A month and a half ago I got a phone call.
"Hi, this is Carrie from Schmirch Fabrics*, Lynne Brown Schmepper** gave me your name as someone who might be interested in an acting job," the voice on the other end says.
"Oh. Okay, sure," I said.
"We're having a picnic and we need some one to dress up and make an announcement. And we'd pay you to do it." Carrie said
Even though I don't understand at all what she's asking me to do, I do understand that she's offering me money so I say: "Alright. When and where?" We set up a time for me to come in a meet the group of people Carrie refers to as "us" (who's us? what us is this? I never really found out).
About a month later, Carrie calls me again just to make sure I'm still planning on coming in. I tell her "yes," and blow yet another opportunity to find out exactly what it is that I've agreed to do. This happens partly because she called while I was suffering from my massive sinus infection and I, for a period of a week and a half or so, hated life and partly because, as a general rule, I'm bad at stuff.
Last Friday, I went to meet with Carrie. I went to the Schmirch Fabrics office, told the receptionist that I had an appointment with Carrie and then sat down in the holding area, reading all about upcoming events in the September 2005 issue of Grand Rapids Magazine. Turns out, I missed what promised to be a totally awesome Aerosmith concert two years ago. How will I find the strength to go on?
Carrie walks into the room to greet me. When I see Carrie, I wonder if Schmirch Fabrics is breaking child labor laws by employing this fourteen year old child. She ushers me into the conference room to meet everyone. "Don't worry," she tells me, "there's only going to be seven of us."
Seven women ranging in age from the fourteen year old Carrie to 50ish. A whole range of shapes and sizes. As diverse a group as you can get from seven Dutch women who work in the office of a fabric and upholstery company.
As I walk into the room I hear titters of "Oooh, he's tall!" and "Oh good the costume will fit!" and "Oh, the beard will work great!" It's weird to be ogled like a piece of meat. It's even weirder to be ogled like a piece of meat that someone wants to put in a funny hat and a pair of fake boots.
So I sit down at the head of the table and say 'hi' to everyone, more confused than ever about what it is they want me to do. It was like a scene from The Office, with the party planning committee interviewing entertainers for the big Christmas party. If only there had been a Pam in the room to share in my embarrassment for everyone else in the room.
"Has Carrie told you what we want you to do?" asked woman 3.
"Uhm, not really," I admitted my cluelessness.
It was then explained to me that what they needed was someone to announce their Renaissance themed office party, so they wanted me to come in in a week, put on some Renaissance garb and read a proclamation to the assembled Schmirch Fabric employees. 'Oookay,' I thought, 'sounds simple enough, if not altogether kind of ridiculous.' "Oh, alright, sure," I said. "Have you ever done anything like this before?" asked woman 5.
"I mean, I've acted before . . . I've never done something like this, exactly, but I've worn purple tights so it's not like I'm unaccustomed to looking silly in front of crowds of strangers." This inspired more giggling.
"Oh, we won't make you wear tights," said woman 2. I was kind of disappointed. Not because I love wearing tights or anything, but because, frankly, my legs look really good in tights. I'm just saying.
Anyway, woman 7 pulled a sheet of paper out of her folder and slid it over to me and then woman 4 said, "We don't want to put you on the spot here, but would you mind, y'know, standing up and giving us a reading, maybe?" Now, in an audition (which this ostensibly was), I generally expect to have to, y'know, audition so asking me to read is not so much 'putting me on the spot' as it is asking me to do the thing that I was asked to come in and do. So, I take the script, I stand up (more titters from woman 5 and 7, who came in late and as such didn't get to marvel at my height earlier) and I look at the script.
Because, of course, it's all Renaissance-y, it's typed in some Renaissance-y font which is good, because if it were in a more readable script, I wouldn't have understood that it was supposed to be Renaissance-y and would have read it wrong. The script begins "Hear Yee, Hear Yee." Yup. "Yee."
So, I start reading the script in my big Renaissance-y voice and the titters begin again "Oooh, my!" "It sounds even better than I thought it would!" I read about half of it and the titters grew to a crescendo so I stopped. "Oh that's great!" "Thank you for doing that!" Clap, clap, clap, applause, applause, applause.
"Alright, great! That's going to be just perfect. Just perfect." says woman 5.
"We've got everything set, the only question is, how much to pay you. I don't want to put you on the spot, but how much would you normally get paid for something like this?"
Because I'm Dutch and because I've been poor all my life, and because my family ever only talked about money as a problem, I'm really bad about talking about money. It makes me very uncomfortable. Especially when it comes to evaluating my value. 'How much would I normally get for something like this?' Something like this has, to my knowledge, never really been done by anyone ever. It's like asking "How many people are usually killed in a Martian attack?"
I yammered out some "ye--err--idunn--uhm" and, sensing my continued cluelessness and discomfort, young little Carrie came to my rescue and said "How about $50 dollars?" Honestly? I was hoping for more. Not that I deserved it, but I've gotten used to getting paid $100 an hour for gigs and I thought maybe these people were just clueless enough to over-estimate my worth. And they did, just not as much as I would like them to. Realizing that $50 for three minutes of work was probably more than fair, I took the offer.
