Saturday, June 19, 2010

Audience Work

After I was fired the Friday before Halloween, my plan was to support myself on unemployment for a year, while really just focusing on trying to have an acting career. A year is not enough time by general Hollywood consensus, but I just want to see how far I can get.

My unemployment checks, however, are only half of what I was living off of prior to being fired. I never made enough to have a savings account or deal with any crisis whether it be of the health, automobile or general life variety.

So, what does one do?

Some of the "breakdowns" or jobs posted on casting websites are shows booking audiences for network television shows. There are plenty of people who come in from around the world to wait in line for an hour before being shuffled in to an ice cold studio and watch their favorite show as a live audience. People actually build it into their travel itineraries.

Then there are those of us who are paid for it. We are booked through a casting agency, probably operated out of someone's apartment, and paid minimum wage in cash. Either the show just wants a few skinny, but pretty faces in the background or it is a new show, no one has ever heard of that no one would ever wait in line to see.

It is considered the bottom of the barrel in the actor's world. But you know what? I would rather sit on my ass for 8 hours and be mildly entertained for money than stuff tacos during lunch rush for the same amount of dough, MINUS tax.

This is how it works. You book on the show anywhere from 4 days to 1 hour before the show. You show up, wait in line. There are only about 3 companies that book actors for this kind of work- so you find the line you belong to. We have all worked for each company, at least once in our short lived careers.

If you are a young woman, your hair is down, your face not so bumpy, ideally a dress if you can take the cold- often they sit you in a significant area. You may have noticed behind the judges on AMERICAN IDOL, there are several, out of focus yet pretty faces. That is where girls aspire to go with audience work. Usually, in those seats, you are first in, first out and paid about $10 an hour. If you don't book a featured seat, then you get the standard $8 and could be there all night long.

You check in- security yells at you about parking and your cell phones and basically whip there arms about like you are cattle of the field. To be fair, most people are not that sharp. Someone always parks in the wrong spot and more than a few sneak their cell phones in, take pictures or text during the show.

The security guards use hand held metal detectors and search your purses- but with a few hundred actors milling about and a pair of ta tas, they tend to be easier on the women, and let us in based on some kind of verbal promise.

Staff will position you in the audience based on the color of your clothes, the outfit and how pretty you are. You know you look good when you are seated behind or in front of the host. Once, a seat was saved just for me. They had me sit directly behind the teleprompter in front of a late night talk show host. I don't know why, if it was in his contract, if it boosts his self esteem . . . but it does put a little shine on your night when one seat is reserved just for you in the front row.

It doesn't always happen.

If you are one of the masses, you get blisters on your feet, are barked instructions, aren't fed and are basically seen as a liability.

I keep my head low, but am usually incredibly uncomfortable from the cold a/c blowing in. Gawd, thinking about it makes me fucking crazy. I can NOT stand being cold. It's not like department store a/c, it is LITERALLY like a meat locker. Some sets are so cold, you can actually see your breath.

There is a combination to unleash the inner bitch. If any combination of the following is met at one point in time, one risks dealing with a (cough) really bad attitude:

2) Hungry
3) Having to urinate
4) Having your period
5) Tired, fatigued or utterly exhausted

Obviously, the more you have aligned at one time, the harder it is being pleasant as a peach. If you are not prepared for audience work, you run the risk of an All-in-Fiver.

The actors who know what the hell they are doing will come with the following: a book, tampons, a protein bar or compact snack, make-up, a cell phone charger, a warm but stylish shawl and thigh high, thick socks concealed under an otherwise thinly manufactured outfit. Also a pen to fill out the necessary employment paperwork before you go into the show.

You are shuffled into lines, and left to fill out the paperwork where you stand, whether it be on the sidewalk or next to the dumpster. I was waiting next to an open lid dumpster inside Culver Studios Thursday, when an empty Starbuck's cup suddenly crashed next to my face, into the bin. I turned to the other actor and said, "That's apropos."

Some shows are more entertaining than others. Really what makes audience work bearable are the "audience warmers". Or Audience Fluffers. :)

Comedians that are unable to travel in a comedy show or land their own TV show, are often employed by the studios to entertain an audience and keep them laughing, so they are enthusiastically clapping and laughing when the show tapes.

Usually they are very good. The smartest ones, are those who know they have an audience of 200 unemployed actors and entertainers and conduct dance-offs, sing-offs or joke-offs. There is a lot of talent there. I remember the first time I saw an Audience Fluffer conduct a talent competition- I forgot what great company I was in. Some of the singing voices were worthy of recording contracts. Songs have been sung with such feeling, I am not sure I could ever forget their voices, or would want to.

Dancers would do everything from the robot, to gymnastics to outright, old-school break dancing. If I am lucky enough, I find myself sitting next to a group of black actors. They really are the ultimate judge of whether somebody is worth the time or not. Not just with regards to dancing, but entertainment in general. If you see a black dude, with his head frozen and his eyes frantically moving back and forth- you know you suck.

