The Amateur Actors of Orange County

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

George Rook's fear of spiders, cockroaches and musical directors.

Chapter 11 (v.1) - One Lone Cockroach

Submitted: January 13, 2017

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Submitted: January 13, 2017



One Lone Cockroach:

George Rook, like most people, possessed certain specific phobias.  For example, he had an acute fear of spiders and cockroaches; although, he would never kill a spider if he could avoid it.  When he encountered one in his abode, he would carefully catch it, without touching it of course and then release it outside.  He considered it very bad luck to kill a spider.  As for cockroaches it was open season on them.  In their regard, he would immediately dispatch them on sight, without mercy, that is if he could get the drop on them, before they scurried away, back into the recesses of the aging woodwork within his rented room and out of his frustrated reach.  

For some reason the particular breed of cockroach that usually plagued him the most, in his rented room, presented itself to him only one lone cockroach at a time.  That’s right, a rather large form of cockroach that was always a loner; much like George himself.  It was as if that single cockroach would lay territorial claim on his rented room and would not permit the encroachment from another of its own kind, until its demise opened up the territory again when the vacancy was noticed by another replacement cockroach a week or so later; who would intern be dispatched by George, if and when he got the drop on that one too.  And from there the cycle would continue over and over, again and again for many years; locking George Rook into a never ending war of single combat against one, albeit very large, cockroach at a time. 

George had to be quick to kill one these interlopers, unless it was a chilly evening, for the cold seemed to slow them down somewhat.  Therefore the moment his eyes lighted upon one, usually after turning on a light switch, he would kill it immediately without hesitation.  Any hesitation on his part, invited them to scurry away to safety.  He detested having to touch them, but he who hesitates would lose the war he was waging against this particular species.  So he would trap the cockroach first with both hands and with a grimace upon his face, he would then proceed to carefully transfer it into his right hand, without allowing it to get away.  Then he would crush it within its hardened exoskeleton between his thumb and his forefinger; making sure not to squirt any eggs from out of its crushed body onto the floor, in case it happened to be a female. After it stopped squirming, he would flush its lifeless body down the toilet and carefully wash his hands in the bathroom sink afterwards.

George Rook would never step on one of these creepy crawlies if he could avoid it, not wanting to make a mess on his carpeted floor.  He would have used insecticide to the get rid of them, but insecticides, or the use of them, were another one of his phobias.  Besides, spraying bug bombs might do in the occasional spider or two and that could cause bad luck to befall him. 

George had many other secret phobias, besides spiders and cockroaches, which he kept to himself, never discussing them with anyone, too many and too unimportant to mention here; with the exception of one other.  George’s worst secret phobia of all was of a human kind, i.e. the musical directorial kind. 

A Definite Lack of Harmony:

Once George Rook enrolled in a night time community college theatre class, not because he wanted to be a college student, i.e. not because he wished to eventually obtain a degree in the theatre arts as educational degrees were meaningless to him, he simply wanted to attend this particular class because that community college elected to produce an amateur production of “My Fair Lady”.  And George wanted to add the role of Colonel Pickering to his repertoire.  He had gotten wind of that educational institution’s plans to produce the musical through one of the many grapevines he was connected to.  And he obtained this intelligence well in advance of the audition date; giving him plenty of time to learn the Colonel Pickering part long before coming to the audition to read for it. 

Normally, George would never audition for a role in a community college setting, but none of the other non-educational venues, those where he was used to auditioning for various roles, were producing “My Fair Lady” and George felt he couldn’t allow this opportunity to play Pickering to slip through his fingers.  So he became a temporary community college student and auditioned for the Pickering character; a role which he won, handily.  Thus forcing him to part with $122.00 of his own money in the form of tuition to pay for the privilege, something he hated having to do. Nevertheless, the opportunity to play Pickering was worth the expense to him.  This would mark the only time that George Rook had ever paid actual money to be on a stage; college and/or on any stage for that matter. 

After having won the role of Colonel Pickering, for let’s face it, there were very few 18 to 21 year olds on that campus able to play a convincing middle aged to elderly, retired British military officer, at least not in the way Rook was able, George was feeling somewhat guilty.  Why the guilt?  He was feeling guilty for pitting himself against real college students, those that were also vying for the same part that he had.  Initially, he had not considered that what he was doing to be thievery, i.e. the stealing of candy from out of the mouths of babes, or in this case, millennials.  But later, when the cast was set in place, he found himself to be the only age appropriate principle in the whole show and that made him feel like he was taking unfair advantage of all of those young millennials, those who were actually real college students.  For instance the actress portraying Eliza Doolittle was only 17 years old, the young actor portraying Henry Higgins was only 18 and was endangering his singing voice by trying to make it sound somewhat raspy in an attempt to appear older than he was.  Fortunately the musical ran for only seven performances to somewhat mitigate that risk. 

