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One Fourth of a Day in the Life

Ordinarily, I write these blog posts the Sunday night before I post them; I spend a few hours drafting, get some sleep, then do a final edit before the final copy and paste.  This past weekend, however, was an extremely busy one for me, as I spent all my time arranging a table read for the first draft of a new play.  By the time it was done, and I’d made my way home, it was already late Sunday night – and I was looking at only a few hours of sleep before I’d have to make my way into Manhattan again for an important audition.

For those who don’t already know, AEA arranges something called Agent Access Auditions; agents who are franchised with the union are required to hold open calls to see unsigned members at periodic intervals.  Today, such a call is taking place between 1:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon.  In order to be seen at this, AND have time to make it to my afternoon/evening shift at work, I need to be among the first few people seen.  And that means a very, very early day.

So, in case you’re wondering what a very very early day is like for New York’s stage actors, I offer up this timetable in the name of the public interest.

3:00 AM.  My cat has decided that this is when she’s supposed to have breakfast.  I tend to be upset by this development, but since the Equity building opens at 6 AM and I’ll have to be there by then to guarantee the audition slot I’ll need, I’m letting it slide today.

4:00 AM.  I’m taking a shower instead of trudging back to bed for another few hours of sleep, which is what normally happens when my cat wakes me up at three in the morning.  She has taken note of this deviation from the routine, and is none too happy about it.

4:30 AM.  Arriving at my local subway station, way up in the northernmost part of the Bronx.  Considering how early it is, there’s a surprising amount of activity on the street; there’s a mosque on the corner near the station, and it turns out that morning prayers are letting out for the day.  Having “morning prayers” take place a good hour or so before the sun’s even up seems a bit problematic to me, but then again I’m not a religious scholar.

The subway tracks are elevated where I live; ascending to the platform, I can see the first glowing lines of blue in the (soon to no longer be) night sky.  It’s the sign you’ve either had a long night or are about to have a long day – it’s the latter for me.

4:45 AM.  My train finally arrives.  (Such a wait is all too common on my particular line – thanks a bunch, MTA.)  It gets surprisingly crowded rather quickly.  I’d experienced this living on Long Island as well; anybody who needs to start work in the city by 6AM needs to take these early trains, usually folks in construction or service industries.  We all sit, zoning out as best we can, the city’s exhausted employees.

5:35 AM.  Times Square.  The sun has risen by now, and there’s a good amount of activity already – food carts setting up, the Good Morning America crew preparing for broadcast, a pair of errant joggers.  The only thing missing are the costumed performers, who clearly haven’t woken up yet, and I have a brief vision of how lovely the area could be if we were somehow delivered from their scourge.

5:45 AM.  Arriving at the Equity building.  It seems there’s nobody there, and I’m actually going to be first – and then at the last moment, as I drag my exhausted bones to the door, an impossibly well-groomed gentleman steps out of a cab and stands by the door in front of me. 

5:47 AM.  The well-groomed gentleman gets himself buzzed into the building – turns out he works on one of the other floors.  Another gentleman buzzes himself in as well, looking almost identical – dress shirt, shaved head, skin glowing with product.  Maybe there’s a factory somewhere in the building where they’re mass produced?

6:00 AM.  The building opens to AEA members.  (I am indeed the first of us on line – huzzah.)  We’re shepherded to the holding area on the fourth floor, where we sign a preliminary list.  The actual audition appointments will be assigned later, and take place on a separate floor of the building – what I’ve signed is a list to sign up on the actual sign up list.

6:05 AM.  There’s six of us here to start the day – proof that, since I can only audition at that one particular time, I did indeed need to wake up at such an ungodly hour.  I plant myself on one of the chairs and attempt to get some sort of rest.

7:00 AM.  Try as I might, stiff-backed plastic chairs aren’t conducive to napping.  I turn to the work I’ve brought with me – the drafts of my recent plays, which now need revising.  The full length play, Bay Ridge Lotus, is freshest in my mind, since the table read was yesterday.  But the task ahead with this play is daunting; I had worried, given the diverse range of characters in the piece, that I might have failed to do justice to or accurately depict one of them, failed to fully flesh out their background.  It turns out, though, that the play’s major problem right now is the opposite – there’s too much depiction, too much dialogue interrupting the flow of the story.  To fix this, I’m going to have to go through the dialogue line by line and prune it as necessary.  It’s a daunting and time consuming task – and I also have a much shorter one-act with an election theme, and revising that piece instead is the only chance of having it be heard by anybody before November, when it might still be timely.  What to do?

7:15 AM.  Since I’m still far too tired to think clearly, the obvious answer is to hold off on revising anything right now and play a little computer mah jongg instead.  

8:20 AM.  They start lining us up.  I am indeed first on the list, and stand and watch as a great throng of people – some seventy or eighty strong, more than can possibly be seen in three hours – begin to corkscrew around the room.  One of the names called is an actor I’d worked with many years before – I won’t name names, but he had the title role in a major Off-Broadway production.  And now he’s here with me, on the line for actors who lack representation.  It’s too depressing to contemplate this early in the morning.

9:00 AM.  Sign-up is concluded.  I want to relax and bask in the achievement, but the fact is I haven’t actually accomplished anything yet.  The audition isn’t for another four and a half hours – all of this has been one to secure the one audition slot that would allow me to get to work on time afterwards. 

We don’t always have to go through this, but for especially popular calls, or things like VITA tax preparation, every AEA member in this city puts themselves through a morning like this.  And we keep on doing it and doing it, until, for some reason, we stop.  And in the interim, we can only hope that our reason for stopping is a happy one.

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