Doing laps in the LA Fishbowl

Tales from the Front: 1st Class Infancy

A good friend of mine works as a backup singer to a pretty famous pop singer who is currently jump-starting her career (again) with a world tour. Though grateful for the job (when she gets paid), my friend is in disbelief at how incapable this singer is at doing even the most simple of personal tasks. Waking up, dressing, putting on makeup, arranging for child care, this singer could do none of these things without help. She chewed out a personal assistant for not packing her luggage. She once left her bags on the carousel at the airport while she hopped in a cab, expecting that someone would get them for her. How, my friend wondered, could this woman have reached this age in such a state of dependency?
The answer is, she had a lot of help. It’s not hard to become reliant when there are so many people willing to get you there.
Last Tuesday, I found out that in two day’s time I would be boarding a plane to Chicago to guest star in a TV series that was coming out in the fall. This was completely unexpected; I hadn’t even been called back for the role, and my experience with this kind of out-of-state work was pretty limited. I went into full-on logistics mode with my agent: How was I going to get there? Was I being considered as a “local hire,” and did I need to find accommodations?
My agent laughed over the phone. “This is the networks, baby,” he said, “you don’t have to worry about any of that.” (full disclosure—I’m not sure he called me “baby,” but I think of him as someone who might.) He told me that I would be staying at the swanky Sutton Hotel in the Gold Coast of Chicago, and that the travel coordinator would be contacting me soon.
Now, I’m used to being the organizer in the family; even the smallest trips require military-strength planning. I’ll spend hours on Expedia, sorting flights according to arrival times and prices. I try to think of everything, from where we’re sitting in the plane to which electronics we need to charge to distract the child (and Benjamin, too), what food we’ll bring along in case of an island emergency landing, and where are the coupons for long-term parking?
For this trip, all I have to do is fill out a questionnaire stating m preferences, and Poof! It’s all done. I mean ALL. First Class, of course. Need an aisle? It’s yours. Prefer to come back to Palm Springs instead of LAX? No problem. Transportation to and from the airport? It’s taken care of! I should have asked for a pony, too.
On the morning of my departure (yes, I did pack), I got up, walked the dog, and there was the town car already waiting for me. I forgot what airlines I was leaving from, but HE knew. At the airport, I pass through the first class check in, then start meandering up to my gate. I feel… untethered, like I’ve forgotten to switch on my brain, because there’s no need to. I kinda forget what I’m doing. I wander past my gate. I sit in the wrong seat, where am I going? First class is LOVELY, and the flight attendant is LOVELY, yes I’ll have another glass of orange juice, and when I touch down there’s a driver waiting at the baggage claim, ready to take me and my bags to the hotel? What is it called again? No need to know. I’m deposited at the hotel, it’s all reserved, they give me a key, wireless is paid for by the production. A teamster will arrive shortly and bring me to the studio for a wardrobe fitting.
How did I get here, exactly?
It feels a little like I’m a child again, like someone above me is taking care of everything, and all I have to do is go where they tell me to. I do understand what’s going on here: they want to free up the mind of the “talent” so that they can concentrate on doing what they’re being paid to do: learn their lines. Act. Be brilliant. Also, if they manage the artist’s movements, well, there’s a better chance that that artist will actually show up where they’re supposed to be. In a way, the production does consider the talent to be like children, children who need to be minded, looked after, kept track of, occasionally coddled, sometimes scolded, and fed at regular intervals.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s great. I know how amazing is it to have the opportunity to act in Chicago in these circumstances. I’m realistic enough to know that this kind of treatment won’t be swinging by my door every day. What happens, though, to those for whom it does? When what was a novel experience becomes expected, how soon before the capacity for self-reliance atrophies and one becomes stuck in a state of permanent pre-adolescence?
I’ll let you know, as soon as someone brings me that bottle of water I’ve asked for. Ten minutes ago.
Is the rest of the shoot as smooth? No.
Next: A Cantonese Nightmare; or, Autopsy of a Language, Butchered. 

August 22nd, 2010 - Still Life Las Vegas

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4 responses to “Tales from the Front: 1st Class Infancy”

  1. Kath says:

    Loved this James! Important questions to be asking….Why do we equate success with this kind of 'being taken care of'?

  2. Harry says:

    I think the notion that production does these things to free up the talent to be artists is reeeeeeeeeally generous; your second assumption about why they do it is likely much more accurate–if they're in control, you'll be where you need to be when you need to be there. And that, in the end, means it will cost less….wait for it…M O N E Y. (Also, actors are dumb and helpless. Ask any production person, anywhere.) (Much like law professors, actually.) xo

  3. Anonymous says:

    James, I know why you have and will receive such niceties.
    It's because you have earned them over the years by your
    acting, your writing, you voice-overs. You therefore deserve this sort of treatment. Also, you having lived in Chicago for so long, really know the town. They may want you to be giving them directions for getting to specific places, such as Doug's Dawgs, Gino's Pizza, the currency exchange etc. I'm so happy you are back in this crazy old town! Mary P

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