Monday, February 16, 2009

In which we learn the significance of the B

As expected, the phone did not ring; the mail did not arrive; and life did go on. Of course, we may have neglected to provide Bill with an address that he could mail to; but the whole proposition seemed so far-fetched, while the life stuff was a bit more pressing.

We were more and more becoming convicted that wherever Home was, it wasn't Lexington. But we had been in Lexington long enough to have run out of excuses for putting down roots: we were either going to live there or somewhere else. Barbara rightly insisted that we choose instead of drift. One thing was clear: there was no possibility of professional advancement for either of us, if that was important (and it was) -- the glass ceiling was a good six foot thick, and we could look forward to Windexing it at best. Barbara felt called to conservatory acting training, and so we made a deal: we'd both spend the next year working on getting out, whoever landed the better opportunity the other one would follow. Barb set about looking for graduate acting conservatories, I set about looking for buildings with management opportunities, and we planned a vacation road trip to scout out some possible areas. Itineraries were planned, Trip-Tiks assembled, reservations made.

Occasionally we'd tiptoe around That Bizarre Meeting: Did it really happen? Were they really serious? If we were to do this, what would we do? Would our credibility, such as it was, be forever shredded if we were known to be affiliated with (dare we say it) commercial entertainment (bwah ha ha ha)? Could this be the end of Rico -- shilling for hemmorhoid unguents? After a few weeks we decided that the ancient and noble theatre tradition of the "We'll call" blowoff had been invoked, and so we pronounced closure and prepared for a road trip o discovery.

A few days before we left, Barb said "You might want to listen to this message we got today." She punched up the answering machine, and lo it was Bill, just wondering if we had picked our character's name yet, since the station was about to issue a press release describing the show, the character, and the first episode's air date.

In the immortal words of a then-favorite Ruckus Arenus radio transmission: WTF? Over.

Which was the gist of my return of Bill's call the next day, during which we confirmed that neither we nor Bill were doing a particularly good job of saying what we meant, or listening to what the other person was saying. Both Barb and I had drawerfuls of proposed theatrework that went nowhere after the initial feelers; Bill assumed that since we didn't definitively say we were Out, and had in fact expressed some vague interest, then we must be In. In our experience, the producer or director (or directing producer) assembled the package and the team, championed the project, and kept the project moving forward; in Bill's experience, if you caught the pitch you ran with it. In any event, WLEX was committed to a September 13 air date; counting on his fingers and toes that was a little more than a month off, so we probably ought to have a character's name by now. So ... what was it? And why wasn't Barb returning the call, since they were really only interested in her?

Deep breath. Time to channel some Ruckus Arenus High Moral Tone:
Barb was not aware that vague polite interest constituted binding legal commitment. Barb makes her career choices, as do I, and we support each other's choices. Barb's long-term career choices do not include Lexington at this time. Now that we understand that you are serious about this project, I will be glad to discuss this with her tonight, and We will get back to you with Our joint decision tomorrow. If We decide to go forward with this project, We will commit tomorrow; if not, at that time We will provide you with the names of performers who We think could pull this off. It is not Our intent to leave you in any kind of lurch, and We apologize for any misunderstanding, but in any event, We are going on vacation and will not be back for ten days.

Quick soul mate soulsearch: Do we want to do this? Not really, but it is a paying gig. It's thirteen weeks; probably won't go anywhere; wouldn't hurt to have a teevee gig on the resume for later. It's one night a week, after everything closes; you could continue with real theatre and blow in and do this; they want it adlibbed, anyway. I can't adlib an entire show. I'll help; I can structure it for you, it'll be like comedia; you've done comedia. I don't want anyone to know it's me; we could handle that with costume and makeup, and you never take a credit. Just because this is monster movies doesn't mean that we have to do what they expect -- if we did something else, they can't second-guess us. Will this hurt us professionally here? If we're leaving, who cares? and we can't pretend that we might stay. Can we do this? We can do this together if we want to, and we can walk away from it when we want to. If nothing else, it's not Serious Art, and we're tired of competing with the Serious Artistes; we could have some fun doing this. We're in it together; we talk to Bill together; and when we're done, we leave together.

Okay, so ... let's make a mark on the blank piece of paper: what is this character's name, anyway?

We started writing down names. No internet, no search engines -- this is ancient times, using human memory only; bots n spyders are part of the marvelous future yet to be revealed. Two columns, first and last names, pulling names out of memory; pull out the bio of W.C. Fields, pull out the S.J. Perelman books, pull out the Edward Gorey books, list everything that looks -- different. No puns, no Cryptkeeper stuff. Break that down to ten combinations we like, and let Bill make a decision: if he's going to produce, he gets to make producerly decisions.

Bill doesn't like the package deal: he's only interested in Barbara, if I'm around that's her business. Barbara stands her ground: both of us, or neither of us. Bill's only paying for one: we don't care about that, pay Barb, but deal with Steve on the business side. Barb's the talent, but Barb wants Steve to handle the visuals and shape the overall show: we have our people, he gets no credit. Steve's not interested in putting your people out of work, if you've got people who are supposed to do this then they're the experts and let 'em do it. We just haven't seen any evidence of that, so -- when do we meet the designers? Um ... we don't have designers. So who's doing the costume? The makeup? The set? Um ... we thought you'd handle that. We'll provide the studio and the studio crew. Do you have a budget for costumes, for makeup, for sets? Do you have an inventory? Anything you can pull? We have some stuff, but not really costume stuff ... We know people. We can handle that. We can give your people sketches, pull set pieces from your inventory, bring in some dressing. No credit! None of those union people! We already agreed to that is this about union? and the union doesn't design. Whoever you've got, we use; if you don't have someone, we'll take care of it. We'll make our arrangements; you cover hard costs only. Such as? We'll get the costumer, you pay for the fabric; we'll handle makeup design and application, you pay for the makeup; set a not-to-exceed if that helps, and we'll cover the overage.

Bill doesn't like it; but he can live with it. Done. Handshake. Now, about the name ...
We just happen to have a list; we thought since it's your project you should pick the name.
"How about ... Millicent B. Ghastly?" B? Well, if it means he's buying into it ... what's the diff?
Barb is gracious, pours oil on the troubled waters: "I liked that one, too."


  1. This definitely sounds like television guys. Only one step up from radio guys, only not as cheap.

  2. BTW

    Hope it's okay, I posted my own MT memories at my blog...

    Sorry for the multiple idents... I had one for this, one for that... they can get mixed up.

  3. Don't be too hard on him. I have to believe he sold the basic idea, probably not without a struggle, to management that included folks who didn't see the point of hosting period. Then the talent he pre-sells to said management turns around and says "How 'bout this instead?" where "this" turns out to be pretty much "We make it up as we go along, you pay us, and we'll bet that we pull it off, eventually."

    Maybe it's 'cause I'm now a lot closer to Bill's age then; but he didn't pull the plug. Until much later. And then we got it pushed back in. But that's another story.