Surprisingly, he found little or no resentment expressed within the ranks of all the millennials casted along side of him.  They all seemed to be quite happy to have him and his vast baby boomer experience on board; at times looking upon him like he was some kind of sage. Treating him with great difference and respect for his many years of experience; experience which they did not yet have and this made him feel even more guilty.  Many assumed he must be a professional actor who, evidently, was somehow only slumming to be in the show on an Equity waiver.  Some rumored that he might have studied the so called “Method” acting system, perhaps even from the great Lee Strasberg himself; these students were later disappointed to find out, after he reluctantly owned up to them, that he had never once seen the inside of any acting class and was completely self taught.  Actually the term “self taught” is a bit of a misnomer where acting is concerned.  Actors are taught by many things such as surroundings, audiences, fellow actors they perform with on stage, people and even animals they see in everyday life, as well as other less formal things in the absence of an acting coach.  So no one is ever completely “self taught” when it comes to acting, only partially self taught; strike that, mostly self taught.  

So George Rook continued on in the show, while keeping his secrets and his unspoken feelings of guilt to himself; for once casted he could not back out, role stealing fraud that he felt himself to be, he was no quitter.  His sense of theatrical tradition would not allow him to jump ship.  So he committed to the part for which he was cast and trooper that he was, he lived up to that commitment by never missing a performance, or even a scheduled rehearsal; even when he was sick with a bad cold. 

Now getting back to that phobia mentioned earlier, the one pertaining to musical directors; stage directors did not frighten George at all, but musical directors terrified him.  They tended to be tougher on singers than stage directors were on actors.  And so he avoided them as much as possible in an attempt to keep yet another terrible secret he had to be just that; a terrible secret.  And keep it he did, especially from them.  For instance, he would never, ever, approach and ask a musical director for help, or advice, if he was having problems with a certain lyric in the musical score, much like a patient never consults a doctor to obtain treatment for an aliment, fearing what the diagnosis might be.  And what was the root cause of his fear of musical directors?  The terrible secret?  He could not read a lick of music; specifically musical notation to be precise.  Oh sure, if you pointed to a note on a musical score and asked him to tell you what that particular note was, he could then run the old “every good boy does fine” memory trick in his head and then tell you that it was a “b”, that is if he had enough time to run that little memory trick in his head.  But he couldn’t identify the note immediately; he would have to think about it.  And there really is no time to think when it comes to musical sight reading. You either know the score on sight, or you don’t.  And this was another reason why George Rook would learn his singing parts in advance, long before any audition would or could occur, just like he would learn the speaking parts in advance.  He needed an edge to even the playing field, or he could not compete.

Now in regard to the singing parts, he would learn those by ear, listening to musical sound tracks.  And he would listen to them over and over again; committing them to memory.  In other words, he taught himself how to sing the lazy man’s way, strictly by ear.  And in so doing, again he felt himself to be a fraud.  A fraud whose lack of musical training could be discovered by any wary eared musical director; and so he avoided them as much as possible and stepped back into the shadows to let the other actor/singers take up their valuable time.  Fading away into the background when they were present during rehearsals and much relieved when they were not present; which would often be the case with MDs, as they are a very expensive lot for amateur stage productions to keep around all of the time. 

Once a musical director had him well within his sights and asked George to sing a specific set of measures from off the pages of a musical score, i.e. the dreaded harmony parts for a bass vocalist.  So George reached into his vest pocket in an apparent attempt to retrieve his reading glasses.  This was ruse however.  When he reached into his pocket he purposely crushed the wire frames of said glasses in order to break them.  Then he feigned an unfortunate inability to read the measures due his reading glasses being accidently broken.

The musical director had to move onto someone else in the cast, as his time was far too valuable and expensive to waste on a temporarily blinded singer.  Like other MD’s, he charged for his services by the hour.  Unlike George, this man was a professional, i.e. someone who was not working for free.  In fact, he billed for those itemized hours much like an attorney does.  And as a result, his presence was often not requested by the production company who hired him, keeping him at bay to save on production costs.  And that was all well and good as far a George Rook was concerned.  The less he saw of this gentleman, or any musical director, the better he liked it. 

