

Hello Friends.

A few weeks ago, I had my annual review at work. These are not like reviews in The Globe and Mail or Vanity Fair, with phrases like, “James is transcendent!” or “You'll recognize this face next awards season!” Rather, my review contained such praise as, “You're good at counting your till every night!” and “Thanks for stocking the milk on a semi-regular basis.” The congenial tone changed, however, when my boss addressed a customer complaint levied against me months ago. Some lady wanted toothpaste for a dollar when it was clearly not a dollar. I explained to her that she was mistaken; that a competing brand of toothpaste was on sale for a dollar, however that was not the brand she was attempting to buy.

“What's the difference?” she complained. “Toothpaste is toothpaste! Just give it to me for a dollar!” We get arguments like this all the time, but for some reason, this one really set me off. “Toothpaste is not toothpaste!” I said. “If they were all the same price, why would we have competing brands at all?” Then, because I couldn't stop myself, I walked over to the shelf and said, “This item is priced at $2.99, this one is a dollar. Do you see how they are different?” And she said, “You're being very rude sir!” at which point I threw my hands up and walked away. Somebody else rang her through after which she demanded to speak to a manager and proceeded to complain about me for several minutes.

“This woman was speaking nonsensically” my Italian boss admitted (she has that great English-as-a-Second-Language habit of speaking simply, but throwing in strange adverbs to “dress it up”). “But you must always be smiling beatifically, James, even if inside you are thinking, 'This customer is unkind.'” I nodded, half-listening, but she got my attention with her next point: “You must mask your true feelings sometimes, James. You are like... an actor, substantially! Yes, an actor! Imagine you are an actor!” Ahhh, salting the wound, boss at a drugstore, you're just salting the wound.

I have training to be an actor, you see. I've taken a lot of classes, workshops, seminars, etc. with such a goal in mind. I have a degree from a university in the field, but that hasn't translated to great deal of work. That's all I'm going to do by way of complaining that finding acting work is difficult. In this economy, finding any work is difficult, even more so when your qualifications include: Standard British, some mask work, no dance experience.

Lately, it seems like I've had more success professionally with stuff that I'm writing, which for me has been immensely satisfying, even more satisfying than landing a spear-carrier part in a play. But I often wonder what would change if I landed some big, meaty role in a terrific play. The “brass balls” guy in Glengarry Glenn Ross, let's say, or Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, or Gums in that Dental Hygiene Revue they do in elementary schools.

Professional actors, ones who don't make their living selling milk, would surely tell me the key to landing one of these sought after parts is nailing the audition, and the key to nailing the audition is a great monologue. Monologue comes from the Latin “mono”, meaning one, and “logue”, meaning pretentious piece of acting. I know this because often after I perform a monologue, the director will say, “That's one pretentious piece of acting.” When I first starting auditioning for things out of school, I had about five monologues at the ready. One contemporary funny piece, one contemporary sad piece, two Shakespeare, and a Shaw. I still use those pieces now, though I've forgotten the Shaw and the spare room in my brain that it used to occupy now holds the lyrics and tune for “Moves Like Jagger.” I've grown weary of the pieces, though, and I suspect that weariness must shine through on the rare occasion I do audition for something, because I haven't been given a part for some time. Time to begin anew and in earnest!

Dream: Find the perfect monologue to nail the next audition.

Goal: Achievable. My friend Jonelle observed recently that on every audition she goes to, the men use monologues where they weep, and the women use monologues where they rage. Though she auditions a lot more than I do, I know Jonelle's statement to be empirically true. If I am waiting to be seen at an audition, and I listen through the door at the guy going in before me, I hear muffled, “ahhmm hmm hmm AUGH! AUGH AUGHHUHUHU! NOOOO!!! AUGH!!! Hmmm mmm.” And through the women's doors I hear, “Oh you're so fucking SNUH! SNUHHH! RAAAHH!!” I always feel terrible for the casting people. I'm sure the actors think they must show off a wide range of extreme emotions, but directors must not like being screamed at all day. But the idea that the right monologue can show off ones emotional range is a solid one, and something I must consider when finding a new piece.

Plan: Just write it myself. You know when you're about to lie to someone, how you rehearse what you're going to say? Like, “I'm so sorry I couldn't make it to your party but this guy at work, he called in sick and I was like, 'Not today, of all days when I was going to go to Linda's awesome theme party!' But they just couldn't find anyone to replace him, so I said...” You practice that whole bit several times in your mind before you open your mouth! And acting is nothing if not telling big lies with conviction, so it stands to reason that I could do my best acting if I wrote my own parts. I'll just tell any directors that I chose a really obscure piece from a really obscure play. If I give the fake playwright one of those names that aren't really names, and the fake play a really pretentious title, they'll pretend to have heard of it because directors have to make you think they know everything. Also, should any actor friends of mine want to use these (and you will), I have kept the character names gender-neutral, so the following pieces could be performed by a man, woman, or precocious child:

From Autumn's Passing by Leers Kettering.
PAT sits beside a hospital bed, head in his/her hands.
The heart monitor beeps steadily, but unobtrusively, as PAT rises and crosses to centre stage.


