The Amateur Actors of Orange County

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Chapter 2 (v.1) - No Longer a Pro

Submitted: July 28, 2016

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Submitted: July 28, 2016

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Abby Shields makes her triumphant return to the amateur stage in the Big OC.

She had just come off of working eight straight seasons on one of the most highly rated police procedural dramas in primetime television history, well highly rated for at least six of the eight seasons it had run.  The last two seasons had tanked in the Nielsen Ratings; mostly due to the fact that she and her male costar were feuding with each other off camera.  And the show’s writers were caught in the crossfire, being forced to make last minute re-writes to scripts, employing improvable plot twists and making other changes in a futile attempt to appease the show’s two warring factions, his and hers. 

Though never alluded to in public, it was becoming obvious to the show’s most ardent fans, or at least to those who were adept at reading between the lines on various Twitter accounts, or reading body language at public events, that something was definitely amiss between these two actors.  Apparently the show’s two main characters, two people who were supposed to be madly in love with each other, were being portrayed by two actors who evidently hated each other’s guts.  

Neither actor ever came out and said anything nasty about the other, not openly at any rate, but something was definitely awry.  This unspoken enmity showed in their body language when greeted by their fans at various public events that they were forced to attend by the network’s publicity department; one of these events being the Paleyfest at the Paley Media Center.  Although friendly with their fans sitting in the audience, and everyone else they sat with on dais, they were ice cold with each other.  And you didn’t have to be a master of body language to notice.  In fact, they couldn’t even bring themselves to sit next to each other on that very long and very awkward dais at the Paley. No clearer sign that there must be trouble brewing between these two thespians.

For her part, she would sometimes, when she was particularly unhappy, tweet hand drawn meme’s for her puzzled followers on Twitter to figure out.  On one such occasion she tweeted a personally drawn caricature of a king dancing before his subjects in the nude, but no caption to explain what point she was trying to make. “The Emperor’s New Clothes?” queried one puzzled Twitter follower.  That query would go unanswered by her.  And for his part, he would often make nebulous complaints about something, or someone, on Twitter in general terms, but never specifically.  His loyal Twitter followers would then ask him, “are you talking about someone on the show raining down on your parade?”  And all those questions would likewise go unanswered.  Obviously, something was bothering these two, but neither would say what, or who it was.  Was it each other?  Only they, the show’s handlers and everyone else in the cast and crew knew for sure.  And none of them were talking.  It was such a tight lipped ship.  Naturally, occasionally things would leak out onto online gossip monger blogs by unnamed and unidentified sources. Either that, or these same gossip mongers were making stuff up out whole cloth, based on their own surmises, suppositions and in between line readings on Twitter.

As time progressed, their fandoms inevitably splintered into two warring factions, one supporting her, one supporting him and a there was actually a third neutral faction wanting the two actors to make peace with each other.  Naturally the communication between these three groups mainly expressed themselves mostly on Twitter and/or message boards devoted to the show.  Then finally a fourth faction appeared.  This faction was a fandom not of a single actor, but of the show itself and was mostly angry with the silly plotlines that had been cobbled together during the last two seasons.  And this final group castigated the two leading actors, the writers, the directors and the producers; at one point demanding that the network cancel the show and bring all the nonsense to a merciful conclusion, before the show declined even further into the silly plotline driven abyss that it was presently spiraling into. 

In all fairness, it should be pointed out that there was not always enmity between these two television personalities.  They actually liked each other once, or at least they seemed to.  Just before their paths crossed, he was hired right off by the producers of this upcoming police procedural drama.  This hiring decision was partly based on the size of his already established fan base; which had been steadily growing over the years, almost as a fluke; a result of a short lived sci-fi series that had been cancelled five years prior.  This off beat, well written, witty TV space opera was quite a departure from its predecessors in that particular genre.  Unfortunately, its quirky uniqueness was discovered too late to save it from the bottom line bean counters at the network where it had aired, who suddenly decided to give it the axe after only ten episodes.  And so it was cancelled, but not before also attracting a small but extremely loyal following of sci-fi fans, which propelled the show’s newly unemployed star into the favorite invited guest category at various comic book conventions, i.e. COMICON and the like.  Let’s face it, he was very charming and really understood how to work a crowd of adoring sci-fi fanatics. 

