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Pink Feathers and Spit

June 15, 2012

As I wrote in a previous post, I worked as a journalist before going back to school to train as an actor in London.  So it would have been silly for me not to continue freelancing in journalism as a survival gig to support my acting career.

Yet, in those early months, fresh out of drama school, I was determined to leave the old self behind, and work only in acting or in survival jobs that I thought “suited” an actress: waiting tables, retail, temping…….  To go back and freelance as a journalist, despite the healthy pay and flexible hours, felt like I was cheating at this “being an actress” thing. And to be honest, I think I feared that I would get sucked into that world again fully (because journalism, like acting, is a demanding mistress).

So, short of shredding and deleting all my journalism contacts, I did try to archive that part of my life and start fresh.

That is, until the spittle incident………

I’m not one to complain about any job that involves even a modicum of performing. After all, that’s what I love to do most. But even my most optimistic self found it hard to get enthusiastic every day, walking around, stopping often to balance on one leg while pretending to peck at weeds.

Yes, my first paid gig out of drama school was as a theme park costumed character… a talking flamingo to be specific.

There is a funny thing about human beings when confronted with other human beings dressed up as animals… it kind of freaks them out.  And when humans are freaked out by something, they often act out their fear in not very nice ways.

So my days as a flamingo often involved any combination of the following: being taunted, tripped, pushed, kicked, hit with stones and spit upon…. all while I maintained a graceful smile and one-legged stand.

My colleagues and I in this roaming acting company of theme park characters tried hard to protect each other from the indecencies and the violence inflicted upon us by some of the customers. But we couldn’t always succeed.  So one hot day when the park was packed and a small child (yes a small child) had spit on my colleague (also a talking bird) one too many times, the penguin-attired actress grabbed the kid by his shirt, pulled him in close to her black and white painted face, and through her huge orange bill, said to him quietly and calmly, “If you spit on my one more time, I will &%^-ing kill you,  you little &%@#.”

Needless to say, the entire company was reprimanded and reminded that the customer comes first!

(I still dread to think of the penguin phobia that kid must have developed.)

Still, the incident made me (and many of the other actors) re-think our work situation.  And while I still am grateful for the lessons learned on that job, it wasn’t perhaps the most auspicious way to start my acting career.

Still, there are two important things that I gained from the experience….

1.) my British Equity card

2.) the realization that freelancing as a journalist was not a bad way to make a living while still fully pursuing acting work….that is, acting work playing only HUMAN roles.

So as my theme park contract was winding down and I was icing my bruises each night, I dug out some old journalism contacts. As I was in London, it made sense to start with the BBC.

On the back lot of the park, the place where we actors in costume could eat, smoke and curse about the kids on the other side of the wall, I sat down one afternoon and made a call to an editor at the BBC World Service:

“Hi Michael, this is Tara, I used to freelance for you in New York.  I’m living in London now and would love to do some shifts for you. Can I come in soon and have chat about that possibility?” I asked, wiping some kid’s spittle off my pink tights.

“Actually we are short of freelancers and would love to get you in soon,” Michael replied.  “Can you come in this week?”

“Ah, this week?” I fretted.  “Um, I’m actually working another job for the next two weeks, but would love to come in as soon as I finish up this gig,” I said, holding my breath.

Michael (curious that I must be working for a rival news organization) inquired, “sure, but can I ask, what job are you doing now?”

“Oh………” I hesitated.

Then realizing that the BBC values truth above all else, I replied, “I’m working as a talking flamingo.”

“Ok.” Said Michael, without flinching. I’ll see you in two weeks from Tuesday then.

And I’m happy to say that I have been able to freelance successfully for the BBC for the past nine years without it interfering with my pursuit of acting work. In fact, BBC staff members are some of my biggest fans and supporters.  Especially as they know that I’ll always tell them the truth. No matter how many pink feathers and spitballs I’m covered in.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 15, 2012 9:43 am

    Lady, this post is amazing! I love that you had such a crazy-pants experience (umm…people SPIT on you?!?), and I love that you learned so much from it.

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