I was having a conversation the other day with a friend of mine, Melvin. The child of two Broadway actors, Melvin makes his living as a projectionist. Growing up around the theatre, Melvin was kind of gun shy seeing his parents ebb and flow in the stability department. This past summer, genetics kicked in and the acting bug bit Melvin hard. One thing people talk about when they discourage a loved one from entering show business is the financial instability of the profession. However, they don’t talk about the other draw back. The people.
We were discussing the myriad of characters we met that chase the dream. Actually characters is a generous word. A lot of people we meet along the way are swimming in a sea of character defects. Perhaps that is more apt. The people we have encountered have been cursed with a variety of mental illnesses that masqueraded under the label of dramat. Then there have been those egomaniacs without the credentials to back themselves up. Oh, and then there are those small time producers and directors who not only force would be actors to slave in the salt mines, but are also incredibly abusive. Add in small time bringer show producers who work aspiring comedians to death, draining them of energy and friends in order to have audience for their craptacular escapade. Lest we not forget the sleaze baggers occasionally met on craigslist, who try to fenegel sexual favors or nude pictures out of female talent. Oh, and then those overdramatic dramatics. Yes, the ones where all the world is a stage, we are merely players, but they didn’t get our rewrite where their annoying asses walked into traffic and did the world a favor and got run down by mac truck. Welcome to show business, ladies and gentlemen.
As we talked about the anti-talent we met along the way, two women came to mind. One is an aging actress who has been in the business for sometimes whom I will call Nancy. She actually has an MFA from American Conservatory Theatre, same place Denzel Washington graduated from. However, she doesn’t have Denzel’s career and frequently talks about how untalented he is. She also name drops pretty frequently about people she knows and people who she has worked with. Then she talks about how all of them have screwed her over in some way. According to her, Amy Heckerling stole her idea for Clueless. Well she is delusional and clueless, because Amy Heckerling would probably say, “Nancy who?”
Anyway, Nancy is closer to 50 but still lies and says she is 25-30 on her age range. When she strolls into auditions, she wears clothes designed for my college aged baby cousins. It is awkward because she is trying too hard to be young and sexy. Instead of being believable, Nancy is more desperate and sad than a Greek Tragedy. On her face she wears layers of kiddie makeup, but it can’t hide the crows feet. Usually, the role goes to someone age appropriate. Someone who not only is more grounded in reality, but more believable. Once, Nancy lost a commercial to a 22 year old. I heard her thunder on the phone outside the theatre, “HOW COULD THEY GIVE THE ROLE TO HER! SHE CAN’T EVEN ACT! SHE DOESN’T HAVE MY TRAINING! SHE WENT TO A COLLEGE IN NEBRASKA!”
I have worked with Nancy on a few occasion, and each has been a nightmare. Once, she came in late to a rehearsal and her hair was still wet from the shower. Not only did she arrive in a tardy, diva like fashion, but she had a crazy story to go with it. Apparently, her landlord, a Chinese man who was spying on her through the hole he drilled in her wall, was trying to kill her. Another time, I was cast in a reading with McMess and Nancy again arrived late. Not only did she come in with a horror story about how her new roommate was trying to smother her in her sleep, but she forgot her script. On both occasions I performed with her, she has been like dead wood onstage. From being unfocused and unprepared, not all the connections and training in the world could make this smoldering pile of calamity a star.
However, over time I have met others who have worked with her. Our shared Nancy experience has bonded us, and as a result we have become friends. It has been sort of like a POW experience for those in NYC Comedy Theatre. Through this accidental Nancy network, I have gotten auditions and even booked some legit work. Perhaps she was good for some things.
The other that comes to mind is a woman who is a star fucker. Yes, she is using the casting couch, throwing out her back. May Wilson and I joke about it onstage. This chick whom I will call Melissa does it for real, though. Melissa was a hot property in Chicago where she originally started. A raven haired beauty, she worked with such top notch regional theatres like Steppenwolf. Once, I saw her acting reel and was rather unimpressed. Yeah, she was alright. Yet how was she getting some of the roles she was. Her choices weren’t spectacular, and not to mention she was being out acted by those around her. Then a friend of mine who knew Melissa once upon a time explained that rather than master her craft and use her beauty as the cherry on the top, she became a temptress sleeping her way to some of the best roles the Windy City had to offer. Apparently, Ms. Melissa made a career out of dating casting directors and playwrights in residence. As a result, she got several roles that probably should have gone to a more chaste, slightly more homely, but ultimately more talented actress.