Yesterday, at 9am, I drove down to Schmirch Fabrics. I met Carrie and was scuttled off into the conference room yet again. She quickly drew all of the curtains and, motioning to a series of plastic bags and a box formerly used for stationary, she says "There's your costume stuff. I'll give you ten minutes or so to put it on. I'll knock before I come back in." I start pulling things out of the bags, fearful that without having taken a single measurement from me, or even asking what size I wear, a costume has been picked out for me. I was fairly certain that this was going to fit about as well as the infamous Cap'n Crunch outfit I wore for Schmeritage Theatre Groups '02 production of Hamlet.
I needn't have worried, though. These women are used to upholstering large pieces of furniture, so finding the right amount of fabric to cover my orangutan-like physique was no problem. The costume fit fine. And while I had been expecting something Renaissance-y, it turns out their idea of Renaissance-y is much more in keeping with my idea of Pirate-y. The inside label of the shirt actually called it a "Buccaneer" shirt. Granted, it wasn't a very tough looking pirate, but a nancy pirate is still a pirate.
Once I was all pirated up, I opened up the stationary box (by which I mean both that it was once used to hold and transport paper products and that it was itself immobile) and pulled out the hat contained therein. This supposed Renaissance-y hat looked like an Indian Jones hat with three ostrich feathers attached to it. It was neither Renaissance-y nor particularly Pirate-y, but it was most definitely big pimpin'.
I was coached by woman 5 on exactly how to conduct myself, then Carrie came back and taught me how to do a page (they wanted to have me do it so that no one would recognize the voice) to tell everyone to gather in the warehouse by the time clock in five minutes. While we waited for the right time to do the page, Carrie went and got Steve. I don't know why she got Steve, as his only purpose seemed to be joining Carrie and I in the conference room, gawking and making me feel very uncomfortable. I'm awkward enough meeting new people, but meeting new people while hiding in a fabric company conference room and wearing a pirate costume and Indian Jones' pimped out hat is about as 'awkward turtle' as you can get. He didn't even have any questions for me. And of course, the only question I had for him was "Why the hell are you here? Can't a guy dress up like a pirate in peace for five minutes?!"
So, time came to make the page. I successfully managed to work the type of multi-line phone that I send five hours a day operating, impressing young Carrie once again with my mad skills. Then, she lead me to the back hall way and up a metal staircase to a grated floor where I was to wait for her signal and then head out to the balcony and begin to read my proclamation.
As I stood there, fully exposed to members of my awaiting audience (probably the thing that makes me most uncomfortable as a performer is having audience members see me in costume when I'm not supposed to be seen. It even makes me uncomfortable when other actors are seen by the audience before it's time. I'm talking to you, John Schmoley.) I heard the people below speculating on what was going on. "Maybe it's someone dressed as Santa" one already drunk employee suggested. Apparently, she had seen my boots, or maybe the red pirate vest I was wearing, or perhaps even my beard or my girth and decided that, in fact, I was not a pimpin' pirate, but Jolly Ol' St. Nick. "Come on out, Santa, and get it over with!" Sweet Jeebus, I was being heckled before I even started!
Then, from below me, I hear Carrie whisper calling to me "Dave, go. Go." So, I stroll out to the balcony and twelve feet below me are all twenty employees of Schmirch Fabrics. And Steve and women 's 1-7 had already seen me. 'Well, dozen Schmirch Fabric employees,' I thought to myself, 'prepare to be amazed!'
As instructed, I walked up, blew the dollar store trumpet I had been given, set it on the ground next to me, then removed my hat and gave a big bow to the citizen of the Schmirch realm below. I pulled the scroll out of my belt and, as a juxtaposition to the pimpin' pirate look, I read out the scroll in my big Renaissance-y voice. Then, I bowed again, turned and left. Never have I left a crowd quite so dumbfounded/ put out to have had their precious fabric related work time interrupted for something so ridiculous.
Back in the conference room, Carrie informed me that "Everyone is so excited now! They can't believe they have to wait a week for the picnic!" "Well, great," I said. "Sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun," I lied. She tossed me $50, which, of course I will be reporting to the IRS as earned income, and asked if I needed to see her for anything before I left. I told her I didn't think so, thanked her, offered up my services should she ever need another bearded pirate, to which she smiled politely but offered no kind of empty affirmation that she might, in fact, call again and then she left me to change back into my street clothes.
'Do other actors do shit like this?' I thought to myself as I boxed up Indy's plumed hat. 'Hell, does anyone do shit like this?' I kind of figured they probably don't. But, hey, I got fifty bucks for dressing up like a pirate, when was the last time any of you schmucks did that?
Yeah, that's what I thought.
*the names have been changed to protect myself from liable charges.
**Thanks, by the way, Lynne.