The first casting call was a genesis. I’m sure of it now. I walked into a warehouse on the southeast side of town. In the daytime, it served as a furniture outlet, right off the interstate. Neon signs, dusty sofas, empty beer bottles stashed between seat cushions.
Jeff McKinney (director, writer, producer, editor, casting director) sat in a swiveling office chair behind a folding table fashioned as a desk. He’d cleared out a corner in the back of the space, dining room chairs stacked and pushed aside to make space for the intricate casting of GIRLFRIEND (20s).
The building smelled of Pine-Sol and bleach. I looked around for a place to sit, unsure if the furniture with price tags was off limits. I remained standing off to the side waiting for Jessica Randolph to finish her monologue. I knew her because she commented on every casting post on Facebook. Submitted! She was the next big thing, just about ready to move to Chicago and get signed with a big agency. She’d been a pageant girl for most of her life, I gathered, but I wouldn’t tell her that. She recited a Meg Ryan Speech from “When Harry Met Sally.” She didn’t seem like a Sally, with her chin high, shoulders back, words escaping her mouth coolly. She didn’t have that raw magic. She was rehearsed. It was obvious.
When Jessica finished, Jeff thanked her. I peeked around the corner, watched him stand up, round the table, and hug her, his hand falling to the small of her back. “I’ll have what she’s having,” Jeff said, to no one, really.
Jessica left out the back of the warehouse, and I wondered how long of a pause I should give before making myself known. I’d never been in a film before. I’d taken a couple of acting classes at the community college, elective credits, I’m not sure why. I told my classmates it was for cathartic reasons. I don’t know if that was true. It sounded good. They honored my dedication to a higher self. They all wanted to be movie stars. The thing is, those classes got me thinking, I kind of like this feeling. Maybe it is cathartic. So I lurked the Facebook groups and finally decided what the hell. What else am I doing tonight.
Jeff rustled some papers around, a charade I’d come to know. It was as if he was saying to himself: I’m a filmmaker. I am important, lots of papers, here they are.
“Lydia?” Jeff’s voice boomed throughout the warehouse, echoing in the pockets surrounding each piece of salvaged, semi-usable furniture.
Up close, Jeff was about the same as I figured he’d be, about the same as most of the guys posting casting notices for their passion projects. He had shaggy hair, pasty skin, and baggy clothes that held absolutely no regard for his body. I hoped that if Jeff ever made it big off of one of these revenge horror short films, he’d find a tailor, or at least a nice, honest friend.
“Lydia, pleasure to have you. Thanks for taking the time.” He looked me up and down, his eyes seeming to land on the edge of my baggy sweater, where it disguised my waistline with frumpy rolls of fabric.
“You’re welcome.” He froze, waiting for me to thank him, maybe. Was that appropriate, to thank him for allowing me to audition for this role? I’d never done this before. Was he doing me a favor, I wasn’t sure. He drummed his stubby fingers on the transitional table.
“You can slate and begin. I’ve got the camera rolling.”
I hadn’t even noticed the tripod. The digital camera placed on top of it was small and silent. I cleared my throat.
“I’m Lydia Green, and this is Randi from the film ‘Manchester by the Sea.’”
Jeff scribbled a note down on one of his papers, and I launched into tears. The scene is an ex-wife trying to reconnect with her ex-husband years after he accidentally started a fire in their house, which killed their young kids. She still cares for him despite everything. She’s pleading with him. It’s tragic and raw. I’ve never been married before. Never had kids. Never done much of anything. Even so. Jeff was still scribbling when I finished, wiping the tears from my face. I had been afraid I wouldn’t be able to get myself to cry. I think it was the nerves, the high stakes of finally doing the monologue in front of someone, that’s probably why I really felt that release. It was maybe even a high. I wanted to do it all over again.
“That was a nice start, Lydia.”
I wiped my nose.
“You’ve got that ethnically ambiguous mystique. That’s very appealing.” I looked down at my hands, closer in pigment to my Italian mother’s than my Danish father’s.
“What I’m looking for, though, is an actress who can fit the role of a bubbly, fun girlfriend.”
“The casting call said she’s a girlfriend who is emotional.”
I don’t even know if I’d ever really been a girlfriend. But I clearly could get emotional.
“She’s on a camping trip with her boyfriend when a mysterious monster attacks them. Wouldn’t you be emotional in a situation like that? Are you comfortable with sex?”
“No, I mean, yes, I mean, well, what?”
“Lydia, this is a horror film set in the woods in the heat of the summer. Have you seen movies like this?”
