On The Fringe
On the edge of Entertainment
I am a Fringe Dweller, I live on the edge of the Entertainment Industry, just outside its elite core. I exist here as part of an ever expanding population addicted to the "Business." In an oddly logical way the Industry has to be an addiction in order to sustain itself. Why else would thousands of people suffer the grueling daily task of offering themselves up for rejection, experience poverty level financial situations, and live for illusion. Once one gets a taste of the fantasy, the world of being unique, it infects the blood and is almost impossible to get out.
People arrive in Los Angeles from New York, Detroit, Oshkosh, hooked on this narcotic, striving for one fleeting taste of the drug. These people hang out on the edge, hunkered down in small apartments with a view of the famous Hollywood sign, waiting, anticipating, hoping that tomorrow will be that extraordinary day when they too cross over into that special world. The fringe is an invisible realm where talent is discovered, elevated and rescued. It is the bench, the dugout, where players hope to be sent into the game. It is purgatory from where both the heaven and hell of the entertainment world can be experienced.
Like all Fringies I have had my moments in the sun; each tempered by the fear that I would never ever have that moment again. As a now famous comedian Chris Rock said..."I look at each show, each special as my last. After all I don't have a relative on the board of the television networks."
In my early years I did anything and everything for my fix of the show biz drug. I drove an hour each way to work until dawn on a low budget film for fifteen dollars a night. I worked for a week up to my ankles in water chasing a mechanical alligator through the sewers of Los Angeles. I stood on the beach in a bathing suit in winter and wore antarctic foul weather gear on the hottest day of the year; all to be a part of the Business.
One early spring day I was surprised by a call from a casting person I had worked for on a student film a year or so earlier; she wanted to cast me in a new soap opera. The primary reason she had thought of me for the role was that my hair color would go great with the set. I suppose I should have been mildly insulted, but at the time I didn't care that I was cast by color coordination, I was just happy she cast me at all.
It was about fifteen years ago and I was being considered for a small role in a television movie. The project had already started production and I, along with all the other actors being considered, were invited to the Spaghetti Factory restaurant in Hollywood where they were filming. Five or six of us were seated around a table when the director came in.
"We have decided to invite all of you here to make our final decision." he began. "It has been a hard choice and to try and make it as easy as possible on all of you I will touch the one we have chosen on the shoulder as I walk around the table."
Easy? Easy for who? What did they call this game, musical actors? I don't think they had a clue who to pick or what they wanted. I imagined that the director hummed Row Row Row Your Boat in his head and the person closest to him when the tune stopped got the job. It was so silly and so degrading that at that very moment I decided to get out of the business, I had had it. No more color coordination casting, no more musical chairs. Years earlier I had chosen acting over being an oceanographer and was just about to change my career for the deep blue sea when a hand rested on my shoulder. Suddenly, in a split second, I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do in the whole world than be in show business; I had finally, briefly, once again transcended the fringe.
During the past twenty years I have seen fellow fringies sprout into full fledged stars and working members of the industry. A very funny and acerbic Lisa Kudrow took improv class with me. Met a young associate producer named Scott Rudin, and on the same film worked with two virtually unknown actors, Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci. A peculiar sense of pride mixed with envy accompanied their success and a nagging voice in the back of my head would say, "when are you going to be successful?"
For the most part, though, I have been intrigued and overawed working with such esteemed icons as Spielberg and Coppola. Yet to them I am no more recognizable than last weeks breakfast. It is the fate of the Fringie to attempt to be recognized and remembered positively. That is why many fringe dwellers boost their egos by pontificating on so called "special" bonds they have with the famous and influential, just as I am doing by name dropping here. This increases their status with other Fringies and gives the impression that they have power. The most onerous of fringe dwellers reserve their endearing behavior for those who can propel them beyond the fringe. They are all smiles and cheers to an acquaintance that just landed a role as series regular, even though they didn't give them the time of day when they were equally designated "Fringe."
Lets face it, unless a person is born into the business, nurturing contacts is the only way anything of any major importance gets done. Those on the inside can smell fringies like cats on dead fish. They are usually clingy, needy and their own worst enemy.
All fringies have their own theories on ways to get off the fringe, on what the decision makers are looking for, how to accomplish their dream; but in the end it is an enigma, most of the time the decision makers don't know what they want because they are fresh from the secretary or mail room pool or are MBA graduates formerly cloistered behind academia. They hope that someone can produce a miracle, barring that, their decisions are often made by the proverbial toss of coins or private games of musical chairs.
The business takes dedication and perseverance. Chances are pretty good that a person will not get off the fringe for years, if ever, and for some it only takes a few rejections and dashed hopes to become jaded. Despite their continuing efforts to see the glamorous and inspiring side of the business the hours of waiting, of being herded like cattle, used as a commodity and discarded once their usefulness is through, turns the once positive, energetic and eager participant into a negative, bitter person. Yet their addiction keeps them trapped in the familiar never ending spiral. There are those who realize what is happening and go cold turkey, who kick the show biz habit, get off the fringe and on with their lives.
More and more people are returning to the fringe late in life. With their children grown and the luxury of a comfortable retirement pension, they can finally do the one thing that they have wanted to do all their lives. They do not need the business, they want it.
Perhaps the secret to getting off the fringe is to be okay about being there in the first place. It seems to be one of Murphy's laws that those who try too hard never seem to make it while those who don't necessarily want to be a part of the business get all the breaks? Every day the fringe fills with new faces and the excitement, the anticipation of success swells in their minds to overcome all reason. From my vantage point I watch them, knowingly shaking my head while picking up the trades for a daily dose of the drug.