Friday, August 05, 2011

Back To School

It's August, and the school I'm in is empty, partly because it August and there's still a month to go before classes start up again and partly because it's just past 7 in the morning and I'm a whopping 45 minutes early for my call-time on the set of "Mr. D", a TV series about a teacher.

The Alice Cooper song has been running around my head since I got up.

Even at this hour, people are beginning to trickle in. My room over here today is a cavernous cafeteria. Two of the four walls are glass and the early morning sunshine is pouring in. It almost feels like outdoors. I sit facing west otherwise I'd be blinded by the sunrise. It's a very nice room.

Crew and extras start to fill up the room and the countdown is on to get signed in and move on to what will hopefully be a highlight of the day: the breakfast burrito.


The burrito includes bacon and eggs, cheese, salsa and comes with a nice cup of strong black coffee. The paperwork includes a statement of citizenship, an agreement for one dollar in exchange for the rights to any appearance I might make in a behind-the-scenes DVD ... and a confidentiality agreement.

I'm sitting at a corner table in the cafeteria having just been introduced to a very pleasant woman who turns out to be one of the stand-ins and will be here for the duration of the series and whose name I can't publish because of the confidentiality agreement.

It's a very private school.

After only one hour, some of the kids have already been moved outside. They're here to play school children and I reflect that I've never worked with children before (other than that one time with my own) and I wonder what that will be like. Unknown to me at this hour, after today I will still not have worked with children. We're shooting outside today, to start at least, and today "today" will act as several other days and I will help (apparently) by changing shirts several times, the wardrobe lady having picked the ones I am to wear and in what order.

Unknown to me at this hour, I will only ever wear the one I'm currently wearing in front of the camera.

It's unusual for things to be moving so quickly so early, people getting in front of camera this fast. I wonder, is this the difference between TV and movies? Some kids are outside but so far I still sit in the corner next to the Extra's Holding sign, alone now as the stand-in lady also seems to have left for set.

At two different times background kids come in and sit down to tables at the west end of the cafeteria and are politely told to move over to the east end - where I am - because their part of the room is over here.

I'm out at 9:00 for filming. Wow. At 10am we're back, on a short break as they turn the cameras around to shoot the same scene we've been working for the past hour. I have no idea what the scene was about, I was so far away. My role as a teacher was just to walk down the pathway leading away from the school, far from the camera. In my last job it was like I had a role and a function and a name and even screen time with the heavy hitters. This time I'm a speck passing somewhere way in the back, a true background performer. But who knows what the rest of the day will bring.

Performing with me is a woman I know from having worked with the Bedford Players. As we make our crosses far from the range of the boom mike, we talk about acting and actors and directors, movies, web sites, kids and plays. Two teachers having a discussion, is what it will look like. I tell her a little about this blog and she's concerned I'll write about her having brought a Danielle Steele book to read. I reassure her with a reminder of, gee, even if I wanted to there's that confidentially agreement.

I wouldn't usually use this space to write about my bathroom breaks, but....

I'm heading down a long hall, passing classrooms and lockers and labs until finally I find the bathrooms - one's for men the other's for staff. There's maybe the tiniest hesitation, but after all I'm not a teacher, I just play one on TV. In the men's room, the urinals are REALLY low to the floor. I speculate idly on whether the staff toilets are at a more adult height. These urinals are low AND waterless. Lettered in a semi-circle around the drain is the company's 800 number. I think, this must be the only company in the world that advertises their 1-800 number (actually 866) where it's read from underneath your own piss.

The things you learn on set.

Hey, my cousin's here too and I wave but the guy who sees me first and says hi isn't my cousin but one of the executive producers. He may have had a hand in casting me for "Black Harbour" all those years ago. His wife and I were in "The Sound of Music" together all those more years ago. These days I see him much more frequently. His son and my son play on the same baseball team. I help coach. We say hi and shake hands (I washed before I came out).

At 11 it's back outside where I show off my range. Where originally I was walking on a concrete path away from the school with another teacher, for this part I'll be walking on a different concrete path TOWARD the school (and this is the part about showing off my range) ... ALONE.

