I was going to be the best actress EVAH. Of course, that was before the soul-destroying experience of 4 years at a theatre conservatory, encounters with venal agents, clueless directors, self-involved and impoverished actors (more in a future installment about that!), and the exhausting and tedious round of mind-numbing temp jobs I slogged through for the sake of my “art.”
I should have known how it was going to go down my very first week in the conservatory. I arrived at the mandatory “Corrective Makeup” course to subject myself the the scrutiny of the so-called experts. After they circled me, mumbling, shaking their heads and jotting notes on clipboards, I was told what I needed to "correct:"
- my nose
- my eyes
- my chin
- my teeth
- my hair color and hairstyle
- my thighs
- my butt
- my boobs
- and my weight, by about 30 pounds.
I steadfastly refused to do any of it, declaring that I saw women like me hawking oven cleaner on television all the time. The instructor just shook his head, saying, in essence, that if I didn’t do anything else, I MUST have my nose fixed.
“Why?” I asked. “What’s wrong with it?”
“Well, look at it,” he said. “It has no tip on it.”
I went and looked in the mirror. It looked okay to me. And since it was my mother’s nose, my aunt’s nose, my sister’s nose and my grandmother’s nose and was good enough for them, it was good enough for me. It had always functioned adequately. And besides, I was a singer, and had heard stories about nose jobs ruining the intonation. (This is apparently why Streisand never got hers done.) So, no thanks. Uh-uh. Not a chance.
This same instructor -- who, by the way, wasn't exactly a gorgeous specimen himself, considering this is what he was soon to play on Broadway -- goodnaturedly harangued me for the next four years: “Didja get it fixed yet?” "What do you think?” Finally, at graduation, he walked up to me and handed me a little box.
"Here," he said. “It’s a tip for your nose. Made it myself.”
He had to be kidding. But no...inside the box I found a flesh-colored...thing...about the size of a chocolate chip.
“And what am I supposed to do with this?” I asked sardonically.
“Well, when you’re going to an audition in a big theatre, just paste on it with a little spirit gum, cover the edges with makeup, and nobody’ll ever know.”
Yeah, right. I went home and tossed the box in my dresser drawer, convinced I’d never open it again, and walked off singing "I gotta be me...I gotta be me..."
Cut to the late summer. I hear about a cattle call audition at the Shubert Theatre downtown. They’re looking for “Argentinean peasant” types to shake their fists in the air and sing “Evita” 6,000 times per show in the musical of the same name. Now, I look about as much like an Argentinean peasant as Pippi Longstocking, but I delusionally thought I could pull this off with my pale Germanic skin, red hair and blue eyes. Well, I did my best: a wig, three sets of false eyelashes, dark makeup applied with a trowel, my best dusty 1970s Bo-Ho wear, and a babushka. At the last moment, in a fit of desperation, I pasted on The Nose, figuring it would help. I looked something like this. Or this. Or, God help me, this.
It was a very, very, very hot August day in downtown Chicago...the kind of hot where you’d swear if you dropped an egg on the sidewalk you could have it with bacon and a side of home fries in a matter of seconds. The house area of the theatre where the auditioners sat was air-conditioned, I’m sure, but the backstage area was not. I stood in line with 50 other would-be actresses, most of them naturally and appropriately swarthy and clad in their bartending uniforms or whatever they had worn to work that day. Needless to say, I looked ridiculous (think Lucy in the grape-stomping scene). At least, most of the other girls seemed to think so, as they kept turning around to covertly point and snicker. Finally, one of them took pity on me and, handing me a mirror, suggested, “You might want to check your makeup.”
Peering into it through the glaze of sweat and the three sets of false eyelashes, I was horrified to discover that the spirit gum was melting in the heat and The Nose had listed over to the starboard side of my real nose, looking like a giant wart. I was frantically attempting to restore it to its proper position, when...of course...my number was called.
Out on stage, I handed my sheet music to the accompanist and encountered another problem -- The Nose had now migrated up to a spot just below my eyes, and I was having a little trouble seeing over it. Praying the auditioners were far enough away not to notice, I bravely launched into a robust version of “Till There Was You” from The Music Man.
All went well until I hit the high note on “music” in the bridge, and I suddenly felt The Nose unpeeling from my face like a Band-aid. At “wonderful roses,” with a "riiiiip!" it launched into the air and went flying. Dismayed, I watched it go. Astonished, they watched it go. Yep, we all watched it go. (NASA would be proud.) But somehow -- what a trouper! -- I kept on singing. And The Nose hit the floor of the orchestra pit with a little “ping!” right on cue at “dawn and dew.” Now, that takes talent.
A moment of horrified silence. Then, a whisper from out there:
“Oh, my God...she sang her nose off!” A pause. To me: “Um...are you okay?”
“Oh, yes! Absolutely!” I insisted, squinting myopically at the pit in a futile search for The Nose.
“Well.” They looked at each other, obviously unsure as to whether they should call the Health Department about the crater-faced leper now standing before them. “Thanks. We’ll be in touch.” Ahhh. The kiss of death. And too bad, too...I killed on that song. (Notwithstanding losing a body part onstage, that is.) But I guess the best singer in the world would have been shangheied by a little thing like that.
Did I ever see The Nose again? No. Did I want to? Nope. But what I really wished, once I got home, was that I hadn’t trimmed the false eyelashes while they were on my eyes.
Talk about adding insult to injury: it's tough to get a date when you look like a rabbit. And I don't mean this rabbit.