(The post with gratuitous parenthetical comments.)
I know you’re anxious to hear about all my awards and stuff (?), but I have to tell you about something even more amazing before I get to that. One of the best parts of this Expo was the people there.
I took classes with my agency for a couple of months before the Expo, but I didn’t really have the chance to sit and chat with any of my fellow talents during those lessons, and we all had things to do afterwards that precluded us hanging out and chewing the fat. The drive down to Dallas was the first time I had to get to know some of the other people from my agency.
Contrary to popular opinion, I’m an introvert. A dyed-in-the-wool introvert. I like living alone under my rock, where I don’t have to listen to anyone breathing. I like it quiet. I despise small talk. I don’t enjoy walking up to people I don’t know and inventing a reason to speak with them. I consider schmoozing the worst sort of fakery. In short, I’m not a people person.
So when I loaded up three near-strangers in my vehicle and pulled out of town, I had to figure out what to say and how to create conversation that would put all of us at ease. Considering that we were embarking on an adventure that could make or break our dreams, feeling at ease was no easy state to achieve. Sheryl had told us to support one another and help each other, and I knew how much we’d need each other during this stressful weekend.
But dangit, I hate small talk. I let them chatter amongst themselves for about ten or fifteen minutes and tried to get a feel for them, their personalities. Two of them would be my roommates, so I really wanted to determine if I could stand them for the next four days. At first, I wasn’t too sure; the chatter was rather inane. Boyfriends and that sort of silliness. Looking back, I’m sure it was just jitters on everyone’s part.
After that fifteen-ish minute span, I decided to try something risky. Shoot, this entire venture was a mad risk, so why not go whole-hog? I’d heard a few sideways comments from the ladies that made me think they might be amenable to a tradition my family has when beginning a long road trip: we say a prayer over the drive.
Religion starts more wars than politics, and I didn’t know these girls well enough to know how they’d react to this suggestion. If they came from a different faith background, they might be offended. They might get angry. They might consider me a sanctimonious prig. They might decide to write me off and make the weekend really, really awkward as a result. I went ahead and asked them.
They all replied with enthusiastic agreement. Whatever your beliefs, it’s always a huge comfort to discover others who believe (or don’t) the way you do. Finding someone who thinks the way you do creates an instant bond that helps break down those ridiculous barriers we put up. (Such as not liking strangers.) I said a prayer over the trip, and we continued chattering.
How wonderful each of those ladies turned out to be. We found common ground, shared our hopes for the Expo, traded jokes, and built one another up. The trip was great because of the companionship we developed. I knew I’d have no trouble bunking with my roomies.
We arrived, checked in, and went to our agency’s assigned meeting room for pre-Expo instructions. This was the first time I got to meet everyone; half our group lives in another part of the state, attending the agency’s satellite campus. I was among the oldest of the talents, sure, but I wasn’t the odd one out. We were all excited, and our energy became synergy. (According to my number, I’m a jumbo jet.)
In the main room of the Expo, we had assigned seating based on the numbers we got. (It’s easier to call numbers than names, and easier for the judges, who can’t possible spell every name). They guys sitting behind my row were hilarious and very good-natured. The girls three seats over from me were so sweet and fun. They made the hours we spent waiting for our turn most enjoyable.
At the first party, we all dressed like we were going to the Oscars. Several guys dressed as the Oscar statues, covering their upper bodies with gold paint and posing in the pictures with Mike Beaty. A group from my agency wanted a picture with Mike, and the look the photographer gave us when we piled on the stage was priceless. Still, he didn’t yell at us. I hope the picture turned out alright; there were a lot of us crammed into it. Mike, of course, was very sweet about it. (The “Oscars” were happy to
show off pose with everyone.)
Thursday morning, I went to the first seminar on the list, which ended up being the only one I got to attend (due to sleeping off my infections and what have you). I’m so glad I got to go to that one, because I learned that I had all the wrong ideas about commercial modeling. Aaron Marcus gave a great presentation that made me far more comfortable with the idea of modeling. When I spoke with him later, he was very personable. When I explained that I’d spent all my extra money of medicine, he allowed me to pay him later and gave me a copy of his book.
One of my roommates told me about meeting a fashion designer in the elevator, and when we went to Thursday night’s party, we found that very lady and her associate, one of the “mother agents“. She turned out to be a hoot! We talked with her for almost an hour and parted ways with an invitation to join her for a fashion show in the upcoming year. I pointed out the obvious (I’m not high fashion model material), and she replied pertly that neither was she, and big girls like having high fashion, too. So there will apparently be haute couture on my generous figure sometime next year.