As a result, the show’s untimely demise also did not prevent the notice of an even larger army of newly recruited sci-fi fans attending these various conventions year after year, who would now be purchasing DVD’s of all ten episodes of that defunct, short lived series.  And so, as time went by, this army grew ever larger and larger, after each and every convention; culminating into a cult following which broke into the seven digits sometime in the year 2009; six years after the show’s cancellation.

With only ten episodes for these ardently loyal fans to watch on their Blueray and/or DVD players, over and over again; to the point where many of the most ardent could recite it’s witty dialogue by rote to each other, as they congregated together at the next COMICON, or some other comic book convention; forced the decision to mount a first run feature film production inspired by the original failed series.  Unlike the original series, this movie version was a respectable success.  Not a block buster mind you, but still an unqualified almost hit; which garnered an even larger audience of fans.  Quite impressive, given the original show’s humble, if not almost completely obscure, beginnings. 

So, as far as the producers of this new crime drama were concerned, there would be no need to look a gift horse in the mouth and require him to audition, when they approached his agent with an offer for him to portray the title character in the pilot.  They now all chomped at the bit to have him on board.  And there was no need to ask him twice, he chomped right back on that same bit.  And so a new crime procedural was put into pre-production and christened with a single word phrase, that being the name “Fortress”.  And as already noted, he was cast in the title role, that being “Adam Fortress”, a crime solving author, who specialized in the writing detective stories. 

Nevertheless, these eager producers did require that he be present during all the auditions that the show’s female lead would be casted from.  He wasn’t so big a star as to avoid that little chore.  And 302 beautiful young starlets were interviewed and tested; as he eagerly read from the script with each and everyone one of them.

When she arrived to test, then just another unknown talent out of the 302, he was instantly impressed with her.  And even though each had never met before, there was obvious and instant chemistry between them.  When she left the room, he looked into one of the digital cameras, which was still on record and predicted, “She’s the one”.  The producers were not yet convinced of the rightness of that prophecy and continued to test the rest of the field.  Nevertheless, he asked the casting people to make sure to invite her back for the first call back and they did so.  And from there again, and again, and again they repeated the process of calling her back for more tests; until the day came when she ultimately landed the role thanks to her charm, beauty, intelligence, talent and of course, his insistence.

For an outsider to pinpoint exactly when things started going south between these two is a difficult task, if not impossible.  During the first and very abbreviated season of the show’s run, as it was a summer replacement for something else that was a ratings failure, they both seemed then to get along quite well, on and off camera.  They even palled around with each other at one of his most favorite pastimes, sitting at the dais at a comic book convention; but that comradely was short lived.  Actually, she only attended one such convention with him, much to the disappointment of many of his and now her newly acquired fans; whom now expected the presence of those two together again and again on the dais in future conventions, into infinity.  Alas that was not to be the case.  Why?  Who knows?  They did, but they weren’t talking.  At least, not to the press they were.  And despite their penchant for posting on Twitter, neither were they talking to their adoring public either, not on that forum; which actually shows a great deal restraint and discipline on their part.  Not to fall to the lure of washing one’s dirty laundry on Twitter; especially when one is angry with their costar.  Nevertheless, if you carefully monitored their Twitter accounts and were adept at reading in between the lines, they spoke, if not wrote, volumes about each other.  Not by what they said, but by what they didn’t say.  For example he, loved to poke harmless, good natured fun at other members of the cast and crew.  And take outlandish selfies with them; and congratulate their personal triumphs and celebrate their various birthdays and other milestones in life; but never any of her milestones.  Appreciating on Twitter almost everyone else connected to the show, at one time or another; but never her.  Not once. That seemed odd and rather unfair to many of their fans, especially the fans that focused more on her, than on him. 

She on the other hand was frequently making overtures to him on Twitter, applauding his interests in protecting the environment, promoting some of his favorite charities and congratulating his personal triumphs and awards in life, i.e. The Peoples Choice nominations, etc., and always wishing him a happy birthday year after year.  Except for the last two years of show’s run, for by then she seemed to have given up on ever having a friendly Twitter exchange with him, as already noted, he never once reciprocated to any of those friendly overtures with nary a retweet.  It then became patently obvious to most of their Twitter followers, that he didn’t like her for some reason and that she was desperately trying to get on his good side, but to no avail.  One could only imagine how awkward it must be like offline, while they worked together day in and day out on the set for the rest of show’s run. 

