Acting in commericals: I feel like I'm legit - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Acting in commericals: I feel like I’m legit

directors chair

It’s 9 a.m. and I knew I shouldn’t have driven into DC.

Did I learn nothing from my Union Station panic attack experience?  I’m still technically on time, but I have to find a place to park.  I pull up to the hotel where we’re congregating for the shoot.  That’s right – I was cast in a TV Promo, which involves professional shooting in and throughout DC.

No big deal.

Anyway – pull up in front of the hotel and speak to someone I assume is part of the crew (He’s holding several big black cases, which must conceal high tech camera equipment).

“Where can I park?  I’m one of the actors.”

It feels so strange that.  This is so outside of my comfort zone.  I’m definitely an actor of the theater first.

“That’s cool,” he says.

Conferring with someone next to him who also doesn’t know where I should park, he finally instructs, “Just find a place to park around that block.  Or valet.”

Thanks, camera man.  Super helpful.  I’m late now.

I drive around past a policeman on a segway.  He still looks like a dork even though he sports his cop uniform like a champ.  “Where can I park?” I ask, rolling down my window.  “The west side of P street.  If you can find a place.” he replies.  Yeah, whatever that means.  Is this city on a grid…?  I miss you, New York.

Driving around the block, I see a parking garage.  Bingo.

Pull in and speed walk faster than a segway to the hotel.  Waiting in the lobby, a short man who looks like Seth Rogen approaches me.

“Are you here for the fitting?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, except I’m not.  I’m here for the shoot.

Earth to Jana, but I continue to follow him… Walking down the hallway, we pass two more men.

“There she is.  They were getting worried about you.”

I’m only five minutes late.  Wait – did two strangers just recognize me?

Entering into wardrobe, a sassy gay man holding his phone up to his ear says, “There she is.  There’s Jana.”

It’s disconcerting to have him call me by my name when I haven’t been introduced and have never seen him before in my life.  I wonder if this is how Justin Bieber feels all the time… Then I remember he’s been staring at my headshot for days trying to decide whether or not to cast me.  Of course he recognizes me.

“Throwing me into wardrobe,” I’m sent into the men’s bathroom to try on retro 70s garb.  I try on a dress and some form fitting bell bottoms (“just in case”).  I look surprisingly good.  Could it be that I missed my decade?

Hair comes in and curls my hair that I curled this morning.  This doesn’t make sense to me, but she says she’s putting the period into my hair.  This sounds dirty, but I let it go.

Then I sit next to a table covered in cold Starbucks sandwiches and several boxes of Trader Joe’s danishes.  I wait.  The other actors or “talent” as we’re referred to by the crew join me.  Two serve as doubles (celebrity look-a-likes from the back) for stars of the show we’re shooting for. One of them looks just like the star from Waitress. 

 We wait for about an hour and I’m reminded why I prefer theater – less waiting, more acting.  We are ushered into a van to go “on location” and we each end up admitting that this whole process has been pretty vague.  We aren’t sure exactly who we’re shooting for, what the promo will be used for, or what our parts are.  We just know that we auditioned by pantomiming spy physicality.

Now we’re dressed like The Brady Bunch.  Then someone says what is lurking in the backs of all of our minds.

“Maybe we should make sure the script is in English and won’t be dubbed and put on YouTube.”

A moment of slight panic passes through the van, but we’re started moving and we’re trapped whether we’re part of an Arab stimulation plot or not.

We’re greeted on location by a guy named Shepherd.  He’s from Shepherdsville, West Virginia and he’s in charge of looking after the talent.  “We’ll follow you like a flock,” jokes one of the talent.  Shepherd doesn’t laugh.

We wait around.  There’s a craft services table.  One of my fellow talent comes up with a back story for her character, naming her Marjorie and saying she’s a woman who conceals weapons in her quilt and attacks abortion clinics with them.  I’m given a place in the backstory, too, as Marjorie’s companion, Nurse Jessica, who serves in the abortion clinic and doesn’t actually perform abortions on patients who schedule them.  It’s a crazy game and I forget whether or not we’re supposed to be spies or crazy religious fanatics when Shepherd comes over and tells us we’re going to walk the block back and forth while they shoot the length of the street.  So, we’re spy pedestrians.  I still haven’t seen a script, so I remain suspicious.

When we finish the walking I have blisters on my feet from my retro 70s boots, but I don’t care.  Some strangers stand near the craft services table and they eye us excitedly.  I feel like I’m Lindsay Freakin’ Lohan with the way they’re staring.

They keep asking questions like whether or not we’re the actors and how long have we been doing this.  Then I realize they want to hear the full story – the star story – so they can tell their friends.

“I’ve been acting since I was four years old…” I start.  Their eyes light up.  They want to be able to say, “we knew her when…”  I just want to make their day, so I embellish.  “My first inspiration for storytelling came through Barbie and Ken doll games.  Then my cousin and I spent summers writing plays and performing them in our basement.  Attending the performances was never a choice for my parents…”  They eat it up.

I sit in a director’s chair and feel like a celeb.  This is starting to feel legit.  And I may or may not be letting it go to my head.  I mean, I’m being paid to eat craft services granola, walk a street, and sit in a director’s chair.  I’m kind of a big deal.  I have Marjorie take my photo in the chair and post it to Facebook.  10 likes instantaneously and three comments.  Stardom.

A lunch break, a second location, and many staggering “swipes” (walking in front of the camera to provide a flesh and red headed blur and to indicate the beginning of a new scene), we call it a day.

There’s just one thing left: signing the contract.  We put our John Hancock on several pieces of paper.  Then it’s time for the confidentiality agreement.  That’s right.  It’s exactly like it sounds.  We’re not allowed to post video, photos, or info in relation to this project.  At all.  I frantically hit facebook and delete my photo post (36 likes and 5 comments later).  Whoops…

We return our wardrobe.  I get to keep my sweaty panty hose.  Score.

I walk to my car.  Faster than a segway.  It’s 9 p.m.  I’m exhausted.  I knew I shouldn’t have driven into DC.


About the author

Jana Stambaugh

Jana (it rhymes with “banana” or “anna”) is an artist from Clarksville, Maryland. Growing up her parents always told her to “be whatever you want to be.” Seeing as she has come from three generations of doctors, she obviously became an artist. As an actor, she has performed internationally Off-Broadway, and locally to the Baltimore/DC area. Favorite roles include Juliet, Ariel, and Caliban. Jana is the Founder of Red Connect Online, a social media marketing company that creates customized advertising campaigns for small businesses. You can listen to her podcast, Confessions of a Closet Christian, on the E-Squared Media Network. You can also follow her on Twitter (@Jana_Stambaugh) and friend her on Facebook. Contact the author.
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