Friday, September 10, 2010

Lying For A living

The date was November, 2001. It was roughly two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and I was going to do something I had never done before: I was going to audition for something. I was gonna try to get into a class on the art of acting.
The class was to be called “Lying For a Living” and was to be conducted in Los Angeles by the late and great Marlon Brando. The name of the class echoed what Brando had referred to his profession in an interview years earlier. Auditions for the classes, which were free, and which would feature guest instructors, big names from the film world, had been announced in a small item in the New York Daily News that same morning. They were being held at an off-off Broadway theater in lower Manhattan. I was visiting friends in Brooklyn, so it was only a 30 minute subway ride into the city.
It was a cold and wet day, the kind of cold and damp that penetrates to the bone. When I arrived the line went nearly around the block, with all sizes and shapes of future thespian hopefuls talking acting techniques and practicing soliloquies. It was interesting watching them all, since I had no experience at all in any kind of performance, except for a chorale gig as a small kid in school, where I soloed on “Edelweis” in front of a hall full of patient parents. As I stood quietly, I began to lose patience, and body heat. I Was not alone and after a while the recitations stopped and the slightly annoyed tones of voice began to get more annoyed. The doors were supposed to open at 11AM but it was nearing noon when the first applicants were allowed in. Once inside, we were obliged to fill out several pages of short autobiographical info, given a number and made to wait. As we were only allowed in three at a time, and were kept inside of a lobby, it was a mystery as to what was going on beyond the door that, one at a time, we were herded like lambs to an uncertain future.
I entered the door. Bright lights glared, and the unmistakable sounds of an audience were present through the lights and the nerves. I was also aware that a video camera was mounted on a tripod and pointed in my general direction, and that there was a man behind it. The more interesting man, though, was sitting in a cheap lawn chair, decked out with full beard and turban and looking for all the world like Osama Bin Laden, complete with a small American flag poking out of his turban. Two months post-9/11, I should have been offended but due to nerves was more confused than angry. I stared at him.
“What are you looking at?” he asked, in a British accent. I stammered some kind of dumb remark, which he ignored. He shook my hand, introduced himself to me as Tony Kaye, (director of the classic film American History X) and we were off. He asked me what special talents I possessed. I told him I played guitar, and within seconds a cheap Yamaha acoustic guitar was in my hands. Kaye told me that he wanted me to play a song. I thought, “This is gonna be easy,” since I am proficient on the guitar, until he said, and the lyrics to the song are, “Marlon Brando ate my car.” Those were the only words. My frozen hands weren’t as limber as they usually are but I began to fingerpick a folksy sounding pattern, and started singing the one line that he had provided me, changing the melody for each line, until he finally told me to stop. From the darkness there was a loud burst of applause from about 30 people who were sitting watching, unseen. Thirty seconds later I was out the door and back out on the street, shellshocked.
In the end, Brando didn’t use anyone from the auditions for his classes. He picked random passerby off the streets and that was that. Kaye’s video of the auditions and the classes is tied up in legal wrangling and might never see the light of day.
Weirdest day of my life, and one of the most fun.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote the above as a safe alternative to the heavier stuff that I wrote in the past three or four columns that never got published. Here is what the editor of the paper wrote back to me in response to my queries as to why my columns have not been used:
    It's not that you're not wanted or needed, it's just that I can foresee the
    last few columns as being problematic.
    I wasn't really impressed with the George Carlin thing. I would hope that we
    would be using our own material.
    I'm not really interested in a column that belittles someone's position on
    the Ground Zero mosque by saying fried food is the reason they feel that way
    and that "organized religion needs to go."
    I think we talked about the one on your acquaintances. I'm nervous about
    whether they're recognizable.
    I don't have a big technical problem with the one about the working class
    and the wealthy, but I'm just not sure it's something I want to put in the
    paper right now.

    I'm not trying to pick things apart here, but I think I would just like to
    see things less politically charged and controversial, less complicated and
    perhaps more personal.

    I realize you were brought into this after being asked to write from a
    left-of-center point of view, but I don't think that premise is working at
    the moment. I would like to talk to you if you have some time. Maybe I could
    explain a little better. Give me a call.


    He explained in person when I called that since the right of center columnist quit and its now a one-sided deal, he'd rather see more personal stuff. Good. As Dick Cavett said, "Politics bores my ass off."