If you see five black actors jump from their seats and point at you while screaming, "OHHHHHHH!" You won respect that day.

The white actors nibble on their finger nails, complain, bullshit you about how they were up for a part against Steve Buscemi or talk loudly on their cell phones so everyone can hear that they have business. We are all eating lunch in a parking lot. We are all getting paid minimum wage. Seriously, get over yourself!

Rarely, do I see an Asian, Arab or Hispanic actor. Huh, let me think about that.

Each show, you see the same actors over and over again. The same ones would perform, the same ones would heckle. Everyone got their nicknames as they migrated from show to show. There is "Pop Lock" who was a white girl perfecting her new style of dance. The black kids named her pop lock- I am not sure why. Maybe because it looked like her shoulders were popping out of place while her knees were locked.

There was "Steve Asshole" who worked one show three nights in a row and heckled the Audience Fluffer. When the Fluffer asked what his name was, he replied, "Steve, asshole." So the Fluffer first apologized that his family name was such an unfortunate one and then would target him for any smart ass jokes for the rest of the night. Steve Asshole made the dire mistake of limping after a dance off- which turned the crowd against him. He went from Steve Asshole, to Pussy with a thin mustache in 20 seconds.

At the end of the day, we are all waiting in line outside the studio, waiting to get that white envelope of cash. When they time you out- they do not account for the time spent waiting for the white envelope. It can be anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours. Once, I was waiting in a mini skirt, in a parking garage at Warner Brother's Studio at 3 in the morning for almost hour. Safe to say, we had achieved bitch combo there.

One company has the reputation of not having enough cash, and making people wait while they retrieve more money or ask them to collect on their next booking. That is the worst case scenario.

I work with the other two companies- one always books less than 30 actors, so after the show that taped 10 hours, outside, in the middle of the night, on top of a 7-story sky scraper . . . I didn't have to stand in line for more than 30 minutes. We wrapped that show at 5am.

This particular show got the reputation for being the worst audience job, ever. I showed up 3 minutes late for call and was told they had enough actors and couldn't use me. I turned to the actress next to me and muttered, "Three minutes." She didn't even turn her eyes to me, "It's Hollywood," she replied.

Mind you, I just spent a FUCKING hour in traffic trying to get to this abandoned warehouse in downtown LA with no gas to get home. The cash earned that night was my ticket home.

I was fighting a cold, too. Luckily, the tall, handsome manager for my usual agency said he could move me over to another agency still short a few actors. So I was pushed to the side of the building by a large piss stain in the dirt with another girl.

This particular girl, who I will nickname Skam (for being a skank and a scam) (I mean this in the most affectionate way). Skam was dressed in a tight, mid drift sweater, and had enormous knockers by the way, tight jeans, a floppy hat and bug-eyed sunglasses on. Up close, you could see her laugh lines were a little more severe than the rest of ours. But all men could see was those knockers, that flat stomach and a perfect ass.

Skam, for some reason, latched on to me from the piss ditch onward. The more I talked to her, the more I realized she wasn't entirely present. She was drifting in and out of consciousness, unaware of any directions we were given, just stumbling behind the person in front of her, always on the lookout for gum.

When we were escorted to the huge warehouse elevator that would bring us 7 stories up to the set, men immediately responded to her. The crew, mostly 60 year-old men in torn sweat pants, stopped walking and just stood, mouth agape, staring at her titass.

I told her, "Men LOVE you." She giggled, "Hehehehehe, I hope so."

Then we arrived on the roof, more 60 yr old men in torn sweat pants, who, though I am sure had great dental coverage, were severely neglecting their teeth and gums. They stopped and stared. I stared at them, hoping they would feel shame. They were immune. One worded to the other, "Look at that ass."

After we were seated, Skam was initially quiet and seemingly satisfied. Then she wanted to scam more candy out of the audience fluffer by calling him "Tommy" instead of "Tom" (his name.) She got more candy, only because Tom had pissed off the other actors in our section and wanted to avoid a confrontation about a broken prize he gave them the night before.

When we got in line for our dinner at 2:30am, everyone was given a 5 inch, cold sandwich. Skam tried to scam two sandwiches. God knows she wasn't going to eat it with that body. Then she tried to scam two cookies. Then she scammed gum from someone. Then she scammed a new seat closer to the stage. It seemed to me, her whole "thing" was to just try to get shit from people. I found it really distasteful. I didn't know what she was trying to scam from me. At times, she cuddled up to me in the cold or affectionately touched my arm.

Since she wasn't able to hold a conversation with me about my book or . . . anything for that matter- I felt slightly violated that our acquaintanceship had somehow crossed over into physical affection without any logical reason whatsoever.