It's a tough call, which scene will I be more obscure in. The first one maybe.

At a little after noon, I come back inside for a sandwich and some applesauce. Out of deference to the kids who are all still outside shooting and who aren't permitted to have sodas from the craft table (reserved for actors and crew), I have some water and a grape juice pack. Just so you know, as a card-carrying member of ACTRA I am entitled to the craft table.

But why make waves.

I finish my book.

I start reading my next book, absurdly pleased with my own foresight to have brought a second one along.

Can you FEEL the glamour of it all?

The third teacher in our triumvirate told the Bedford Player's teacher he was from Persia (so, Iran, right?). At the moment he has his head down, catching not forty thieves, but forty winks. It seems to me like a great idea. Later he and I will improvise a game of no-limit Texas hold-em with juice boxes, straws and empty plastic straw wrappers and I bust him six times in a row.

Oh yeah, by the way, as I settled in earlier this morning, I caught a single word spoken between two of the kids and that word was "Neville". Later, I noticed a boy who looks remarkably how you thought Neville Longbottom would look all grown up when you saw him in the first Harry Potter movie. The resemblance is striking and uncanny.

When they are not on set the kids aren't reading books like us old fuddy-duddies. Almost to the last man (even though some are girls and the rest are only boys) they have out their smart phones, an uncollected lot of kids, a half-dozen to a table, all of them independent and ironically disconnected from each other, thumbs tapping out whatever in their separate isolated spaces.

(Sez the guy tapping this all out on his BlackBerry.)

I duck into an open classroom to change into a different shirt. It might have been the French class. There were posters on the wall for the French Riviera and a sign on the wall: "Le respect n'est pas donné. Tu dois le mériter," which I figured the kids hadn't done, otherwise the sign would have said, "Vous devez".

The 2nd A.D. (whose name I'm dying to say because I REMEMBERED it, small wonder, but can't because, say it with me, the confidentiality agreement), the 2nd AD asks me if I've heard from the casting agent. I confess no, I haven't, to which HE confesses that they had me in mind to read for a part, well, well, well. The casting agent had been distressed to hear I was already there for background work but he-who-must-not-be-named assured her I was deep in the background..

"Economically advantageously deep," I said, grinned and he laughed.


The thing with feathers.

I sent an e-mail to my agent as a heads up and then, taking some initiative, I went back and asked the 2nd AD whether I should make a point of hanging back in the deep background to protect whatever future role there might be for me. The inference being not just to suggest a course of action, but to somehow make it official, this course of action, because there are a lot of people here on set who make decisions and none of them are me.

Either he picked up on this or he had exactly the same idea because the next thing he did was get on the walkie-talkie to let the 3rd AD know they should keep my face more or less hidden from the camera for the rest of the day, however else they wanted to use me, all of it a moot point as it turned out.

"Your pretty face," is what he actually said.

I twirled and laughed. "I think I'm in love!"

Two-thirty comes and it's lunch.

Quarter after four comes and lunch is still the only thing for me on the go, digesting too slowly in my stomach. That was a lot of potatoes. Somewhere something is going on but it doesn't include the rest of us still passing the time in the cafeteria in various sundry and generationally appropriate ways. Some new actors showed up (at least one that I recognized and so would probably you if you're Canadian) and they're off filming something at the moment with a small group of the students, just down the hall which is why a PA has shown up to shoosh us all. The shooshing interrupts a meeting with a former neighbour and personal trainer of mine who has suddenly appeared with her son. He and my boy used to play together regularly before she moved away from our collection of condos. We have more than a nice few moments of catching up.

Natalie (happy to use her name since she's not cast or crew) tells me she's also now a life coach ... and then asks me what's so funny.

This, I said, posted only a couple of days ago.

Once upon a troubled time, many years ago, Natalie gave me one of the best hugs I ever had. It was sometime around Christmas, a holiday hug from a random encounter at a movie theatre that no longer exists, she with her boyfriend, me by myself, a moment she probably doesn't even recall and something I've never forgotten.

At seven oh five, more than six hours after last the leaving set and 139 pages into my second book, we wrapped.

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