And then sometimes there are these days in this business. When in real life, you bump up against actors or directors or writers who touched you when you were younger. These encounters are somewhat inevitable and yet they feel completely bizarre and wonderful all at the same time.
And the kind of crazy thing is that when they happen to me, I pretend they aren't happening. I don't speak to the people. I stare at my phone.
Once, though, I did say something. I decided that if I had influenced someone when she was younger, and she came up to me and said, "thank you, what you did made a difference in my life" I would really appreciate it. It might, in fact, make my day. So a few years ago, I was in rehearsal for a play and lo and behold, in the common area of the theater, an actress sat eating her lunch. I'll call her The Alto. I had seen The Alto in my high school days, in a musical that I had absolutely loved, playing the role that I had absolutely loved. A show that made me think, "hey if I can do this for the rest of my life, then I'm good." And I went up to The Alto and I told her that her play and her performance had profoundly affected me. And I thanked her.
The thing is, The Alto wasn't particularly gracious. She smiled indulgently and then quickly went back to her salad. My very sincere comments appeared not to have made her day. Not remotely. And I was kinda sad.
So I tried to get inside her head a bit.
I know, as so often happens, that The Alto's response was probably far more about her experience that day than it was about me. There I was, no longer a very young woman, speaking to her about a performance that took place more than twenty years ago. As I stood there, eagerly praising her, I was a living reminder of her own aging, already sporting some wrinkles myself. Or maybe she had heard the same praise a thousand times already and was tired of it. Though if I told you her name, odds are you wouldn't recognize it. Or maybe she was just having a bad day. Either way, it soured me on spilling.
So then today, as the world so often goes, I found myself in the presence of the Writer and Director of that very musical. In the basement of that same theater. He was auditioning actors for his new play, and I was there to be the reader.
At any given audition, behind the desk sits the director, sometimes a casting director, sometimes the playwright, maybe the Artistic Director of the theater, and a smattering of assistants perhaps. In front of the table, are the "readers"--the actors who typically sit in chairs facing the auditioners and read their scenes with them. Young actors are encouraged to be readers. It's a great insight into the audition process. A lesson in how to have a good audition. And how, perhaps, not to have such a good audition. I have been a reader a lot over the past ten years. I have met some pretty cool people. I have stories.
So I was in the room being a reader for The Writer/Director. And he was funny and genuine and generous. He did this wonderful thing that I have only seen one or two other directors do with any kind of consistency. He talked to the actors before asking them to read. Not such an earth-shattering concept, perhaps, for those of you in businesses where civility reigns. But nine times out of ten actors walk into a studio, say hello, note the type of sandwich the director is voraciously eating, and dive right in to their prepared material. Having someone stop, and look at you, and ask you where you are from and compliment your shoes and engage you for a few minutes, is so humanizing. And productive. Everyone shares a laugh at some point. Everyone exhales. And I watched as the keyed up and nervous actors relaxed into their skins a bit. I saw them release their nerves enough that they could actually see The Writer/Director. See the room. Even very experienced and brilliant actors seemed to benefit from this little moment of interaction.
So basically The Writer/Director, whose show I had adored so very much, then proved to be a pretty wonderful human being in the audition room.
And I said nothing. I mean, I talked and laughed and did my job as best as I could. But I did not at any point mention the show twenty years ago and the effect it had on me.
What is even more bizarre is that before the audition session started, I arrived at the theater about ten minutes early. A very big production is in rehearsal at that same theater right now. I wondered if any of the actors would be milling about, until I remembered it was Monday. The traditional dark day at the theater. So I was doubly surprised to walk into the little seating area, the same seating area in which I had seen The Alto several years ago, to find one person sitting alone a table. The actor playing the lead in the big production. This actor, I'll call him Holden, also happened to be a teen star when I was a teen. The first film in which he made a splash, was an absolutely brilliant movie that appealed to every bookish kid of my generation, and made stars of many of the actors. My friends and I all continue to reference it over and over and over again.
I croaked out a "hello" and Holden said "hi" and looked at me like "do I know you?" Which wasn't completely crazy since we are nearly exactly the same age and 13 years ago I did a play with one of his best friends. But no, we don't hang out. And then he asked me if it was still raining and I said no. And I was ready to make a joke about working on a Monday when another person entered the room. Someone about to audition for The Writer/Director. And suddenly I couldn't just make small talk with the famous guy sitting at the table next to me, because for some reason, with another dude around, it felt weird.
I never said anything about admiring Holden's substantial body of work. Film and theater. Of being really excited about the production he was working on. Of the movie he did in the late 80's that profoundly affected me...and about a zillion other people.
I didn't say anything.
Because, I don't want to be the person who bugs famous people. Who isn't, like, "oh yeah I'm a New York actor we see famous people all the time, it's no big deal, they shoot Law and Order on my street, like every other day." Because apathy is hip. Because we all have to be so cool. So over it.
But in not taking a chance, and sharing a genuine reaction with someone, I missed the opportunity for a wonderful interaction. Far more wonderful than "is it raining?" "no." Which unless you're wrapped in someone's arms when you say it, doesn't really mean much. Sure, you don't get dissed like I did by The Alto. But you don't get a chance to connect. The value of which The Writer/Director was about to make apparent in spades in the audition room.
It's a tricky balance isn't it.
No one wants to be a pest.
Everyone, it would seem, appreciates a compliment.
And I, it turns out, am rather afraid of famous people.