Blood rushed to my cheeks. They were getting red, I was sure of it. But the rest of me was warm too. Jeff was fumbling through his own impromptu monologue about, you know, those classic slasher films, the girlfriend in the sports bra in the tent, piercing scream, god, what was I thinking coming here, it was getting so hot, it was like I was in the tent, trapped inside with nowhere to go. And Jeff, so pitiful, but so passionate about this film he was dying to make in which GIRLFRIEND (20s) was to die at the hands of a creature but not before she takes her clothes off. I shuddered, wiped the perspiration from my face and neck. But Jeff was right. It would be sweaty, and of course any girlfriend would become emotional in that moment.
When I arrived home, my mother asked me how my audition went. I folded up the casting notice for GIRLFRIEND (20s), which honestly had fine print I hadn’t read, a full disclosure that the role required EMOTIONAL but also NUDITY and offered NO PAY but MEALS ON SET and IMDB CREDIT. And I was supposed to thank that man? I put the piece of paper in my back pocket. My mother had a cup of tea waiting for me. I stared down into the steaming liquid, trying to remember every visceral detail of my first audition. I had cried. I had become Randi. It felt so good. It was surreal, I told her, so great. I got on the computer to search for more casting calls.
The next day, I went to a casting for BABYSITTER, ANY ETHNICITY, LATE TEENS. She was a Girl-Next-Door taking care of an Infant, and the Protagonist of the film was the Infant’s Kind Father, early 30s. The protagonist’s wife was described in the notice as a Bitchy Career Woman.
The audition took place in an empty classroom at a nearby college, and I arrived in a pair of cut-off shorts, a zip-up hoodie, and a crop top underneath. When I was called into the classroom by Kevin Mitchell (director, writer, leading actor, casting director), I tiptoed in and saw another guy who, really, could have been Jeff. I unzipped my hoodie, walked up, and introduced myself before launching into a Gretchen Wieners “Mean Girls” monologue.
“So youthful,” Kevin said. I felt myself blush. But not the same way as last time. He told me how the babysitter had a very charming naivety to her, and he thought my monologue really embodied that. The warmth I felt truly was different. “Unfortunately, you may be just a bit old.”
“All those girls on teen television shows are in their mid-twenties in real life,” I told my mother over that evening’s cup of tea.
The next day, I went to Sephora on my way to a casting for YOUNG MOTHER. There was no age listed, but I knew the film was to take place when the protagonist, YOUNG MOTHER’s son, was around five years old. This YOUNG MOTHER could be anywhere from early 20s to early 30s, I figured. I spent $350 on skincare and a full coverage liquid foundation. To the YOUNG MOTHER audition, I wore none of it, opting to look my age.
I stared Aaron Levinson (director, producer, editor, cinematographer, casting director) in the face as I screamed my rendition of Joanna’s courtroom plea in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” She begged for custody of her son. I began in a low rumble and felt my emotions build. Aaron stopped me about two thirds in, told me to take my time.
“It’s hard to slow down. I’m fighting for my son.”
“I’m a judge. You’re facing a judge. The only way to make your plea is with dignity.”
I can be dignified. That’s the kind of woman Aaron Levinson wanted. That’s the kind of woman YOUNG MOTHER was to be. I pivoted to make sure all the buttons on my shirt were fastened. I pulled my hair into a low, restrained bun. I pictured myself as someone who knew how to iron and keep her voice at a reasonable volume and pack her lunch regularly instead of always eating out.
“Shall I start from the top?”
That evening, my mother brought my tea to the bathroom, where I’d arranged all of the glass bottles of age defying potions on the sink. The following day, I had an audition at a local theater company. It was an open call for a number of roles, so I figured I’d better look young just in case.
“What is all of this?” My mother put the tea down next to a bottle of vitamin C serum.
“When you look at me, what kind of woman do you see?” I was looking at myself in the mirror. My mother stood behind me, peering over my shoulder. I felt her front brush my back. It made me realize just how little we touched. And there I was. Asking her a question like this.
In the reflection, I saw a dignified woman. A woman who made tea for her adult daughter. A woman who quietly shifted through an old house and didn’t fuss. A woman who worked the same job for thirty years. A woman who minded her own business.
“You’re thoughtful. Smart. Determined.” This made me snort. I wasn’t even paying her any rent. She brushed my hair up off my neck, began braiding it. Her hair was now a wispy gray, and her hands were as weathered as her face.
“No, what do you see?”
