Broadway West (Blogisode Seven)

Obsessed.

Downton Abbey

 

Happy Tuesday! I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be happier the long weekend is over.  Finally, school and a little structure to the day.  Here’s the latest news from my house: I’ve hooked Charlotte on Downton Abbey. I consider this a mothering win. Two nights in a row I’ve gone to bed while Charlotte remains in the living room watching season one of DA on instant stream Netflix, trying to catch up to watch season two in real time with me on Sundays.

Wait!  Perhaps I am wrong to assume you all know what Downton Abbey is. Perhaps I need to do a small commercial? Not a problem. As I said to my husband of 17 years (we celebrated our anniversary over the weekend), Downton Abby is–by far–my favorite television show ever. This tops an impressive and well honed TV viewing list that includes (but is not limited to):
1) Little House On The Prairie (specifically the 2-part episode where Caroline has a son, who Laura thinks she murdered by thinking jealous thoughts, so she runs away to the top of a mountain that is clearly in California even though we are supposed to be in the great plains, so she can broker a deal with God and swap lives.)
2) M*A*S*H (specifically every episode that featured Sidney the Psychiatrist, whom I inexplicably had a crush on for most of my childhood).
3) Mad Men (specifically the final episodes of Season 2, when the marriage was falling apart)
4) Lost (I loved it all)

5) The 2001 World Series

Downton Abbey is a BBC miniseries that airs on PBS in the US, and deals with life in a British Estate before and during WW1. Specifically the focus is on who is inheriting the giant estate because the main dude’s American wife had the nerve to give birth to three girls, resulting in a lack of an heir with the correct anatomy. Because (obviously) women can’t be trusted. (This synopsis comes directly from the BBC website, which I am sure you can tell due to the level of sophistication and snootiness). There are the usual class struggles and distinctions and a fair amount of unrequited romance (a must for anything that has women in dresses with hemlines that hit the floor and men in tuxes).

The whole point of introducing Charlotte to DA is two fold.
1) I am tired of the endless weekend viewing of “let’s wrestle with a alligator/snake/tiger/komodo dragon” on Animal Planet.

Not Downton Abby

Not Downton Abbey.

2) There is no better escapist TV than a BBC drama in period costumes, and with all the high school acceptance stress, the kid could use some escapism.

So, this weekend we popped popcorn in the hot air popper, lit candles, and watched DA for hours. This morning I went in to wake up Charlotte, who’d stayed up very late watching the premiere of Season Two (she caught up!) and she seemed very depressed. I asked her what was wrong, assuming it was more stress about high school or some fill-in-the-blank social life drama from 8th grade, and she said, “I think I have to take a break from Downton Abbey. It’s really making me sad. Mr. Bates and Anna, I just love them together, and now it seems so…..sad.”

Seriously? My escapist TV plan back fired into depression? Oh no.

So, we’re back to Animal Planet. She’ll keep watching DA once she’s recovered, but I did remind her that it’s a TV show, and I had an inkling things would turn out fine in the end.

Score one for the crocodiles.

Shall we deal in and head back to our story?  We left off with the completion of Puppet Camp, and getting ready for the final callback. But, I realized I forgot an interesting detail in the story, so forgive me as I go back in time and insert something.

In the middle of Puppet Camp, somewhere between introducing ourselves with our ping pong puppets and doing full out arm and mouth choreography with a blonde vixen puppet, I was approached and this is what was said.

“Sharon, I want to ask, before we go any further, would you really move to Vegas to do this? Because we don’t want to get interested in you and have you come to a final callback if you are just going to turn the job down.  It’s a waste of our time.”

Ah ha. Well, at least I now knew why I wasn’t ever called in for the Vegas company in the first place. They didn’t think I’d do it. To clarify, no one had ever asked me if I was willing to do it, but it seems the assumption was made that I wouldn’t. I knew this was an important moment for me, and (because I have a tendency to think in groups) for working mothers in theater. As nicely as I could (because I do not think there was any intentional malice in the comment), I responded,

“I would not be here, spending 8 hours of my day, driving back from New Hampshire, cutting into my writing time, if I was not completely serious. I would not waste my time, or yours.”

He continued, “So if we offered you the job, you would take it and move to Las Vegas? You and Rob have talked about it? Would they come with you?”

“We talked about it, they would come with me, and we would be thrilled. I might need some logistical help, but we can get into that if I get the job.”

That seemed to satisfy things and was the end of it.

Just yesterday I was talking to a friend and telling her about this, and how I basically had to accept the job before I

If Diane Keaton could do it in the 1980's, surely I could do it.

If Diane Keaton could do it in the 1980's, surely I could do it.

was even offered it to prove that I wanted to be there. I was annoyed by it, but she had a different perspective. She said that she just had an audition for a show that is starting out of town and then moving to Broadway later. After her first audition, the casting director followed her into the hall and asked “What would it take?” for my friend to accept the job.

My friend said, “Well, to be honest, I have 3 kids and I home school. I would have to take all my kids and my husband, so I would need a 2 bedroom apartment and help finding babysitting in the town because my husband is working on a project and can’t have the kids all day everyday.  I would also need time to get my life together before we leave. Other than that, I could probably make it work.”

The casting director responded,  “That sounds reasonable.” My friend got the job, and even though she was called a diva during negotiations, she ultimately got pretty much what she wanted. I admire that my friend started negotiating her contract in the hall after only one audition (she hadn’t had her callback yet), but not everyone has that kind of moxie, nor are we all wanted that badly. Too often mothers are just passed over because it is too difficult to cast them. As my friend said to the casting director, “If you cast me, you get 5 of us.” Most theaters only want to deal with one person–and maybe–their pet.

I’m not sure how many female business execs have to have a conversation like this when contemplating relocation for business, but let’s face it, theater will never be known for being family friendly or empathetic.  On the rare occasion when you are treated well, it is note worthy.  And as far as I was concerned, the cards were now squarely stacked against me.  She’s a mother?  Moving her 7-year-old and husband?  Sounds expensive.  Who else do we have?

I prepared for my callback feeling a little defeated.  Beyond the mom stuff, the puppeteering was hard and I felt like surely, SURELY one of those other (non-mother) women would out puppet me.

But, never one to give up, I decided to enlist the greatest puppet coach I could think of.  Someone who would listen to the crazy voices I’d made up and judge if they sounded authentic.  Someone who was patient enough to sit for hours and laugh as I did the scenes over and over, while also yelling at me if my puppet was looking in the wrong direction.  Someone who wanted to spend time with me.  Someone who was very interested in moving to Las Vegas because it meant warm weather, which meant swimming pools.

That infamous and meticulous puppet coach, Charlotte Meffe.

"Mommy.  Why is the puppet looking at the wall instead of at me?"  She's relentless.  She wants a pool.

"Mommy. Why is the puppet looking at the wall instead of at me?" She's relentless. She wants a pool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(To read the next post in this series, go here)

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About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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