There is a TV camera in front of me. There are several audio and lighting people packed into this tiny room like pickled hogs’ feet in a jar.
Amidst all the high-tech equipment, there is a makeup department, wardrobe department, lighting people, producers, co-producers, associate producers, executive producers, and supervising administrative associate to the assistant to the co-producers.
I have one task today.
I’m supposed to say a few simple lines for a commercial. Which is a lot harder that it sounds. I haven’t had to memorize any actual lines since I played Paul Revere for my fourth-grade play and told everyone that the British were coming.
“Okay, people!” says the director, clapping his hands. “Let’s do it one more time!”
So we all cheerfully start the scene from the top. We are still wearing our on-camera smiles as though we cannot think of anything more wonderful than doing this take “one more time.” Even though we have been doing it “one more time” for 45,293 times because some idiot who looks like me and lives in my house keeps muffing his lines.
There are large lights aimed at me. These are not small spotlights from the Dollar Tree. These are the sorts of lights used to illuminate runways for 727s. These lights are miniature nuclear events. They are inches away from my bare skin, causing the hair on my forearms to burn off and my neck to flay. It’s great.
The best part about being on camera is that I am discovering how badly my mind operates. I have three ultra-easy lines, but I’ve been at this all day and I can’t say them without screwing up.
In fact, I can’t speak without stuttering, lisping, hiccuping, or having my knee joint pop for no reason.
And on the rare occasion when I get my lines right, someone in the film crew inevitably makes a loud bodily noise often associated with poor digestion.
“Alright!” says the director. “Quiet! One more time, people!”
Of course smiling is the name of the game in TV business. It’s important to smile. You smile for hours until you look like a happy little deranged member of the Osmond family.
My cheeks are sore from smiling. I never want to smile after this. When this is over I’m not going to move my facial muscles again until a funeral parlor beautician moves them for me.
The director calls, “Action!”
So now I’m speaking my lines. I’m looking at the camera, talking with feeling. And I’m JUST about to nail this take, I can feel it. For once in my life the words are coming smoothly and I am going to stick my landing.
A Harley Davidson rides by the studio.
“Cut!” says the director. “What was that noise? Let’s do it one more time!”
Between each take I am attended to by industry professionals who are fixing various wardrobe malfunctions.
The makeup lady dabs my face with powder. The wardrobe department applies industrial clamps to my shirt. The sound guy is adjusting a wireless microphone receiver that’s clipped on my underpants waistband.
And I am replaying my lines in my head wondering how a guy like me can forget such simple lines? I used to have a good memory. But now it’s gone.
Like I hinted earlier, I was a Broadway star back in fourth grade. I had a great memory back then, too. Not only did I play Paul Revere and shout to an entire audience that the British were coming, one time I actually memorized the entire Gettysburg Address. My whole class did this.
It happened during our school’s annual play. One particular year everyone in school was costumed like miniature Abe Lincolns. Our teacher told us that during this performance ANY ONE OF US might be called upon to recite the Gettysburg Address, so we’d better have it memorized.
During rehearsals, she would call on different students at random, just to make sure we knew it. And each time, some heedless sap would botch his lines whereupon he would be dragged behind the school and shot.
On the night of the performance we were all so nervous that we were mumbling the speech beneath our breath. Many were nauseous from nerves. When the final moment came I almost had a stroke.
But as it happened, the teacher never called upon anyone to make the speech. Instead she took centerstage and recited it herself with the most beautiful voice I have ever heard:
“…That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
She got a standing ovation that lasted for five minutes. And those magnificent American lyrics are lodged in my brain forever. And I wish I could have met old Abraham.
The more I think about that speech, the more it moves me. And the more I wonder why I can’t get this dang script right.
“CUT!” says the director. “Let’s do it one more time, with FEELING!”
Everyone goes back to their places. We are all smiling like the von Trapp family.
I smile. And it happens. I can’t explain how. The stars align and my lines just come to me. It’s an almost spiritual experience. I feel myself relax, and everything just falls into place. I stare into the camera and say with absolute conviction:
“The British are coming.”