A season for the unexpected
Thursday, October 20 – It’s a glorious afternoon on the patio at Starbucks. Temperature close to 80, nice breeze, flawless sky. A few minutes ago, an old gaffer hobbled up, winded and feeble, and muttered something. I nodded, and he sat heavily in the other chair at my table. We’ve never met, but I’ve heard the baristas call him Marshall. When they realized I was buying him a coffee, they wouldn’t take my money. Come to think of it, my Americano or the oatmeal-raisin cookie were on the house, too.
It seems to be the season for the unexpected.
Two weeks ago, I auditioned for a commercial as a tennis player. The client was a medical center in Florida. But before I left for the audition, I got word about another audition the next day for the same client. The second was for a man who would be picnicking with a woman.
There were four or five others actors at the first audition when I got there, and all played competitive tennis. I played a lot as a kid, but haven’t played competitively since I was 15, and hadn’t touched a racket in years. In fact, until I unzipped the cover, I thought my racket was the old wooden Bancroft I used as a kid. I was pleased and relieved to discover it’s actually a white ceramic Prince with blue gut strings and a blue grip.
The audition consisted of me swinging at imaginary tennis balls in front of a camera. Ordinarily it’s not easy to relax at auditions. At the first audition I ever attended – also for a medical facility – I botched a line in the script by referring to the center’s high quality "car care." In fact, there are people in the business who charge serious money – it’s a cottage industry, really – by promising to teach actors how to relax at auditions, and get the part.
But in this case, being asked to do something requiring action and a measure of hand-eye coordination brought out the kinetic joy in me. I swung away, hitting forehands and backhands, announcing some of the shots, and took a few jabs at net for good measure.
In my mind, I had nothing to lose. One of the real tennis players was going to get the part, and there was always the audition the next day. I could easily imagine myself eating strawberries with a pretty woman.
But on my way out, the casting director said that since I’d auditioned for the tennis, I couldn’t try out for the picnicking role. Clients don’t want to see people auditioning for more than one part. When I got home I sent my agent an email lamenting that I’d gone to the wrong audition.
Three days later, she called to say I’d gotten a callback — a second audtion. This time the casting director was joined by two women from the advertising agency, the cameraman and a photographer.
I was to portray a man who’d had knee replacement surgery, and had healed so well he was playing tennis again. In the interest of verismilitude, I pointed out the scar on my right knee, the legacy of two surgeries on the same cartilage.
Then it was more imaginary tennis. Along with forehands and backhands, they wanted to see me jump a couple times, speed up, move forward and back, the session ending just as I prepared to backhand a studio floor light.
Again I’d been relaxed and went home content. Two days later, I got the part.
We shot the job at a sunsplashed resort on a lake, and it was harder than I expected. I hit hundreds of shots, all from a crouch, but I enjoyed it and everyone seemed pleased.
And yet if I had gotten my way, if I had succeeded in my limited wisdom and desire to control the situation, I wouldn’t have gotten either role. The couple they picked for the picnic were 10-15 years older than I.
Instead, I let go of expectations, had fun and got the part. I also collected a check that – another surprise – was several hundred dollars more than I expected, enough to push back my deadline (see "Deadline for a dream") for ending this quixotic adventure another month.
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