Thursday, September 3, 2015

That Other Girl in the Wheelchair: Kristine does Portlandia Part I

Hello friends! I am so excited to present the first in what I hope to be a regular feature called un-creatively enough - That Other Girl in the Wheelchair. [Tangent: True the name kinda sucks,  but I want to make sure people know being rad and being sedentary are not mutually exclusive traits. There are literally dozens of us girls that are doing both. I have unofficially been doing this feature for years lest we forget the guest posts from Chloe, Beth, Alicia and Sarah, but now it has an official title. ] Aside from my opportunity to be lazy, these posts are my little reminder that despite my delusions of grandeur, there are ladies with disabilities out there that are WAY more interesting than I am and this platform is worth sharing once in a while. Luckily my lazy arse didn't have to work too hard to find my first official "TOGITW" [Tangent: Trust me, I know that acronym will never catch on.]. Kristine, a middle school teacher (yikes!) from Portland (yay!) is one of my favorite blog readers, who has since become a Facebook friend who I consider a real life friend even though we have never met. I read about her crazy Portlandia adventure on social media and told her to share the inside dirt. I decided this blog was so good that I should approch it's release any good episodic TV show- as a two parter! [Tangent: Americans love a cliffhanger more than Sly Stallone!]  Take it away Kristine...
Hello, internet! I’m thrilled about being “another girl in a wheelchair” on Kimmie’s blog. This corner of the internet has been making me smile for a long time, and Kimmie’s just the greatest of gals. But I have to admit, it’s only the second most exciting thing to happen to me this week…

My gotta-get-as-much-mileage-as-I-can-from-the-story Life Event started while I was fully immersed in my summer binge of Gilmore Girls. Somewhere around “copper boom,” I got a text from an unfamiliar phone number.


My brain slowed down for a bit, trying to figure this out. Let me be clear: I’m not an actor, nor do I play one on TV. I’m a middle school teacher. It’s a crazy job full of stories to share, but not a lot of connections to the entertainment industry. Was this a scam? A joke? They mentioned wheelchair accessibility, so apparently they knew who I was. 

They weren’t asking for my credit card or mother’s maiden name or anything suspicious. So after Google confirmed that SMH Casting was a real thing, I answered the text. And I said yes, of course! I had no idea what I was getting into, but auditioning for a major TV show seems like one of those life experiences that comes along .00000000001 times in a lifetime, especially if you’re not an actor, so you don’t say no.
A vague memory eventually came back to me of filling out some form online, saying I’d like to be an extra in the background sometime. But that was years ago. Apparently when they needed a character with a disability, they went through the extras list. Does that mean Portland has no legit actors with disabilities? I don’t know. But I give Portlandia major props and a Napper nod (just legit as the Colbert bump) for seeking out people with real disabilities, instead of putting someone in a probably-stolen-from-the-airport wheelchair like the industry tends to do.

I quickly started worrying about what to wear. How do you dress for a Portlandia audition?? I crowd-sourced, and my Facebook friends were full of advice, most of which was “something with a bird on it.” There were a couple “dream of the 90s” references, and the suggestion that “naked” would best embody the spirit of Portland—probably true. But I synthesized all the advice, and came up with this:
Notice-me-bright-yellow shirt, I-love-Portland umbrella print skirt, and no-but-really-I-REALLY-love-Portland hipster oxfords. I was ready!

I kept saying I was ready, anyway. I told people I wasn’t nervous, because what did I have to lose? Worst case scenario, I’d continue to be a person who’s never been on TV—so what? There were no stakes. Nothing to be afraid of. It would just be a good story to tell later.

The paratransit bus driver wished me luck and told me I looked great when he dropped me off. (Thanks, Trimet Lift guy!) I went in the blocked-off entrance that I’d been told to use, and was greeted by a bunch of naked mannequins. Scary! Then I was greeted by actual humans, who led me into a little room and handed me some paperwork. A guy in a wheelchair came in about the same time, and we seemed to be in the same boat. He’d filled out the extras form online years ago, and taken the morning off from his job in a construction office to try out for Portlandia, cuz why not?

I realized I was more nervous than I thought when I tackled the paperwork, and couldn’t remember my social security number. After stalling for a minute, I remembered the last four digits, then the middle two, and I finally wrote down three digits at the beginning that may or may not have been correct. I wouldn’t swear to it. I froze again when I had to list my clothing sizes. I was fine with shirt size, pant size, dress size, shoe size, but “Hat size??” My new friend from the construction office told me that most people are 7 or 7/12. “I have a big head.” He told me to put 7 ½ and a question mark. Thanks, construction guy in a wheelchair! I finished signing the nondisclosure form, so no spoilers, and I may have signed away my soul or my firstborn child. I’m really not sure.

At this point, we were both handed a script, and I had a few minutes to review it while the other guy met first with the casting director. I memorized the best I could, but remember how clunkily my brain was working? Stuff wasn’t sticking so great.

It was only 10-ish minutes later that I was called in, and met Simon. Simon took away my script and explained that you don’t need to memorize anything exactly for this show; they do more of an improv style. And even though the page ends here, we’d like to extend it a little further, so at the end we’re going to take it kind of in this direction, ok? Cool. Awesome. Because I’ve never acted in my life (other than the 7th grade renaissance faire—Juliet in the balcony scene), and I’ve definitely never done improv! So why not try it out for the very first time, on camera, in front of a big deal casting director?

Simon explained the premise for my scene, and how my character would have to deal with Fred and Carrie disrupting and derailing normal life. (That’s basically every sketch in every episode, so I’m not giving spoilers, right?) Suddenly, the scene started feeling very familiar. Guys, I’m a teacher. Dealing with disruptive kids trying to derail everything I do—that’s my daily life! I’ve been practicing this for years! I was born for this role.

Deciding to just go into teacher mode and see what happens, I was as ready as I’d ever be. After learning that “getting slated” is a thing (You hold up a number, mugshot style, and say your name for the camera.), I started the scene, with Simon playing the other characters. We hit the major points of the script, but like he’d warned me, it wasn’t what was written. He’d make up stuff, and I’d make up stuff in response. It was nerve-wracking, but I was kind of settling into my familiar Ms. Napper mode. By the end, I was getting a little snarky, because when you spend your time around middle schoolers, it becomes natural.

We finished the scene, and Simon told me I was hilarious. Woo! Then we did it again, and this time he told me to try being a little colder, a little meaner. Less teacher-in-September, more teacher-in-May. Got it. We did it again, and I smiled less and snarked more. I felt like I was saying “um” every other word, which is so annoying when other people do it, so I wanted to kick myself each time another one slipped out. At the end again, Simon laughed loudly, told me I was fantastic, and sent me on my way.

I felt good that I’d made him laugh, and hadn’t totally embarrassed myself. But I figured that was the end of the story. I didn’t feel like I rocked it either, or maybe I just had no idea how to judge. Anyway, I’m not an actor! So I wasn’t counting on ever hearing from them again. Actually, I marked “yes” in the box that asked if I’d also be willing to be an extra, so I thought I might get called in to be a silent person in the background. That would be cool.

Three days later, I got an email saying, “Please make yourself available to work in a speaking role on Saturday August 29th, 2015 for Portlandia S6.” What?? Seriously?? I had to read it several times over. My favorite line was at the end, when it named the actors union that covered the project, and told me that if I had any issues with that union, I’d need to work them out. Nope, not a problem, I haven’t made any enemies in the actors unions. Yet. :)

...To Be Continued...

Click here for part deaux!

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