by M. W. Hamel
“The next one is ready,” Margaret said.
Jack looked up from the papers he was loudly shuffling on the table.
“All right, send her in,” he said.
A moment later a young woman entered the room.
“Name?” Keith asked, slightly annoyed at the noise his partner was making.
“Okay, take a seat right there.”
Jack flipped through the portfolios in front of him until he came up with hers. He slid it to the middle of the table so that Keith could see it too. They scanned it quickly, both aware of what was important and what was not.
“My portfolio is not quite up to date,” Alexis said, making sure to smile.
“What have you done?”
“I did a commercial over the weekend and was just cast in a play.”
“Off Broadway?” Jack asked, eyeing the black and white head shot in front of him.
“Do you live in the city?”
“No, about an hour outside. I usually take the subway in.”
“It says here that you’re twenty-three,” Keith said.
“How’s that age treating you?”
“Pretty well. It’s nice to be done with school to have more time for acting.”
“Any plans to follow your college major?”
“Not now. I’m hoping the acting will take off.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you, but so are the other fifty young women we’re going to see today.”
“I’m aware of that, but I think I can really make this part come alive.” Alexis resituated herself in the chair. She had curly brown hair and an enchanting face.
“What about modeling?” Keith asked. “It says here you’ve done some work in Paris and Tokyo.”
“Acting is where my heart is.”
“Good, good. Well, have you prepared anything for us?”
“I’ve got the lines I received when I arrived.”
Jack looked into the corner behind her as if waiting for a signal. Alexis turned her head to follow his eyes and for the first time noticed a young man sitting there. He was writing furiously on a pad of paper. He was dressed in dark clothes and only looked a few years older than her. He met her eyes and then nodded.
“All right then,” Jack said. “I’ll read the male part and you do the female.”
Alexis stood up and moved her chair against the wall, glancing at the young man in the corner again. She moved back to the center of the room.
“Does my character have a name?” she asked.
“No,” Keith replied. “But you can think of one in your head if you like.”
“Ready?” Jack asked.
“Yes.” Alexis closed her eyes for a moment and smoothed her shirt before glancing down at the lines. She had read them over many times while waiting.
Jack began the reading. “How can I help you?”
“Do you serve pasta?”
“Yes, we do. This is an Italian restaurant after all.”
“Can I have some bread?”
“We will have to charge you extra for that.”
“Good!” Keith said, standing up and walking over to Alexis. “You were very convincing. Did you feel the lines?”
“Not really,” Alexis replied, perplexed by his enthusiasm. “To be honest, I don’t understand it.”
“Why is that?” Jack asked.
“Well it’s so short and the lines are so normal. It doesn’t give me a chance to put any emotion into it.”
Keith looked around her shoulder at the man in the corner. Alexis turned as well.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “We didn’t meet when I came in. Are you one of the casting directors?” She was about to approach him and offer her hand when she saw Keith shake his head.
“So you didn’t like the lines?” Jack asked.
“Well, we appreciate your honesty. We’ll get back to you. You can go now.”
“But you didn’t even get to see me act. Should I improvise something?”
Jack looked at his watch. “It will eat into our lunch break but you seem determined. All right, what would you like to do?”
“I can do a monologue from-”
“We’re not interested in monologues.”
“Will one of you improvise a scene with me?”
The two men laughed. “Oh goodness no,” Jack said lightheartedly. “We just cast, we don’t act.”
Alexis turned around. “What about you?” she said to the young man in the corner. “Are you an actor?” She took a few steps toward him. “Will you improvise a scene with me?”
The young man tore the top sheet of paper off of his writing pad, folded it in half and handed it to her. The first words on the page caught her attention. When she finished she looked at the young man in the corner for a long time. Finally, she turned back toward the table.
“Do you have something for us then?” Keith asked. He looked at his watch to emphasis the point.
“No,” she replied.
“Well, we’ll be gone for an hour to lunch. I think there was a cancellation, so if you’re still here when we get back, we’ll give you an opportunity to show what you can do.”
Jack looked at the man in the corner as if waiting to be dismissed. Then he and Keith left the room.
Alexis sat down on the chair she had put against the wall and reread the paper in her hands. She turned her head to the young man in the corner. “I can’t do this,” she said. “I don’t know how to do this.”
When he didn’t reply she became impatient. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Can you speak or hear me?”
He gave her no reaction. She stood up and paced the room a little before noticing that his eyes were scanning her body.
“Well at least you’re not blind,” she said. “I really need this part. It will be my first major film role. I don’t even know what the film is about. There’s been so much buzz about it and my agent had to pull some strings to get me this audition.
“Do you know what the film is about?” she asked, not expecting an answer. “I’ve heard it was written by some guy that no one has ever heard of before. My agent knows a producer who knows someone that read the script and said it was the best thing he’s ever read and he’s been in the business for years. I can only assume that it’s a drama. I’ve always wanted to do a major dramatic role. I think drama is my strong point.”
She saw an unopened bottle of water on the table and realized how thirsty she was. “Do you think they’ll mind?” she asked.
The young man in the corner moved his hand slightly as if to say, go ahead.
Alexis went to the table, opened the bottle and took a few swallows. “I don’t want to be rude,” she said. “But can you talk? I know you can hear but if you can’t talk just make some kind of sign so I know.”
The man in the corner did nothing.
“Maybe you can’t hear me,” she said mostly to herself as she carried the bottle back to the chair.
She sat down and read the piece of paper again. They were the same words as before but now she felt like crying. Before the tears could flow she stopped reading and stood up, once again pacing the room.
“Like I said before the script is supposed to be incredible. If I get the part and the director is good, maybe it will win some awards. My agent said that from what she’s heard, if this film is made right it’s going to be one of the best ever. Not in money terms I think, but in an artistic sense, you know, really good cinema.
