This past week, I worked a mime gig at a high school in Huntington Beach. While I was on the phone with the school teacher, I was already sorry I had taken the gig, which didn’t pay well and did not include travel for what was sure to be a two hour drive in rush hour traffic.
Sure, I could have asked for more money, but it was only half an hour show during the lunch period, and it was for cultural enrichment week at the high school. This wasn’t the kind of job you take because of the money. So I said sure, and figured it was better than not working at all.
That was before I was recalled on a job from the day before. Which I had to turn down, since I was not available, having already accepted the mime gig at the high school in Huntington Beach.
I would much rather have worked another day of background on the tv show filming in the valley, especially since they don’t exactly smile on you turning down a second day of work when that second day has to match the first and they need everyone to sit exactly where they were sitting and cross exactly where they were crossing. Not to mention the unspoken rule that you must rearrange your schedule on a moment’s notice to be able to take whatever job is offered or you will not be offered another anytime soon. That includes travel plans, family events, dentist appointments, or anything other than… perhaps… jury duty.
So I was sorry twice while driving in the pouring rain in two hours of traffic during rush hour, heading down to Huntington Beach. I had to stop more than once to re-tape the plastic over my broken rear window. A branch had fallen on my car during another rain storm a few weeks earlier and I have not had the chance to replace the window yet. I did try at first, but my car is a Saturn, and they don’t make Saturns any more, so I have to find a salvage place and glass isn’t the type of used part easily found lying around most of those places.
Anyway, I managed to get there with the plastic intact. I parked in a space right out in front of the school. A man in a blue shirt driving a car behind me seemed irked that I had taken his space. He parked farther off, and made a few trips back and forth from his car to the front door, carrying supplies. Yeah, he was pissed off.
I looked for signs saying that these spots were reserved, but didn’t see any. Then I called the teacher to ask if I was allowed to park there, and she said yes. Still, the guy made a point of glaring at me each time he passed by while I was sitting in the car putting on my whiteface.
It did occur to me that I could find another space, but it was raining, and I had to finish getting ready, and was only in my mime shoes, which are just canvas and would get wet if I had to walk across a parking lot, so I just smiled at the guy and stayed where I was.
The gig itself was fun. Girls at that age are easily embarrassed, which appeals to the mischievous side of this mime. Boys at that age are eager to play, which makes my job effortless, and the time flies by. With so many kids in the hallway, and gathered in groups at the tables in the lunch room or the library, there was a willing audience all around.
Nothing gets a bigger laugh from them than poking fun at a teacher, and the ones I picked on were more than game. Truly, it was an easy and fun half an hour or so, roaming about interacting with anyone who made eye contact with me.
Then came the moment when I was up on the stage doing a mini show. Running through a series of sight gags, with imaginary props. Fishing pole. Ladder. Umbrella. Machine gun.
Yep. Machine gun. Without realizing what I was doing, I pulled out a machine gun and plowed them all down. The kids in the audience. It seemed like a funny idea in the moment, which is what happens when you are performing onstage as a mime. You go from moment to moment, using whatever happens in front of you, or whatever pops into your head.
There is a maxim in comedy, that you should never use the first idea you come up with. It can often be the same thing everyone else comes up with, and the obvious is never as funny as the surprising. Or, as in this case, it can be something wildly inappropriate, like say… a mass shooting at a high school. Which might appeal to your provocative sense of humor, but which not many people will find funny.
So there I am, at cultural enrichment week at a high school in Huntington Beach, acting out a mass shooting with a machine gun.
Luckily, I was quick to move on to the next bit. Mixing a martini. (Also inappropriate, I know, but ever since filming my commercial for Pinnacle Vodka, it’s a routine I have come to rely on.) None of the adults seemed to mind. Perhaps they were simply relieved that I had not done anything sexual. No, in case you are wondering, I did not follow the machine gun and the martini with anything sexual.
Then we visited a classroom and guess who the teacher was? The angry man in the blue shirt. I tried to explain about the parking space, but that is an awfully complicated thing to act out in mime, especially in the few seconds I had with him before turning to entertain his students. He was nice about it, and seemed to have gotten over his mild annoyance that I had forced him to make several trips to his car, in the rain.
I really did want to break character and apologize to him, but there was no way to do that without being seen or heard by the kids standing around.
As I was leaving the building, I did have the chance to speak to the teacher who booked me on the job. We were alone in the hall with her two student helpers, so I thanked her and commented that she looked like a student herself. I figured she was just out of college, and this was her first teaching job, and she was probably the cool teacher the students could relate to since she was so young.
“I am a student!”
She was laughing. This girl who had booked me on a job was a high school student volunteering on the cultural enrichment committee!
Now I was immediately glad I had taken the job. How impressive for her, to have made calls to professional mimes, negotiated a fee, and booked one to perform at the event she was helping to organize! That is not something I could have done at her age, and I am one hundred percent certain.
When I was in high school, I was already working as an artist, for a lady who owned a candy store and a dance studio. A couple of kids from the drama department were going to the nearby shops, asking if they could put the flyer for the school play in their windows. This lady asked who had drawn the lettering. They told her I had. She was looking to replace the artist who had been doing lettering for her, and asked to meet with me, to offer me a job.
I was flattered, but never would have gone on that interview if my art teacher had not found out about it. She called the candy store, gave the owner a reference, and scheduled an interview after school later that week. Then she helped me put together a portfolio to show, and even drove me there on the day.
The job was drawing sign-in posters for parties which were catered by the candy store. Sometimes, I would do lettering for an ad for the dance studio. I got paid for each assignment, and it really did make me feel like a legitimate artist, while I was still in school.
Then came the big test, which I failed completely. My art teacher gave us an assignment to design a shopping bag for a store. We were to look at examples from Macy’s, or Lord & Taylor’s, or wherever, and come up with a campaign. It was a fairly advanced assignment for our commercial art class.
Since I was working for a candy store, I decided to pick that, and chose water colors as my medium. The image was a whimsical one. Unicorns and rainbows and chocolate drops and cotton candy clouds. In addition to the drawing, we had to make a mock-up. An actual template for the bag. So the design had to be functional, as well as print ready. Mine was.
My art teacher loved it. So did the owner of the candy store. In fact, she said that if I arranged everything, she would be happy to pay for the bags to be printed. She would use them at the store!
This was a big deal. At a time when my classmates were putting together their portfolios to apply for colleges, I would be able to say that my work was professional. I could produce the shopping bag that I had designed.
However, as exciting as it may have been, I was in way over my head. Calling up printers out of the phone book (this was before the internet) was too daunting for me. I was still a kid at sixteen. Climbing trees, riding my bike. Contracting a printer and negotiating a deal was something I didn’t believe I could do, and so it never materialized.
That’s why I admire this young girl who hired me as a mime. As I started my two hour drive home in the rain, I thought, “Imagine if I had said no, and she was not able to find another performer?”
She too might have failed, and then not tried again the next time. Instead, she pulled it off, and was so mature that I assumed she was a teacher. Good for her. I hope she gets some extra credit, and that any college recruiter will look at her organizational skills and consider her an asset to their school.