by Amorina Kingdon
There are scripts for love.
Why scripts? Because every role requires a script – that’s what defines it. And gender roles are…roles.
I was reading the script late last night, wandering about my city. I went to a cafe, after the storm ended, and sat at a small rain-spattered table beneath the leaves. You see, I was thinking about trying out for the role of Woman. It was going to be big, running on FX – or maybe HBO – starting next spring, the rumours went. Big money. A career-maker.
The cafe served me little cups of hot bitter espresso as I read the first act. I was nonplussed, but I thought I’d push on. I needed a stronger potion to fortify me. The woman behind the bar pours my wine, wordlessly raises an eyebrow at what I’m reading. I want to ask her… Do you know this play? Have you seen it? Will it be a good career move? Her dark eyes are set in lines a mile deep. Why is she the only one open late?
And it really is getting late, isn’t it? The city is starting to close, turn its lights off and turn in. The old sleep easy: the young sleep poorly with each other, above the fire escapes.
It’s getting cool outside. I take my sweating Chardonnay to a seat by the window. I read the next act in the worn, ancient script.
It’s an odd role, this Woman character. Have you ever read it? It requires a very skilled actress. I don’t know if I can do it.
Like in Act 2, for example. The woman has to pretend she doesn’t want sex: but she has to try and have sex with the young college Man. It’s a strange scene. You feel almost like she doesn’t really know what she wants.
Or here, where she pretends she wants a job with something called ‘work-life balance’ because the man in her life, despite being a good man, is on a good ten-year plan and will not be able to do anything fundamental to care for the children they’re supposed to have. Even if he says he will, it would murder the relationship – and her career – to expect him to. Imagine emoting in a few lines all the hundred thousand reasons behind a chirpy request for ‘work-life balance’!
Or what about here, where the princess myths, pop songs and romantic treacle she was weaned on founders on the rocks of a real human relationship. She realizes that Man is no more a Prince Charming that she is a Princess, and she faces the juddering mindfuck that all those fantasies, that felt better and meant more than anything she’s ever known, are lies that seem to exist solely to get her this far, slavering after a bargain that may not be that wonderful…
A nuanced and complicated part, indeed.
I should be in bed. The audition is in just five hours. But I still don’t know if I’ll be there.
Finally, even this cafe, the last outpost in a dark city, begins to close. I drop some coins on the table. As I wander home, I finger the dog-eared photocopy and wonder why the role exists at all.
Because I don’t really like this Woman character. I doubt you do, either, if you’re honest. No actress can play her well, the way she’s written. Sure you can see the type of person she’s supposed to be. You can even understand, in principle, her stagnations, her negative space and inevitable anger. But you just don’t like the role. She’s not written as a real person: she only serves a purpose, a one-dimensional plot device. Is that because she’s really like that, and the mad genius of the playwright has reproduced her on spec? Or is that because she’s never been written properly? How can you tell?
You like Man much better. He’s why you tune in. The more I read this script, the less I want this Woman part. She’s a stilted half-character.
A tired trope.
How was it I heard this part was so desirable, again? It’s hard to remember. It’s just the scuttlebutt. Everyone I know is trying out.
Maybe I won’t try out. In fact, I think I am going to sit in the producer’s chair. Yes, I am going to produce my own show. I’m going to rewrite my own Man, my own Woman. I’m going to do it better.
Whatever did we do before TV, before the omnipresent lens? A producer isn’t really all that different from an actress, wrapped in constricted narratives like so much unspooled 8mm, with deadlines to hit, roles to cast, scenes to shoot and record, lines to nail.
Drinking too much, blind under hot lights, running across cable-strewn floors between prima donnas and assholes with their makeup caking, sets built and torn down, way over budget, way behind schedule.
What started as a fresh, riveting, brainstorming magnum opus has turned slowly into a story so derivative you want to scream because you can write whatever you want but you still have a finite budget and a three-camera setup and the actors who audition only really know one or two ways of doing things, but your story cannot be told properly if you don’t produce it.
Knowing the other networks will carry this same story – they all will – and if you don’t, your viewers will tune out because you’re not giving them what they want.
Trying to produce the content for the people in the boardrooms, who wouldn’t know art if it shit in a jar for them, but who sign your paychecks.
Running up and down corridors late at night, knowing your reputation is only as good as your last episode, knowing your numbers are slipping, you can see it in the Neilsen ratings, you can see their eyeballs shift in real time, you’re sneaking drugs and puking in shame, thinning hair and sweat stains, neglected stand-ins with wide betrayed eyes on the other end of calls you don’t take because your star – your One – is suddenly entertaining offers from other studios.
Press an oily forehead into clenched fists onto bare thighs as you crouch in a stall in a halogen-haloed bathroom down in the basement where no one will hear, as you realize the production is complete shit, it’s saccharine and trite and one-dimensional. You must fight for your main character. This Woman character that no one wants to be.
So you stumble up stairs to the upstairs people and you bust in and you start to talk, you start to babble that it might be better if…could be better if…. maybe what if instead of boy-meets girl it’s girl meets girl or boy and girl have already met and they do business together or are actually good friends, equals, or they fuck once and move on as better people for not dragging each other down in the muck?
And the upstairs people laugh slow and they kick up their feet, and ask, how long have you been here, kid? and they gesture casually to a wall of Emmys and Peabodies and they turn their head sideways, and bob a finger at you and smile with one half of their mouth and say, I used to think like you. and we have a lot of money riding on this and her tits will sell and people don’t want to be sad and there’s ten younger, more energetic kids waiting to take your place if you’re tired.
And you go down and you sit in the folding chair and you slip headphones with worn pads that smell of thirty years of dandruff over your head and you focus your bleary eyes on the LED screen before you where hot young things that you hired to play Woman are gyrating and mewling, or at least they’re supposed to be hot young things, they certainly fit the casting notes, but you look at their marbleglass eyes and their candyfloss hair and their porcelain tits and their teeth behind their lips like glass chips pinched in fingertips and you feel nothing, and nothing, and nothing again.
When you watch them prance and shriek on the white backdrop it looks stupid but lower your eyes to the screen and it looks… familiar.
Yes, a little green screening and it’s Paris, a little effects and it’s every romantic fantasy and more. Where’s that pop song soundtrack? It costs more for post-production but it’s worth it, on that day you finally show them the tape and they laugh from their guts and pound your back and pour a scotch and take you to the shore club for lunch where they order you oysters and as they pass your lips one by one you know you’re recognizable and acceptable and isn’t that worth everything, look back at those latenight clusterfuck sessions about rewriting the world and understand just how…how…how harmful that is when there’s a charcuterie board at the end of the maze, and you spread it on hot white bread and sink your teeth in and they say, you’ll do fine kid, you’ll do fine.