Friday, I wandered from event to event, saying hello to the people I had already met and pretending I wasn’t avoiding the ones I hadn’t met. (I’m not anti-social; I’m selectively social.) During the two-person scene auditions, the group I went with was awesome. We weren’t together long, but they were great people. The youngest boy gave a truly hysterical performance that made me want to cry with laughter and hug him to pieces.
I would be remiss not to mention the staff members working tirelessly behind the scenes. These ladies and gents not only wrangled the herd of talents, they soothed our fears, lifted our spirits, and brought much-needed laughter to the high-tension atmosphere. I can’t thank them enough for not letting us get away with strung-out nerves. I wish I could remember the name of the fellow who read my two-person with me; he did a phenomenal job. (Alas for poor name retention!)
Due to my illness, my agent got me shoehorned into the second round of singing auditions. The staff member working that sign-in table could have refused me. He would have been justified, since I wasn’t on any official list. He only had my word to go on that my agent had gotten this permission for me, and how many talents have tried to weasel their way into places they didn’t belong? (No, I’m not a suspicious person; not at all.) However, he was gracious to me and let me go in. Thank you, thank you.
Saturday, I met David Vando from NYFA. David is the cutest little old man from the Old Country I’ve ever met. (Seriously, I need to find out where he’s from because his accent is adorable.) He was so nice to me. Given the number of divas he’s surely dealt with in his career, any standoffishness would be completely understandable. But he was warm, funny, and offered me acting coaching free of charge.
I spent more time with my agency-fellows, dining and hanging out. What a fun group! We had awesome conversations that made us feel like family. We talked shop as easily as we teased each other. I’m rather amazed at how well we got along; we had so little trouble confessing our fears and comforting one another, asking for and receiving feedback on performances, and helping each other with preparation for upcoming auditions. We were so strong together. (I think we’re a hawt group.)
The only non-nice person I met was a single agent during the one-on-ones. No, I won’t name names because I’m not mean (or stupid). However, the important thing to take away from this was that I only met one person who was less than cordial. Of all the people assembled, of all the segments of the industry represented, only one, lone person was sour. I met so many wonderful agents and scouts who were friendly even when I didn’t fit their demographic.
A couple of agents said they remembered my cold read or monologue, which I found hugely flattering. With so many talents stepping up to the mic, I expected to be lost in the shuffle. These scouts remembered me in a good way, and they were generous with their comments and feedback. Again, they surely deal with lots of self-important fools, so I would understand if they had a wall up to protect themselves (though I wouldn’t have enjoyed hitting that wall). Despite the cattle-call nature of the event, they remained professional and amiable.
During the callbacks, I sat with David for a few moments while he decided whether give me the scholarship. I treasure the faith that he put in me. He could offer the grants to anyone he chose, and he chose me. He saw something in me that he wanted to bring out, to grow, to put his personal stamp of approval on. Even if, for whatever strange reason, I’m not able to attend NYFA, I will always be beyond grateful that someone believed in me.
While in line for other callbacks, I met several more incredible people, including a woman originally from South Africa. I love that accent (Ima learn it eventually), and one day I plan to write a story with a South African main character, so I peppered her with questions about “life back home.” She was sweet and funny and glad to help me understand her country. What are the odds, eh? Boya lekker!
Sunday morning was the awards ceremony. Mike told us his story, which was both inspiring and uplifting. He might have been telling me my own story. The past three years have been incredibly hard for me; I’ve wondered if I should give up more times that I can count. Hearing that someone else pushed through the tough times gives me inspiration to do the same. Thanks, Mike, for enduring all the trials so that I could one day attend your Expo. You make dreams come true, sir, and I so greatly appreciate that.
Then came the drive home. Even if I’d been healthy, this would be a daunting trip because 1) I was exhausted after an exhilarating weekend and 2) the weather was horrible. We knew several inches of snow had fallen back home and sleet was due in the Metroplex at any moment. How bad would the roads be? Another of my agency sisters asked to team up to make a caravan on the highway, so neither vehicle would be alone should weather force a stop. With this show of solidarity, we braved the highways and headed out. (Also: I suck at selfies.)
Fortunately, the roads were completely clear, and we had no delays (other than a couple of missed turns; thank you, GPS). When I needed to yield the wheel due to fatigue, one of my carpoolers instantly volunteered to drive. From start to finish, these ladies had been my lifeline. We’d spent many hours talking and encouraging each other, calming nerves and offering insights. They made this weekend not just bearable, but fun.
You can have the best audition of your life, the best interview, the best experience. But if you don’t have the best people around you, then I argue it wasn’t the best it could have been. We all need people, even get-off-my-lawn introverts like myself. My new friends made the Expo a cherished memory.
Bonus photo! (Awkward modeling pose FTW.)