Eventually alarming unconfirmed reports surfaced in the various online gossip blogs stating that there was a great deal of tension on set between the two of them.  One unnamed source reported that she would often go into her trailer between takes to cry, “because he was always being mean to her”.  There were other reports that surfaced that he resented the attention her character was getting on the show and him reminding the show’s producers that show’s title was named after his character and not hers.

And now, after an eight season run, the show was mercifully cancelled.  She was now free to move on with her life away from him and vice versa. 

They still continued to follow each other on Twitter.  It probably wouldn’t do the give the online gossip mongers anymore ammunition by one of them taking the step to preemptively unfollow the other.  But there would no longer be any futile overtures on her part on Twitter to make amends.  And again as to the cause of this enmity between the two of them, who knows?  Only those two knew the whole story and again they weren’t talking, even after the show ended.  You have to admire restraint like that.

What were their names?  Her name was Abby Shields.  His name is irrelevant to the rest of this tale. 

Now that she suddenly found herself recruited into the ranks of the unemployed, Abby Shields soon also found herself to be quite bored and was wondering what to do?  This was the first time she had been in between jobs in eight years.  She had become accustomed to going to bed early at 7:00 PM every night for her beauty sleep, then rising at the ungodly hour of 3:00 in the AM, before trundling herself down to the studio to get into makeup and wardrobe for the next day’s shoot.  And she had become accustomed to being kept extremely busy learning eight to ten pages of dialogue every day.  Now unemployed, she missed being on the set working with her co-stars, except the afore mentioned person above.  Him she did not miss at all.  As for the other cast members and crew, she loved “hanging” and “goofing” with them in between takes.  And now she wondered how they were all doing, now that they were unemployed too.  She worried for some of them.  Especially those that were not as well paid as she had been.  She knew that for some mortgages needed to paid, kids sent to college, teeth needed fixing and basic necessities as simply putting food on the table needed to be worried about.  Not everybody working on a sound stage laughs all the way to bank and even more so now that their regular pay checks would stop being so regular.  She felt somehow responsible for them.  Previously, a year before the show’s cancellation, she renewed her contract for one more year, not because she wanted the show to continue forever on into infinity, but simply because she didn’t want to selfishly help put 200 or more coworkers out of work. 

She now thought how nice it would be host an informal reunion party for them, but no, it would be awkward having to explain her not inviting him.  And it would be awkward for her invited guests as well, because if the truth be told, they mostly loved him as much as they loved her.  And she knew what a difficult spot she would be putting them all into. So alas there would be no reunion party. 

What to do now that she was jobless?  What adventures might lie next for her?  She wondered.  Her phone was not exactly ringing off the hook with job offers.  She supposed she could go back to hitting the audition circuit and open calls again, but now that she was quite famous, how would that look?  The tabloids and online gossip blogs would look for anything that they could exploit in a negative way.  She was no stranger to television job interviews and auditions before her hit series arrived, when she was a relative unknown. But now she could not even leave her palatial Beverly Hills home, even to go shopping, without being immediately sighted by the paparazzi; and as for all those pesky gossip bloggers, they were circling too, to find out the real skinny as to what exactly went wrong on the set of her cancelled show. 

Maybe, she thought, she should retire.  She didn’t need the money.  She wisely saved most of the money she made over the last eight years; remembering the six or seven very lean years before, when she was still struggling.  Now she was set for life, just as long as she kept her nose clean and continued to employ a certain amount of common sense.  And she was good at that, both privately and professionally.  Given the situations she had been linked to in the last eight years, it was surprising how well she managed to stay out of the press.  There were only a few minor hints of scandal that she was associated with and those were usually the result of someone else’s bad judgment, not hers.  But now that she was 38 years old what should she do next?  No longer the adorably cute ingénue that she had been in her early twenties, she could retire; but seriously, who wants to retire when they are only 38 years old?  She still had her looks, but how long would they last, five, ten years more, maybe?  She wondered and then worried.  Maybe if she took real good care of herself they might last 10 years.  But then she would need to make the transition from leading roles to supporting roles and then only if she was lucky.  She also knew how quickly she could be forgotten, now that her onetime hit series was cancelled.

“Why not do a play?” advised her best friend Janet over the phone one lazy Saturday morning.

“You mean just show up to open calls that are listed in Backstage, like I did when I was in my early twenties?”

“No!  Tell your agent to arrange an interview with someone, who has something that is already in the works; something that is on tour maybe”. 