George Rook could be quite uncharitable in his thinking towards musical directors and privately considered them all to be freaks of nature.  Like canines, who were able to hear tiny musical tones and sounds that no ordinary person could ever hope to hear.  To him they were like evil magicians, who seemed to possess an acuity of almost supernatural hearing abilities.  Make no mistake, he could carry a tune quite well singing by ear.  Executing melodies were quite simple for him but changes in harmonies, especially subtle ones, were a mystery to him and were often the bane of his existence.  This is why George avoided singing parts connected with ensembles.  And why he always auditioned for principle character parts and never for choral roles.  Not because he felt portraying minor characters were beneath him.  On the contrary, small bit parts though they might be, are often more difficult to pull off, harmonically speaking.  So to risk redundantly whipping a dead horse here, it should be pointed out that principle characters, i.e. the soloists in the shows, tended to be used mostly to move the melody along, with the ensemble cast members backing them up with timely and more technically difficult harmonies.  This is not always the case, but then again what in this life is, the case that is? 

Unfortunately he couldn’t escape singing with the ensemble all of the time.  Sometimes when George was required to sing with the chorus, i.e. with ensemble singers, he would hang back and sing quietly to avoid being heard by the MDs and the ensemble singers themselves, especially the more musically trained ones who might spot his inabilities to sing harmony, just as a musical director might.  In fact, he might even resort to lip syncing lyrics when he really felt lost in the box.  Only when he sang the melody in a solo would he then sing out with gusto and dramatically nail a ballad; which was quite impressive to witness, in spite of his harmonic limitations.  And so as for his harmonic limitations, well that is why he also avoided getting to chummy with members of the ensemble.  Not because he was a snob, which he wasn’t, but simply because he feared that spending too much time with them might cause them to discover his terrible secret too.  So naturally he avoided them like the plague as well, especially the ones that seemed to possess the same almost supernatural abilities as did the musical directors.  These abilities are often referred to as having “perfect pitch”.

Musical theatre attracts all kinds of people, and many of the actors and singers it attracts seem to fall into four of the following categories, actors who can sing, singers who can act, and then there are the actors who can’t sing, and finally singers who can’t act.  Well, of course there are the dancers to contend with.  But for simplicity sake let’s not deal with them at the moment.  Nevertheless, that last category, the ones who can sing but can not act, they never seem to be able to graduate from the ranks of the ensemble, for wonderful singers though they might be, they can not deliver believable dialogue to save their lives.  Fortunately for George Rook, he fell into the first category, that being an actor who could also sing, albeit if only by ear and usually only in melody and not in harmony, if it could be avoided.

“Can’t you hear that George?!” complained a member of the ensemble to him back stage one night during a final rehearsal/preview of My Fair Lady, while they both awaited their cues to enter upstage left. 

“Hear what?” asked George, now puzzled as to why this hypersensitive ensemble player seemed to be so agitated. The singer was pouring over his libretto/song book in anger; a rented by the day libretto/song book, which he had not yet surrendered into the hands of the assistant director as he had been required, for by this time everyone in the cast was supposed to be completely off book.  He didn’t need the libretto/song book to remember his lines and lyrics as he was indeed off book.  He had other reasons for not yet turning it in and at the moment he was using it as weapon formed against his perceived nemesis in the show; the lead actor playing Henry Higgins. 

“Barry is singing an f sharp in measure 56!!  He is supposed to be singing a G!”, now complained the bit player, the kind of player that fell into the last category referred to before.  This wonderful singer, albeit lousy actor, was now venting his anger against Barry Randolph, who was presently singing his solo “Why Can’t the English?” on stage. 

“He sounds fine to me”, puzzled George, who could not tell a G from an F sharp even if it jumped off the page and bit him.  His ears might know the difference, but his intellect did not. Musical tones were just that, different sounding tones which he couldn’t identify just by listening to their various levels on the musical scale; duplicate them after hearing them by ear, yes, but he couldn’t tell you what their alphabetical delineations were.  So he shrugged to the self appointed musical note inspector and said, “The audience doesn’t seem to mind” and they didn’t.  They were all presently in rapture, except perhaps the husbands who were now missing the Laker game because their wives had dragged them away from their television sets to watch a musical at the college that night. Anyway, the women in attendance were enjoying Barry’s rendition.  They thought he was cute, charming and most importantly very funny.

