“You have an audition. Check your Casting Networks Alerts for audition details.”
Woo hoo! I love getting these texts. I go right to my email to see what it’s for. Could be anything!… A national network spot…?! A Proctor and Gamble mom, a funny shopper, a snarky office worker, a…
Hmmm. A “REAL cancer survivor -Female, 25 – 45.”
I bet my agents were psyched when they saw this – “hey, we’ve got one of those! Brockett!”
The casting notice read, “We need someone who has a warm, inviting presence on the screen. Someone who can tell the story in a way that hits on the emotional parts but can also deliver it in a way that won’t leave the viewer depressed. A positive outlook.”
As much as I’d love to quote the rest of the notice, it’s not really Kosher, but I have to tell you it said the actress should have “hair of some length,” but if it wasn’t long enough, “the illustrator can always draw it in.” Then it says “REAL CANCER SURVIVORS ONLY” in ALL CAPS, which makes me think 2 things; #1, have they been having problems with FAKE cancer survivors? And #2, the cancer has to be real, but the hair can be fake? I’d really rather it be the other way around…
I can’t tell you what the product is, because again, not really Kosher, but it is national network and cable, if you are not familiar with the industry that means cha-ching in the thousands and thousands of dollars.
A note at the end says that casting director would like pictures with friends and family during treatment emailed to them directly.
The whole thing kind of bothers me, and I’m not sure why. I mean I am a commercial actress – I will sell anything (okay not cigarettes. Well, maybe in Asia. No – I’m kidding, not even in Asia. Thailand maybe…) Seriously – it’s my job. And I am a REAL CANCER SURVIVOR, and I have good hair. In high school they called me Blair Hair. You know, from Facts of Life, I spent a lot of time in hot rollers, but that ‘s really not the point. The point is – I need to go book this job.
When I get to the audition I see another actress sitting outside the room, waiting to go in. A beautiful black woman who is completely bald. As a cue ball. No hair. None. Egg, black egg. Anyway, I think maybe the illustrator can draw it in… I also think, maybe I have an edge!
“Weird, right?” I say to her like I know her. Like we’re in the same club. Club cancer. And I hate that because, well, I don’t know, for the same reason I freak out at the thought of walking in one of those walks wearing a pink ribbon rhinestone emblazoned hoodie.
I look at the scripts posted on the wall. Happy fluid drawings of a woman banking. (Ok – it’s for a bank.) Shots of her smiling, running, shopping…using the ATM… There is a note explaining that the audition will be interview style, and we should consider answers to some of the following questions; “What kind of cancer did you have?” “Can you share experiences with friends and family during your cancer treatment?” “What has the experience of cancer taught you?”
I head to the bathroom, “what has cancer taught me?”
“What has cancer taught me….” A peek under the stall doors shows one of the two free, I enter and a moment later the whole thing shakes the sister door is slammed shut. Then another door slam. I come out to find another beautiful black woman, standing at the sink fixing her make up. She has gorgeous hair.
“Well I guess that didn’t go well for her,” she says and eyes the door.
I put it together – she wasn’t the slammer. “Oh, I guess I missed it.”
“Are you here for?…” And I’m doing it again, the club…ugh.
And I want to ask her ‘what kind?’ But I really hate that question. She volunteers, “uterine, but I’m worried it was too long ago.”
“Well, you have great hair.” I tell her.
“You too!” she says.
I say, ”I wouldn’t worry, as long as you have good stories.”
Good stories. Positive stories, while smiling into camera, “You know, cancer really taught me to value life.” “My friends and family mean so much more to me.” “I really know what matters now.” Positive outlook stuff you’d find on coffee mugs or posters with kittens at the ends of branches. Like it’s assumed that somehow surviving cancer is a good thing. Not being dead comes with an added bonus of the key to meaning of life and knowing who to bank with!
The casting director calls me into the room. Surprisingly he is a very young man, and sweet. We share a little laugh a little at the absurdity of the casting.
He starts to tape, “So, when did you find out you had cancer?”
I smile right into that camera and say, “funny thing, it was right before my 39th birthday.” (It wasn’t funny. Well, it was kind of funny in an absurd waking up on your birthday with a piece of your boob cut out and having people over for strawberry cake anyway type way.) “But I guess the timing for these things is never good.”
“Did you have chemo or radiation,” he asks.
“Actually, no – (crap, maybe they’re going to think that’s not bad enough) so I offer, “I had a bi-lateral mastectomy,” (oh, that was probably too graphic… too much information? Positive, the positive…)
“I love my doctors, I was really blessed. My doctor, Dr. Kristi Funk is actually Angelina Jolie’s doctor (why would I say that? Am I actually cancer name dropping?) “She’s great, she always saw me as a well person, not as my disease. I don’t know how I would would have made it through without her positive attitude from the start.” (That’s all really true, and she’s funny and beautiful and when she took it personally that they couldn’t save my right areola I felt like the luckiest one nippled girl in the world.) Breathe.
“What about your friends and family?” he asks.
I look above the camera to the right, like I’m retrieving a meaningful memory, “Well, you really find out who your friends are. The people who you are close to become much closer going through an experience like that.” (And some people suck. Some people are like, “shit cancer!” like it’s somehow contagious, and you don’t hear from or see them until you track them down at their place of employment because you happen to need a bottle of wine and know he works Thursdays and say, “what the fuck – I thought we were friends!” And then feel horribly guilty because you know that when people react ‘badly’ it’s probably because of their own fears – that as soon as you say ‘cancer’ it goes right into that deep core of fear in the center of us that says – that if it happened to you it could happen to them, and taking it personally is pointless and lonely.
Aloud I say, “Yeah, you learn to really value those people,” and deliver a wise meaningful look worthy of a turban chemo scarf wearing City of Hope poster woman right into that lens.
And then there it is – “What have you learned from having cancer?”
“What have I learned from having cancer?” And I know what I am supposed to say – but I hesitate….
Awkward silence, he prompts me again as if perhaps I missed the question, or maybe really never thought about it.
“What have you learned from having cancer?”
(That it’s horrible you fuck nut! That there’s no real way you can put it in a a pre packaged/bumper sticker/coffee mug/window decal/positive sound bite bank selling kind of way.
That it sucks! That you think why me? Am I going to die? Is it somehow my fault? Am I supposed to make meaning out of all this myself or am I – as I deep and dreadedly fear, someone who is supposed to make meaning for someone else – like am I freakin’ Barbara Hershey in Beaches when I want to be Bette Middler or Randy Pausch from the Last Lecture or Susan Komen. No! It’s a deep dark place that late at night you can think it would be easier to die then fight with the hard grip of something that is bigger and more terrifying than you are. That it’s even worse because it has come from within you – your body has created it and the whole thought of whether you will win or lose the battle has to do with whether you believe you will or not.
Is that positive enough for you buddy? Pal? Can I open a new checking account?
But out of my mouth comes,
“What I learned from cancer… Is that cancer didn’t teach me anything. The meaning of life doesn’t come pre packaged with any experience good or bad, it’s a choice, a choice you can make every minute of every day, like Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I wouldn’t recommend cancer to anyone as a way of learning that lesson, I am sure there are much easier ways.
So that’s what I say. Smiling, looking directly into camera.
And I booked it.
No, I’m kidding, that was soooo mean. Honestly, I didn’t even get a callback!
I’m not sure why. (Did they want a more difficult cancer? Maybe an amusing chemo story or two?)
All I know was that it definitely wasn’t because of my hair.