When Skam got her new seat, she asked if I wanted her to get me a new one too, I declined. 4 am was upon us, and I don't know if you have ever been on top of a skyscraper at 4am in the night- but its really fucking brutal. The only thing I could do to keep myself from passing out- was ration the two pieces of candy I had in my purse and really concentrate on the trivia questions on the game show. Even the host was flubbing his lines. We were all in the same shitter- on some ridiculous set, working ridiculous hours and hoping success would find us while everyone else was asleep.

As I walked off set at 5am, Skam grabbed my arm and asked me how I was, as if we bumped into each other at a Christmas party. I said fine. Her bug-eye sunglasses were back on. I wondered how she had gotten this far in life not knowing her bleached asshole from a pot hole on the 101 Fwy.

Hence, that show (I am legally obligated to NOT mention the name) got the reputation of being the roughest audience work known to man. Though- because of Tom the Audience Fluffer, it was a good night. I remember a few times I laughed so hard I cried. I genuinely had fun most of the night.

I worked a show everyday last week. Every fucking day. Its not like going to work, checking in, getting a lunch and then checking out. It is waking up at 6am to fight traffic, stand in line and spend 10 hours in a studio (clapping, standing, waiting) before leaving to spend another 2 hours in traffic. Its exhausting.

The hardest show out of all last week, was one called "ARE YOU SMARTER THAN A 5th GRADER?" I was lucky enough to cajole my boyfriend, let's call him Abe . . . to join me. They book couples and friends together. I am not sure if it is out of pity that we have to do this kind of work, or if it genuinely boosts morale.

I was exhausted from 4 hours of rabid lovemaking the night before (we are still in the honeymoon stage of our relationship). My nose was flaking from the above mentioned cold that peaked the weekend before and I was just really dead inside.

Abe and I took our seats in the audience. Chad was our audience fluffer for this show. Chad reminds me of a younger, nicer version of one of my ex-bosses. My ex-bosses were a gay couple; partners at home and in business. One, the whinier of the two, was very passive aggressive and would always say, "Welllll . . ." in a high pitched voice, when posed with a question or idea. He was smart, but he was a bigger bitch than any back stabbing, soulless, entrepreneurial female I ever crossed paths with. So I named him 'Bottom' for the two years I worked for him. If you need further clarification, you are probably too pure for this blog.

Chad was very cute- but he didn't know what the fuck he was doing. He had 15 songs on a playlist on his ipod. Do you know how many times you listen to each song on a 15 song playlist over the course of 10 hours? GUH! Over and over and over and over. Chad was not a comedian, like the other audience fluffers. He only knew that he could gain favor by gyrating in front of crowds to pop music. The producers hadn't bothered to tell him that he wasn't in West Hollywood on a Saturday night. This crowd, most of us anyway, didn't want to see the same 3 dance moves to the same 15 pop songs over and over again.

He would ask people what their basketball loyalties were. No surprise, we all lived in LA and all responded Lakers (who were in the finals). So for 6 hours he would shout "LAKERS!" in the hopes that everyone would scream and clap. When that began to wear thin, he just shouted "INGLEWOOD!" I don't know why.

The show itself wasn't boring. Any show with a mildly intelligent comedian hosting and challenging trivia questions can keep me fairly alert for a long period of time. But Chad . . . oh Jesus, Chad. WHY ARE YOU FIST PUMPING THE MICROPHONE! I looked to Abe, who hung his head wearily and said, "I am not impressed with Chad's singing or dancing." I put my arm around him, trying to keep his will to live in tact. He was retreating. I couldn't lose him, he was all I had. There was no candy. There were not sing-offs. There weren't even any jokes. It was miserable.

The best show was "ULTIMATE GAMER" on a Saturday downtown. It was just a few hours of rooting for two young women, playing one another on a giant video game. I called out a few catchy one-liners. Most people shouted "Sarah!" or "Ashley!" I shouted out, "Get back on the track!" "What's happening?" "Get angry, Red!" "Gas it, for Christ's Sake" so on, so forth. Stand for half an hour, work 2 hours and paid for 3 hours. Ideal.

Afterward, a few young men were joking about one of the girls on the show having a weathered face. She was a beautiful girl, but you could see she was starving herself, like most of us are.

The boy joked, "That one girl looked like she had taken a beating or something."

The woman in front of me said, "Be nice."

I said, "Show some respect. The world needs gentlemen."

It's true. I didn't want to witness a whole other generation of the metrosexual-frat hybrid (a combination that neglects what women genuinely yearn for in a man). God forbid these kids grow up like the men I am forced to socialize with in Los Angeles; ungracious, over confident, hairless and mediocre on every level.

The boy continued to giggle, but nodded his head and repeated the word "respect". His friends grew quiet. I knew they would remember the moment. Perhaps, I just hoped that they would.

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