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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Odd Jobs, Episode 2: The Tea Party Princess

It is a lifelong dream of mine to be a Disney Princess.

Ok, stop. I can see you rolling your eyes. Hear me out...

I grew up on Disney movies. The princesses were my role models, besides my mother, of course... and really this obsession is her fault. If you know anything about my family, you know that we are a little manic when it comes to almost anything Disney. Erin and I had the movies, the barbie dolls, the costumes, the Beannie Babies, the sing along tracks, the coloring books, and many trips to the parks. So, it shouldn't surprise you that I actually traveled to Walt Disney World one summer and auditioned to be a Disney Princess. I can't give many details about the audition because, as the daughter of a WDW Cast Member, I understand the importance of keeping the magic alive and well-hidden, but I can tell you this: I didn't make the cut. I am two inches too tall to be a princess at Disney World.

Heart-breaking. I know.

Being the thick-skinned, rejection-taking performer that I am, I refused to let that stop me from realizing my true potential. One day, I WILL be the voice of an animated princess. (Did you hear that people? Let's make it happen.) Until that day, though, I will continue to spread princess cheer through the world in my own way.

I was babysitting today (because that's what actors do when they don't want to work in a restaurant yet) at my church for the women's morning bible study. There were six little girls prancing and jumping and throwing toys across the room. It was fine. Then, one precious little two-year old came up to me, handed me a wooden spoon, and said "Here Insy. This is your magic wand." OH SNAP! That poor kid had NO idea what she just unleashed! Within a matter of minutes, I had spun each girl around, Bippity-boppity-boo-ed a swirl of beautiful gowns, and turned the lunch bench into a fabulous golden (stretch) carriage. We galloped off to the ball and took turns showing one another our best princess curtsies, twirls, and dance moves. Eventually, the clock struck noon and we had to return to the church basement to see our mothers, but it was a magical morning, indeed.

This adventure, however, was not the inspiration for Odd Jobs, Episode 2. No, no dear friends. We go back a bit further for the truly odd job...

I was hired to host tea parties at a place called Tea Party Castle in Birmingham, Alabama while I was in school. We would host private birthday parties for little girls and their friends. It was really pretty amazing. Upon arrival, the whole party would be greeted by castle maidens, helped into one of hundreds of formal dresses, serenaded with princess songs, adorned with glitter, jewelry, and a new hairstyle, and lined up for a picture. That was all before they even met the princess! After being invited into the Princess Lilly's (that was me!) dining hall, the girls would have princess training, a fashion show, etiquette lessons, a parade, tea and cakes, and a dance party. Oh, and somewhere in there the birthday girl would open presents, and the princess would sing... a lot.

Once the parties actually started, I LOVED being a princess, but boy, getting to that point was a royal pain. I would wake up early on a Saturday morning, attack my hair with hairspray, put it up in hot rollers, climb into my royal carriage (a silver Pontiac Vibe) and drive an hour through my kingdom to my castle. While I was climbing into pantaloons, hoop skirts, and a sequined dress, the owner was pulling the rollers out of my hair and pinning my crunchy curls into a hideous fairy-tale up-do - complete with a massive glitter butterfly. Yes, it was just as epic as you are imagining. After my look was completed, I would join my maidens upstairs in the dining hall to set up the plates, tea cups, food trays, sound system, lights, tea, and candles. It ain't easy being royal... After the party, we would do a quick turn around and set up for #2. Somehow, the second party was always the one with the girl who wanted to be a dragon instead of a princess or the kid who was allergic to the glitter we had just dumped on her head. At the end of the day we would wash all of the dishes, clean up the piles of wrapping paper on the stage, return to our peasant clothing, and say our goodnights. It was all great fun, until that one time I almost missed the bus for my sorority formal because an evil stepmother was causing problems... But that's another story in itself.