This new upset me, and I told my friend to stop with the horrid rumors. However, during a cocktail mixer Melissa showed up with her latest squeeze, an indie screenwriter. She also bragged about dating a respected playwright and confessed to blowing her way to several roles. I was floored. Melissa was a fucking pig, and a dumb one that that. She tried the same tricks in New York, but they wore thin when things ended horrifically with the screenwriter. Then she moved on to leading men. One was earning his stripes on Broadway and in film. Melissa, who was starting to gain some traction as an actress in New York, latched onto her man’s contacts and even got a few nice walk on roles, and a meaty role in an indie film he wrote and produced.
Well Mr. Leading Man liked Melissa, but his focus was his career and he was content just to live with her. Melissa, on the other hand, saw him going to the stars and saw the roles she wanted. Mr. Leading Man was in no hurry to commit. So Melissa had the bright idea to go off her birth control. She would saddle him with child, and that way he would be trapped with her. That way, he couldn’t escape and he would have no choice but to keep making introductions to further her career.
The plan backfired on poor Melissa. She didn’t think it through. Children require time and energy, and friends will only do you so many favors as you pass your crying infant on so you can chase your pipe dream. Not to mention she wasn’t sleeping a whole lot, and being a mother doesn’t allow you to visit the nail salon and Sephora store as much as you need to. On top of that, Melissa forgot that when you have a baby, you gain weight. It takes nine months to put on, and at least nine months to burn off. Never much of an exerciser, Melissa had a hard time shaking off the maternity pouch. Adding to her troubles, she actually gained more weight, packing nearly 60 pounds on her once svelte, seductive frame. Oh, and the hair color and cut she had, a mix of salon and self-centeredness, was now a mere mousy brown. The looks faded as well, and she finally resembled the ugly troll on the outside that she was within. Mr. Leading Man did try to get her introductions, but she looked like hell and had marginal acting talent. Who wants that?
Finally, Mr. Leading Man decided that while he liked being a father, he didn’t want to be in a relationship with her. The split was nasty, and he is now married to a costar of his who is quite nice. While I know neither well, when they see me they always say hello and compliment me on my puppet skills. Selfless, they have always tried to assist me when they could. However, Melissa these days is almost unrecognizable. She sneers whenever she sees me, and always has a scowl that has become her fixed facial expression. Melissa played dirty, and she got thrown in the mud. Looks like the star fucker got fucked.
As I thought of Nancy and Melissa, judging them in the most painful and bitchy way for these antics that tested the patience of those around them, my nineteen year old self came to mind. I still see her, too much makeup. So much so that the bright, blood red probably taken from the road kill she got the shade from melted off her face in Courtney Love-esque fashion. I was high strung, and sometimes said crazy things and did crazy things to get attention. Everything in my life was a constant 10 on the scale of 1 to 10. Some people thought my antics were funny. Others were annoyed. Some were oblivious and had other things to do. I was dramatic. I was a theatre major. This was New York damnit.
Underneath the strange makeup and wardrobe choices was a gnawing anxiety. Sure, I had gotten into NYU’s acting program. Yet there was a part of me that honestly believed I was an imposter. Maybe they made a mistake. Nevermind my grades had always been excellent and I aced my audition. Perhaps they were just being kind when they let me in, sort of like a charity for the less talented. Some of my insecurity came from the words of an acting teacher who told me I ultimately wouldn’t be an actor but a producer. Later on, I learned this was normal for acting teachers to say this to students who showed academic promise as a way to sort of grandfather them out of the starving artist existence. She said I proved I could act, but creating would be my strong suit. Never did she say that April Brucker, self-starter, had to stop acting. I let the vibration of her words poison my mind, and now I had to constantly tell everyone how awesome I was.
As a result my world kept spinning at hyper speed leaving me in a constant state of dizziness. I came on too strong, scaring potential friends away. Sometimes I tanked in a class, and it wasn’t lack of talent, it was because everything was spinning so fast I couldn’t focus and access my talent. A lot of the time I was constantly on, constantly entertaining, but constantly lonely. Then I was depressed because everyone around me was so good, and I never felt like I was enough. Plus I missed my family. Yeah, I used to be a mess.