She wasn’t getting it.
“Like, if I was in a movie, would I be the snobby, rich wife? Would I be the girl-next-door? The career woman? Would I be the rebellious one? Or just, like, the girlfriend role?”
“There’s a look for girlfriend?”
“Mother, there’s a look for everything.”
She shrugged her shoulders, finished my braid, and told me I was careless for forgetting sunscreen if I’m going to be putting retinol on my face.
But she did squeeze my shoulder on her way out. A sign of something. Dignity, restraint. Maybe patience. Or was it the way I looked at Jeff, did my mother pity me?
I brought a suitcase with me to the audition the next day. Inside, I had a full wardrobe, a look for every kind of woman I could think of. I’d already put on all of my face stuff, plus some sunscreen my mother left out for me.
The rehearsal space was filled with aspiring actors, everyone wearing plain black clothing and socks. Some people were pacing, reciting monologues under their breath. Others were stretching or warming up, jumping around. A few sat off to the side, against the wall, headphones in, eyes closed. The meditative state looks different on different kinds of women, different kinds of people.
I scurried to the restroom and found a pair of black pants from my career woman outfit and a black turtleneck from my quirky woman outfit. Together, the ensemble became my audition woman outfit.
I paced and leapt around the room with the others. Marissa, the theater director, emerged from a doorway off to the side of the space, her hair pulled high in a bun, drawing her cheekbones and her chin higher. She was long and limber, in leggings and a loose shirt draped over her pregnant belly. I stopped prancing when I saw her, but no one else changed their movements, so I started to shuffle around again.
“Give yourselves another moment, and then line up.” Her voice echoed throughout the hollow space, ricocheting off of all of us onto each other. We took turns walking to the front to face Marissa, and she gave a word or a phrase, and then the actor in front of her would have to improvise whatever came to mind, however to convey: Furious. Seductive. Inspired. Cherished. Ignorant bliss. Apple of my eye.
When I got to the front, Marissa’s hands found her belly again, but she looked me straight in the eye. Was she performing, I mean why do pregnant women cradle their bellies like this, are they trying to send a message or are they really going to fall over otherwise? Was she trying to show me her confidence as the leader of this space, as the artistic force but also a body strong yet vulnerable and about to give birth? Could she feel my conflicting raw energies fighting each other? Did she sense that every kind of woman was within me? Did it intimidate her?
“Ferocious.” I leapt forward, my fingertips landing on the floor in front of me. I hissed in her face. “Good.” She caressed her belly, mindlessly, or not, I couldn’t know. I paused there, fingertips still on the floor.
“Likable.” By whom? I swiveled around, sat down, cross-legged, hands facing upward resting on my thighs. I flashed a smile, a reaction to nothing but also to years of requests for me to always be ready and available to do so.
“Sexy.” I laid on my back, shoved my shoulders into the hardwood floor, lifting my chest and, effectively, my spine. My waist and down were lifeless, wiped clean, ready to be whatever sexy could be to whomever could be straddling, towering over me.
Marissa kept going. Sickening. Submissive. Relentless. High maintenance. Tempting. Dramatic. Spiteful. Disobedient. Ashamed. Everything that every woman could be. I collapsed after that one: Ashamed. The actor in line behind me dragged my body off to the side so that he could step forward and perform a few words. Clever. Productive. Assertive, which was the same as Relentless, kind of, but not.
At the end of the audition, Marissa approached me. “That was good. Lydia?”
“I’d love to have you come to call-backs. I think you’d do really well as the Teacher.”
“Well, what kind of teacher? What’s she like?”
“She’s like you.”
“What am I like?”
Marissa thought this was a joke, and she laughed so much that she placed a hand on her belly, so I placed a hand on mine. I’m not sure why.
“Why are you here, Lydia? What do you want out of this experience?”
I lifted my chin high and glided my shoulders back. I had just a moment to figure out the right answer, whatever it was Marissa wanted me to say.
KRISTINE MORGAN (she/her) is a writer and filmmaker from Indianapolis. She holds an MFA from New York University and has received support from the Indiana University Writers’ Conference. She recently completed a novel. This is her first published story.
Since 2014, MARIE-JULIE LAFRANCE has worked as a freelancer/visual artist, using pencils, brushes, digital technology, and fabrics to express her creativity. Her work has been published in Éclair Magazine, Passengers Journal, and ellipsis… literature & art and many more. She also has worked (as an illustrator) with Leading Edge Magazine, Flash Frog Magazine, Indiroot, and others.