So there you have it, folks. I've been a princess before, and I intend to be one again some day. Was it the climax of my acting career? Thank heavens, no, but I certainly learned a lot and I'm thankful for the opportunity. And one day, there will be a chapter in my memoir entitled Two Inches Too Tall to be a Princess. Keep an eye out for that one...

And until next time...

Grace be with you,
Lindsey Shea

Next Episode: Caught in the Middle: Dilemmas of an Office Temp


Monday, February 3, 2014

Odd Jobs, Episode 1: The Afro-Beat Dance Call


I'm not sure if I've told you this story or not. It's hard to express the details of a story like this without facial expressions and hand gestures. I'm a big fan of facial expressions and hand gestures.

But, here goes nothing. 

During my first year in New York, I had the privilege of working alongside Arnold Mungioli as an intern and then a Casting Assistant at Mungioli Theatricals. I cannot even begin to explain how much I learned about the business and about being an artist during my time there. Each casting session was like a masterclass in audition etiquette, and every day in the office gave me insight into the business world of this industry. I collected a handful of really wonderful stories, but there are a few I will never ever forget.

We were working with Bill T Jones and his creative team to cast the second national tour of FELA! For those of you who don't know, FELA! is the story of Fela Kuti, the father of AfroBeat music. And for those of you who don't know what AfroBeat is, according to Knitting Factory Records, "Fela contended that AfroBeat was a modern form of danceable, African classical music with an urgent message for the planet’s denizens. Created out of a cross-breeding of Funk, Jazz, Salsa and Calypso with Juju, Highlife and African percussive patterns, it was to him a political weapon."
The musical is a fast paced, heart pounding, eye-opening show that relies heavily on dance and music to tell the story of Fela and his followers. For auditions, in addition to agent appointments, EPA’s, and larger offer negotiations, we scheduled and advertised a dance call. The breakdown specified that we were looking for African American men an women with experience in African and Modern dance. I spent weeks contacting every dance studio in the tri-state area and posting the audition information on every website I could find. We were trying to reach a very specific type of performer, and we wanted the creative team to be pleased with the turnout.

The audition was listed as an ECC (Equity Chorus Call), meaning that members of the actor’s union would be seen first, and if there was time, we would see individuals who aren’t affiliated with a union. For Equity auditions, Actor’s Equity provides an Equity Monitor, or someone to keep everyone organized in the holding room. If all equity members have been seen, the monitor isn’t required to stay for the rest of the call.

I was sitting in the audition room with the creative team when our assigned equity monitor came in to give us the plan for the morning. She had two groups of equity dancers lined up, and asked if I would be willing to monitor after that. I agreed quickly, having monitored many times, and thinking that it would be a slow trickle of dancers in and out through the morning. I was worried that we were only going to see a few groups of dancers and that I had failed miserably in my attempts to advertise the audition. After the equity groups were seen, I went into the hallway to organize the few non-equity girls that I assumed were waiting outside.  As I walked into the holding room, I was swarmed by more than two hundred gorgeous ethnic women with face paint and African headdresses. TWO HUNDRED dancers.

I picked up the unofficial list and began reading names like Ade Chike, Ndeye, Malaiyka, Rasaan, and Uyouata.  I could just fell them laughing at me as I tried to pronounce the names on the paper I was holding. I was corrected many, many times. It didn't help much.

We survived. The dancers were all seen that day, and we ended up with a fabulous cast. I am very fortunate to have grown up in a home that promoted cultural awareness, but my eyes were opened that day to a world of deeply rooted, passionate, artistic expression. I saw so much pride in heritage and tradition, and the whole experience felt less like an audition than communal dance party. The creative team was thrilled with the turnout, and even though I had to apologize countless times for botching names, everyone seemed satisfied at the end of the day… except maybe the studio workers… we took up a lot of space… Two Hundred dancers all trying to stretch at the same time can be a little overwhelming – especially when you add tribal facepaint.

Episode 2: The Tea Party Princess

Grace be with you,
Lindsey Shea