A talk with a teacher changed everything. She had been a pedagogian, and knew students left and right. This woman had my MO. Basically she told me I wanted what I wanted, and I wanted it at that moment. Then she said some words that stuck with me. She said, “The more you expend in life, the more tired you are when you get to the stage.” Bingo, she hit the nail on the head. At that moment, the anxiety began to melt. It took years for this insecurity to melt completely, but it was the start of a positive shift.
The massive layers of makeup decreased. Not only did I look better, but my skin was eternally grateful. I also stopped trying to assure people of how awesome I was. The need to be the constant center of attention decreased, and I began to let others have their moments as well. Not only was I able to make more friends, but I didn’t feel exhausted and drained all the time. My acting and comedy also improved. The notes about connecting and eye contact ceased to be a normal thing. As for the comedy, the more calm I got the more I could connect with any audience. Most people live on a normal reaction scale, and as my scale normalized, I was able to connect with them more.
These days, as I am striving towards my goals, I will admit my public and online persona is outlandish still. Yeah, I have puppets. Sure, I sport costumes. True, my fans are rather vocal. Fact, whenever I have a big show I do diva it up either in a cake costume made by a special designer, or in a dress and shoes with hair fit for Broadway. Whenever I do a photo shoot, the clothes are sexy and somewhat Maxim worthy. My live shows are high energy, and my videos are out there. So yes, I will wear the name tag. Then there are times when I feel like dressing like a peacock, trotting around my damn neighborhood, usually after a shoot because I like my outfit that much.
Yet on the other hand, when I am not performing, it is a t-shirt, ball cap, shorts, and running shoes. I go to the gym, do laundry, and live a life that is kind of mundane. Plus I just need to handle business like cleaning my apartment. Everyone does. Due to my increasing work load and other demands, when I don’t have to be on, I don’t want to be on. A mentor I am working with now emphasizes how important it is not just to be an artist, but a person as well. I get what she means. Fans also appreciate when you are real. It’s because they are real. Together we can all be real. That way I can share my art and my gifts with you as a service, and then we can all run the rat race we are forced in my society together and break the rope as a team.
Aside from all of that I am a daughter, sister, cousin, and friend. My family does shorten my life span, but I love them. It looks as if my sister Skipper will marry in two summers, and I have been designated maid of honor. My datebook will be filled with work, but also appointments at fitters, numbers of venues, and the wedding party phone list. The experience is not only a part of my fabric as a person, but there will probably be a short film or story in there somewhere.
Oh, and I love my friends. They are fun, colorful, and always up to something crazy. In a way it is a relief because I am not the one who is on center stage. No matter what happens, they are truthful and honest with me, but it is because I can live truthfully and honestly.
I still do act and perform obviously. However, I also write and produce my own work. Sure, I cast myself. I dip my hand in many pots and enjoy having many artistic lives. Years later, I realized perhaps my acting teacher was trying to help me because she saw I was “intelligent,” but truth be told she can only suggest. Words are just words if you don’t give them any weight. I know who I am, what I can do, and when it comes to my life and career I can make my own decisions. No one medium contains me, and that is beyond alright.
More than anything in the world, I know who I am. And that person is not only good enough, but she is enough. Whenever I see the small time personalities, whether it be the overdramatic dramaticos or the star fuckers, I laugh. In a way they are entertaining. One thing I have noticed though is most truly successful people in show business are real and grounded in reality. Again, it’s because they know they are enough and these is enough for everyone.
However, I also feel a tinge of pity for the dramatic dramaticos and star fuckers of the world. Had I not calmed down, I could have been joining their party. I also know why they do it. They feel so worthless and so empty that they have to prove themselves to everyone, and in the end they prove nothing. As a result, they live an empty, sad, barren existence. So to them I will say that you should let your talent and hard work alone speak for itself. The world is a stage, but you don’t always have to be the center. Maybe if you become real for a minute, you’ll see it’s not so bad and things will get better.
Then maybe you’ll stop acting, stop chasing bullshit, and realize you are not just good enough, but more than enough.