“Never mind!” now scoffed the enraged ensemble singer, who had very much wanted to be cast in the role of Henry Higgins himself, and who would have, had it not been for the fact that he was such a dreadful actor.  Dreadful actor though he was, he really knew his musical theory and used that knowledge against other actors and singers whom he deemed to be standing in his way.  Fortunately for George Rook, this wonderful singer/lousy actor wasn’t looking for a battlefield promotion to play Colonel Pickering in the show.  Nevertheless, from that day forward George endeavored to keep a safe distance away from this malcontent and his hypersensitive hearing. 

As for the ensemble player, that self appointed note inspector/vigilante, despite his whisper campaign against the show’s lead actor Barry Randolph, aka Henry Higgins, he was never able to undermine Barry’s position in the show.  Fortunately, even with his trained ear and hearing acuity, the musical director himself could not detect the wrong note that the adamant ensemble member was now complaining about, as he furiously pointed to said note from out of  the libretto/song book.  The musical director had no answer to give the self appointed note inspector/vigilante either, other than to say the following.

“Why do you still have your libretto?  It should have been handed in last week before opening night?  We have to pay extra for it everyday we still have it in our possession!”, which pretty much ended the matter right then and there.  Well almost.  After the show’s opening week, the production received a glowing review in the college newspaper’s arts and leisure section, stating in particular that Barry Randolph’s portrayal of Henry Higgins was a tour de force as an actor and furthermore Barry was a marvelous singer ta boot.  A few days after its publication the news paper’s editorial staff received a damning letter to the editor signed by someone referring to him or herself as “anonymous” and it accused Barry Randolph of singing an f sharp in measure 56 from the song “Why Can’t the English?” and that he was supposed to have sung a G!  It was not editorial policy to publish anonymously signed letters to the editor, they could withhold the author’s name upon request however.  Nevertheless, since that stipulation was not requested in this case the line was drawn for this anonymously signed letter.  They wanted very much to publish it, as they found it to be hysterically funny, but editorial policy was editorial policy and it never saw the light of day. 

After the first matinee performance of My Fair Lady, the cast met with friends and family and other well wishers who had been in attendance that day in the main lobby of theatre arts department.  Many of the cast were then lavished with pats on the back, hugs and hand shakes, then posed for selfies in various angles, via smart phones held by their guests to commemorate the occasion.  Whereupon, the production’s musical director scanned the crowd hoping to sight George Rook.  He had been meaning to finally have a word with him several times since tech week on the show, albeit unsuccessfully.  However, he just couldn’t seem to track him down for some reason, as George Rook somehow kept eluding him and now the frustrated musical director was beginning to think that George's evasiveness was intentional. 

After a careful search of the packed lobby, he disappointedly realized that George Rook was no where to be found.  So he decided to check the dressing room before leaving for the day.  But the cast dressing room was empty of any available George Rooks also, so giving up he turned to head for his car in the parking lot.  However, on the way to his car he noticed a familiar looking figure sitting all by himself on a picnic bench outside of the theatre.  It was George Rook still in costume and in full make up.

“George?  Is that you?” asked the stunned musical director.  

George looked somewhat startled with a look of fear on his face, almost as if he had been caught doing something he shouldn’t.  Which is understandable, hence he was presently being confronted by the very person in the show he feared the most, the musical director, and this in spite of the pains he had been taking to avoid the man altogether.  Which he was presently doing by quietly waiting outside of the theatre complex until the coast was clear, when all the cast, the audience members and especially the musical director himself had left and gone home for the day.  After which it was his plan to quietly sneak back into the backstage dressing room, ahead of the maintenance crew, to get out of his costume and makeup then leave himself. 

“I’ve been trying to find you for days George”, said the musical director, “but the only time I have been able to spot you is when I’m sitting in the audience watching you on stage.  When I looked for you afterwards, you always seem to disappear”.

“Really?” answered George sheepishly.  I’m in for it now, he then thought to himself.  He’s going to complain about my not hitting my harmonies right.  He’s probably figured out that I can’t read music.

“Yes, really, answered the musical director.  “Anyway, I have something I want to tell you”.

Lord God in heaven help me,, was now George’s silent prayer at this very moment, as he awaited the boom to be lowered.

“What?” asked George Rook, now bracing himself.

“You’re doing a great job buddy.  I can’t wait to work with you again”, was all that the musical director said to the frightened amateur.  And he meant it too.

Just for the record the musical director could tell all along that George wasn’t all that good at hitting his harmonies.  And he could tell, from the first day of rehearsal, that George Rook couldn’t sight read a lick of music either; nevertheless the musical director had the common sense to also recognize that what George Rook did have on stage was presence.  And that stage presence far out weighed that which he did not have.







© Copyright 2018 Jim Pack. All rights reserved.


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