I just keep thinking about that night. Graduation. “Party time!” we said, and, “Let's go to Makeout Point      with our sweethearts!” We thought the fun would never end... never end. I knew I probably shouldn't have driven. After all, those college boys kept pouring us alcohol cocktails, and I don't have to tell you, Autumn, my head was spinning.

PAT runs his/her fingers through their hair and paces. PAT stops and speaks louder than before, as if conveying emotion.

We drove so fast, and so far! We felt like we were invincible, like we owned the world! (Smirking) But didn't we?

That's when it happened. In my impaired judgement, and yes, I admit that now, I drove over a pebble which punctured our tire, slowing us down significantly. I pulled over and got the spare out of the trunk, and that's when a deer came out of the woods and bit you on the face.

Dammit, Autumn, don't you see? We were just being stupid kids. If I could take it back, I would! (Louder) IF I COULD TAKE IT BACK I WOULD! AUGH! AUGH! I tell people I was there when it happened and they say, “But no deer bit you on the face. You got off easy.” Easy! Easy? You think this is easy for me? Nothing's ever easy for me now. Nothing ever again.


From Knee-High to a Grasshopper by Fisher Cuntles
JESSE, an adorable six year old, is skipping rope.
S/he stops skipping upon noticing the audience.


Oh hi! I'm Jesse! What's your name? (Pause for response) Wow, that's a lotta names! Golly! I'm six years old! How old are you? (Shorter pause) Nevermind! I don't wanna know! (Hold for laughs)

I have a best friend, you know! A bestest friend in the whole wide world! His name is Tumbles and he's my cat. I love Tumbles. His favourite things are sleeping, eating, and scratching! We got him a scratching-post but he never uses it! Cats! Ha ha! He always scratches my Dad instead, and that makes my Dad awful sore! He yells, “Tum-bles!” in a loud voice whenever it happens.

One time we were all watching tv and Tumbles scratched my Dad on his leg and he yelled “Tum-bles!” and then, “You quit it!” and Tumbles stopped. But then, later that night, he did it again, and Dad yelled, “Tum-bles!”and then, “If you don't quit it, no more cat treats for you!” and Tumbles stopped. But then, even later than night, Tumbles scratched my Dad again and Dad yelled, “Tum-bles!” and then, “If you don't quit it, I'm sending you to Afghanistan!” and Tumbles stopped. But then, really late that night, he did it again!

On April 14, 2009, Tumbles was deployed to the Afghan province of Kunar. He didn't wanna go on a plane, and he kept trying to get his helmet off with his paws, but it was no use. Dad says fighting in a warzone might teach Tumbles not to scratch his goddamned leg so much. I think Tumbles is writing me letters but I don't understand what they say because I can't read yet. I miss my best friend... I miss him so much. I wish he was here to chase butterflies with me, or give me cuddles at nighttime, but Dad says it's much more important that he is over there, fighting for my freedom. Fighting for my life.


From Late Harvest by Hinch Cavoss.
A FARMER is stacking bales of hay in a barn.
After surveying the work, the FARMER sits on a milking stool and lights a corncob pipe.


Oh hey there stranger! Didn't see you settin' there! These days, my eyes ain't what they used to be! Then again, I suppose nothin's like it used to be. The name's Nancy Margeret Magee, but most folks call me Old Gus.

I've seen a lot of things out here on the farm. Things that'd curl your hair and hitch up your overalls. I don't s'pose you'd be willing to set here a spell and hear the story of an old farmer, now would you?

Aw, I reckon you wouldn't. I'll be along now.

FARMER exits. Blackout.

Funnily enough, in the time between starting this blog entry on Thursday afternoon, and finishing it late Thursday evening, I lost my cashiering job. I didn't lose it, exactly, but was told on my shift today that starting in November, another employee would be returning from maternity leave, putting our supervising staff at three singles mothers, and me. Hours would be cut, I was told, and unfortunately, my shifts were no longer a priority. “I completely understand.” I said, and here I was speaking the truth.

I've been lucky to have been behind a till for a lot of years. It's easy work that will be hard to miss. I'm daunted by the idea of dropping off resumes again, but buoyed by the fact that this might be my chance for a real job. Maybe someone will pay me to write, or act, or just carry a spear. One thing is for sure, though. If I can get that call in, if someone invites into their office or onto their stage, and asks me to tell them a little bit about myself, I'll have a hell of a lot to say.


  1. Ah! It's so long since I've had the chance to sit down and really enjoy one of Cuntles' bits. Truly one of the great American playwrights of our time.

    Have you written any plays, James? From your brief flight of fancy here, I think it's clear you ought to.

  2. Thanks Berkley! Yes, I've written a few plays in my time, mostly for high-school aged performers, but some for drunk grown-ups. Thanks for reading!