“What kind of a play”, she now asked.

“I don’t know.  By the way, have you ever even been in a play?”

“Not professionally, the last time I was in a play it was a musical at a local community theatre in my home town”. 

“Where are you from?”

“Fullerton”.

“Seriously, you’re practically a local girl.  Fullerton is only 40 miles away”.

“I miss Fullerton, it was so much fun.  I went to a community college there.  That’s were I got bitten by the theatre bug.  And right across the street there was the Plumber Auditorium where they did Broadway musical revivals.  It wasn’t part of the college, but still it was so handy just being right across the street.  I performed in Oklahoma there.  That was my first, and as it turned out, my only musical.  The rest of my theatrical experiences were at Fullerton College; but only straight plays and a few comedies”.

“When did you turn professional?”

“Fairly early on and only accidentally.  A casting agent saw me in Romeo and Juliet at the college.  He was there just to see his daughter perform.  Our paths crossed by sheer luck for the most part.  At that point I had no agent.  I didn’t even have a picture and a resume made up.  I wasn’t planning to be a professional actress.  Theatre was my minor then.  My major was Business.  Anyway, few days later I get the call to go to LA to audition for a cat food commercial and bingo, I got the part. 

I then joined the various unions.  And from there on I worked fairly consistently in television and on a few movies.  A few years after that I got casted in “Fortress”.  However now, for the first time in my career, my phone has stopped ringing.  At least, in regards to job offers.  I would normally feel very worried about that, if I it wasn’t for me sitting on an S load of cash I got for being on “Fortress”.  And you wouldn’t believe the severance package the studio gave me for being a good little actress and not go complaining to the press after the show was cancelled”.

“Complain about what, or should I not ask?”

“I’m not allowed to say”, and so she didn’t, and her friend wisely did not press the matter further.

“What do you want to do now?”

“Well, actually, since I don’t have to worry about making a living, hopefully for the rest of my life, why not go back to the stage and do some of those musicals I wanted to do, but never had the chance”.

“Where, New York?”

“No Fullerton”.

“Are their any professional venues in Fullerton?”

“No, but there are plenty of amateur venues there and in the surrounding cities nearby, La Habra, Brea, Orange, Anaheim, Costa Mesa, even Garden Grove for crying out loud.  The whole county is crawling with them.  Who needs New York or Hollywood?”

“I’m not understanding the train of this conversation.  How can you do amateur musicals in Fullerton or anywhere else?  Won’t the unions object to you working on amateur productions?”

“I don’t know, would they object?  I’m not a lawyer”.

“I suppose you could get a temporary waiver to work with non-professionals”.

“I don’t think I’ll bother with getting a waiver”.

“Well, you’ll have to”.

“Why?”

“SAG-AFTRA and Equity do not like it when you don’t follow their rules.  They have ways of dealing with working actors who do not follow their rules”.

“What about non-working actors, who quit them first?”

And so ended the professional acting career Abby Shields, much to the dismay of her newly fired manager, agent, lawyers, accountants and  publicists; she did keep on her driver and her personal secretary, as long as they agreed to move to Fullerton with her.  They all ended up living in her new, much smaller, house in the hills nearby. 

Naturally her fan base wasn’t too happy about this either.  Now if they wanted to see her act in any future productions it would not be on television; excepting re-runs of course.  If they wanted to see her perform in anything new, they would have to travel all the way to Orange County California, and pay the going rate of $20.00 per seat.  The average cost for a single community theatre ticket in Orange County California at the time. Of course, she would now be packing out these small venues, once she starting performing on their stages and the producers at these various places could now expect to raise their ticket prices beyond the $20.00 per seat range.  They could, if she would let them, but she wouldn’t.  $20.00 per seat they were before she came, and “$20.00 per seat they would remain”.  It was not about the money with her.  And heaven help anyone trying scalp her audiences, as these loyal patrons waited patiently in line in front of the box offices.  She would confront some these vultures personally on the sidewalk, record these confrontations, then post them on YouTube to make an example of them for being greedy. She couldn’t shame all the scalpers away, but she would successfully reduce much of their illegal profiteering considerably.  And her fans, those newly acquired from the amateur stages of Orange County and the older ones from her time in television, loved her even more for it. 

From now on she was strictly an amateur on the stages of the Big OC.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Jim Pack. All rights reserved.

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