It was like looking for a part time job. As a teenager. Hoping to land something that wouldn’t pay too badly. That would help me save up a few dollars over the summer months. Anyway, that’s how I looked at it.
They were hiring stilt walkers. About twenty of them. They being the amusement park located not too far away. Not close, but not undoable. It was about fifteen minutes farther North from where we used to film Deadwood. When I worked on that show as a background regular. Prospector number 139. I was willing to make the drive up there for what amounted to little more than part time work. For which I was grateful. Truly. Happy to have the steady job.
Gasoline prices were not half what they are now, though. So, there is that to consider. The slightly longer distance. The more than slightly higher cost of fuel. Still, it would be work. Somewhat steady, hopefully not too badly paying summer work. So, I was game.
It would be long days out in the sun, but I viewed it as a chance to practice on my stilts. I hoped to become more confident on them, so at auditions I wouldn’t feel so out of my league among the Cirque Du Soleil crowd. None of whom would be at this audition. I knew that because I had written to one of my stilt walking friends to see if he was interested in this summer job. He was not. None of them were. The pay was too low, the hours too long, the distance too great. Not worth taking this job that would prevent them from taking higher paying better jobs during the too long commitment.
The way I saw it, I had no other real prospects. For a few months, it was better to have lower-paying somewhat steady work than non-paying non-existent work. So I went to the audition. Drove all the way up there, and almost ran out of gasoline on the two mile dirt road leading from the main road to the employee entrance of the not yet open for the season amusement park.
There were alot of cars in that parking lot. Which I coasted into as slowly as possible, knowing I had to make it back along those same two miles of unpaved backroad on the same empty tank on the way out. Saw a gas station when I got off the highway. Hopefully, it won’t be too expensive this far out of LA. At least I can get a couple dollars worth, which might get me close enough to find a less obscene price per gallon.
Most of the people belonging to those cars were kids. Teen kids. Teenagers looking for summer work. Quite a few of them. I knew that most of those would not be stilt walkers. They were hiring all sorts of performers. Singers. Dancers. Improvisational actors. I looked around the large auditorium, wondering which of the patiently waiting adult looking people were my competition.
Not really competition, since there were twenty. Jobs. My chances of landing one of those seemed good. They scheduled all the categories at the same time, so I found a place to stretch in a quiet corner while the teenagers got up onstage to sing their sixteen bars.
About an hour and a half later, they began calling names of the stilt performers. They would be taking us into another space in two groups of about fifteen people each. So there were about thirty of us that day, but I knew they were holding two days of auditions, which meant there might be about sixty people going up for those twenty jobs. Not bad odds at all. Especially considering how well the audition went.
They lined us up and asked us to do a few basic physical exercises. Yoga type poses. Or ballet moves. Or the kind of balance moves I used to do on the gymnastics team at school. Pretty easy stuff. As I looked around the room, it was clear that some of the people there were not professional stilt walkers. Or professional mimes. Some of them had limited flexibility and even more limited balance. Without meaning to sound overly confident, I can safely say I was in the top of the group.
For one test, they had us stand with both arms extended straight out to the sides, and one leg extended straight out in front. They asked us to hold that pose for a minute, then extend the leg behind us in what my gymnastics coach would have called a scale, but which a yoga teacher might call something else. Everyone in the room, except me, dropped their leg and then raised it behind them, breaking from the one pose before taking up the other. I was the only one who combined the two poses. I simply kept my leg extended straight and swung it around to the side and then behind me in a smooth semi circle, parallel to the ground. It was a clean, effortless move, and I was surprised no one else had thought to do it.
After the form and balance tests, they had us do some improvisational movement. I was given the character of a tree, which is exactly what I had hoped for. I’ve seen stilt performers using four stilts (two on their arms,) covered in vines. I knew how to move for that kind of character, holding a freeze until people walked past, and then surprising them by suddenly coming to life. I also did an expressive sort of dance as a tree.
A lady appeared out of a hidden door. She had apparently been watching the auditions and liked me enough to come into the room and say so. I was handed a card with a callback time printed on it, along with about six of the other performers. When I got to my car, I called my mom to say that I believed I was going to be hired. After all, they were looking for twenty performers, and I had shown them that I knew what I was doing and was more than qualified for this low paying long hours quite a distance away summer job.
Two weeks later, I drove back up there for my callback. This time, they did not call us all at once. We were assigned appointments. On the two mile dirt backroad, I once again almost ran out of gasoline. Once more, I coasted slowly into the now less crowded employee parking lot of the now open for the season amusement park. There was some confusion as I found the audition site empty. I called a number and met up with a cheerful teenage girl who escorted me through the park to the new audition site. I was carrying my stilts, since the initial audition did not involve actually walking on stilts, which is something I thought perhaps they might wish to see.
The guy who led the first audition appeared out of a side door and sat down on a stone wall to have an informal chat with me. No stilt audition would be necessary, since I would be undergoing a training period with their stilt trainer. Besides, the stilts we would be using were not the kind of stilts I had brought. Instead, we would be working on the much safer and easier to use platform type of stilts. All of this made sense, so I did not question the informal chat of a call back.
This guy told me he was in charge of the stilt performers. He was speaking to me as if I had already been hired. We discussed schedules. He offered to hire me for an event he was putting together before the stilt training began. He needed a unicyclist who could ride backwards. Having never tried that, I was not comfortable putting myself up for that job, but told him I would go home and practice and, if I could do it, I would send him a video. It was pretty clear that I was being hired for the stilts. He did not intimate this, or indicate this, or drop any hints. He came right out and said as much. He told me he would send me the contact information for the stilt trainer, and that we would be in touch. We shook hands. I walked away, certain that I had a teenager’s summer job.
The way I figured it, even though the hours were long, and the commitment would prevent me from pursuing real acting gigs, it was wise to put things on hold for a few months and just concentrate on setting aside some money. As long as they were willing to work around the corporate picnics that I had already scheduled for the season, which this guy said they were, it would be a great chance to make some cash while becoming a better stilt performer.
The next day, I sent the fellow a nice email thanking him for offering me the unicycle gig, but that I was not confident riding backwards. I looked forward to hearing from the stilt trainer. He did not write back.
Two weeks went by, which did not bother me, since I knew the job was not due to start for a few weeks. After another week or so, I called to find out when the training was scheduled to begin. The girl who answered the phone said that the guy was not in the office, he was in rehearsal. When I asked if he was rehearsing with the stilt performers, she answered yes.
Huh? Wasn’t I one of them? I was sure I had been hired. I went over every moment of that informal conversation on the stone wall at the casual callback. Was I imagining a conversation which had not taken place?
I sent him a friendly email asking if I had somehow misunderstood. He never replied.
To this day, I have no idea what happened. This was a job which my more professional friends had decided was not good enough to take, but which I had found a way to talk myself into taking. A job that was never mine! Who knows what this character’s game was, but it is a perfect illustration of the kind of ridiculous comedy an actor is subjected to from time to time. Drive all the way up there, twice. Almost run out of gasoline, twice. Prove that I am qualified and experienced and eager for the job, twice. For what? What went wrong? Why call me back up there just to sit on a stone wall for a misleading chat?
I laughed at the senselessness of the experience, trusting that it was probably better that the job fell through. However it happened, I was most likely being protected from a potentially miserable ordeal.