“I wish I could read the script but I heard only a few people in the industry have seen it. My agent said that the writer went to these people’s homes or offices and sat right in front of them while they read the script and then took it away when he left so no one has a copy. Even without a copy of the script they still agreed to hold auditions, which is why I’m here.”
Alexis stopped pacing and looked at the man in the corner. “Have you read the script?” she asked.
The young man nodded. She moved closer.
“What’s it about? Just write it on your pad there. I can wait.”
He started writing on the pad of paper in his lap. Alexis went back to her seat and drank more water from the bottle. The man ripped off the top sheet of paper and held it out.
“Wow, you write fast,” she said, taking it from him. The whole page was filled. She read it slowly and carefully, taking in every word. His handwriting was sloppy but legible.
“This is just a continuation of what you gave me before,” she said. “I’m going to assume that you haven’t read the script, and I suppose it’s pointless asking you who wrote it, because you haven’t said a word to me since I got in here.”
Alexis rested her head on the wall, closed her eyes and sighed. “I really need this part,” she said. “I can make money from modeling and commercials but that’s not what I want to do. I think I’ve got talent and not just a pretty face.”
She looked down at the paper in her hands and read, stopping halfway through. Tears swelled up that hadn’t been there when she read it before. She stopped reading and went to the window, pushing it open slightly. The sound of New York traffic accosted the room.
She looked at the young man in the corner as she sat on the windowsill. “Don’t you get tired of just sitting all the time? I have to get up and move around sometimes or I’ll go crazy. Don’t tell me you’ve just been sitting there all day.”
She looked down at the street. “I don’t even know who you are,” she said to herself.
She looked at the paper in her hands but tried not to focus on the words. Eventually she read the whole thing and this time saw a different meaning. She became angry. “How could you write something like this?” she asked, moving away from the window. “You don’t even know me and you’re writing this to me.” The volume of her voice was growing with her anger. “It’s disgusting!”
She put her hands down on the table. “I didn’t get it the first time I read it, but now I see!” Her face was turning red. “How could you write something so filthy? I know how some other actresses get their jobs in this business, but that’s not how I’m going to get mine.”
She lowered her voice and moved to the center of the room. She was waving the paper at him. “If this is how I have to get the part then forget it!”
Alexis sat down and took a drink from the bottle. Her temper cooled quicker than she had expected. “Do you know what time it is?” she asked before realizing it would be an unanswered question. “I wonder how long it’s been and when they’ll be back. I’ve got another audition this afternoon.”
She looked at the young man in the corner and started laughing. “Look at me, I’m talking to someone who probably doesn’t hear a word I’m saying. You’ll just sit there with your blank expression writing suggestive and veiled little notes telling me how I could really get the job.”
She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. “The only reason I’m still here is because this script is supposed to be so incredible. Believe me, I’ve turned down a few offers for starring roles because I was waiting for the right one to come along. I don’t want to do some teen comedy where I would only be eye candy. And just so you know,” she said sarcastically. “I’m not going to do a nude scene with you or any other jerk in the business.”
Alexis picked up the first piece of paper and put it in front of the second. She was about to crumple them up but something stopped her. She started reading and a whole new interpretation took hold. She hastily flipped to the second page and started laughing as the last sentence crossed her eyes.
“This is actually quite clever,” she said. “Sorry I got mad at you before. I can see where the jokes are now. This is really funny. It’s weird, every time I read it I have a different reaction to it.”
A certain sentence caught her eye and she started laughing again, her body racked with joyful sobs. “I’m sorry,” she said while gasping for air. “It’s just this line right here.” The laughter was gradually replaced by occasional giggles as she read to herself. Then she was silent.
Alexis got up and went to the window. She took a long look at the street and then pulled the window shut. There were so many questions she wanted to ask the man in the corner, but she knew it was useless. If he could speak he would have by now.
She resumed her seat before taking a large drink from the water bottle. “Can you tell me your name?” she asked.
The young man in the corner shook his head.
“Why not? You can write it on your pad there and then let me see it. Is that okay?” Her voice took on the quality of a sympathetic mother.
Again the man shook his head. Alexis got down and shuffled over to him on her knees. “Why won’t you tell me your name? Are you a friend of the casting directors? They should be back soon so don’t worry.” She smiled, looking at him as if he were a lost child whose puppy had just been run over.
“Can you speak?” she asked.
He gave no reaction. She stood up and paced the room for awhile before returning to her seat. The minutes dragged on and she became bored. She was about to close her eyes through no will of her own when a loud tearing sound pulled her back. The man was holding up a third sheet of paper.
She walked over to him and took it, placing it behind the first two that were still clutched in her hand. She read the words again from the beginning and could not hold back the tears.
Her soul screamed as her eyes read. The tears flowed freely down her cheeks and she felt as though nothing had ever made her as sad as the words she was reading. “I can’t describe what I feel. I know I’m sad but I don’t know why. The words you wrote to me are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Please, you must tell me what I’ve done to deserve this.”
She stared blankly at the floor. “How can I know what it is you want? You will not speak to me and yet I hear you so clearly. Help me understand.”
The door opened and Jack and Keith came into the room. Alexis looked at the casting directors as they took their seats behind the table.
The young man in the corner stood up. “You got the part,” he said and then left the room.
Alexis watched him go. Her emotions had never changed so intensely as they had in the last hour. “Who was that?” she asked as the young man disappeared around the corner, her eyes still focused on where she had last seen him.
“He wrote the script,” Jack said. “Now, shall we call your agent and give her the good news?”
Copyright © 2007 by M. W. Hamel