Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
Tel Aviv and Los Angeles are actually more similar than you would imagine. Both cities are flowing with creativity, packed with interesting people and lately, Tel Aviv has even added palm trees to its skyline. In fact, in both cities I sometimes find myself walking around dazed and confused, wondering if I’m a major character on the stage (a la Macbeth) or just stuck in a minor role (a la Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are…).
But if you ask me, the most similar thing about these two cities is the weather.
This morning, Tel Aviv received the first major rain of the year. Before I had the chance to wake up to the soft pitter-patter of rain drops, I was rudely awakened by honking and screaming.
Coming from Jerusalem, the windy city, what’s a little rain? A little cold? To me, anything short of frostbite is a walk in the park. So I find it fascinating when, at the first drop of water, chaos breaks loose. Pedestrians scramble frantically for cover, cars honk and drivers yell obscenities as they skid along the Ayalon Freeway trying desperately to go from 0 to 60 and brake at the same time. Like L.A., Tel Aviv traffic jams are legendary. I remember my first rain in L.A. The twenty minute drive to work turned into a two hour ordeal and I had that sinking feeling that perhaps I had taken the wrong entrance and was now idling in the middle of a parking lot. But to be fair, there is a difference between Tel Aviv and L.A. In Tel Aviv, when workers come in late because of the rain they claim they had just survived “The Flood” and dare anyone to contradict them. In L.A., on a rainy day, I actually don’t remember anyone else showing up to work….
I stuck my head out the window and inhaled deeply, preparing to smell the fresh fragrance of lilies and roses which always seemed to envelop me in Jerusalem (Okay, so I had lilies and roses growing under my window. Still…) But in a city of half a million people and a million cars, the wet smell of exhaust fumes did more than engulf me, it made me gag.
And there’s another difference: In L.A. I always liked to splash in the rain (a holdover from my not too distant youth) but in Tel Aviv, rain is for avoiding, and splashing in the puddles will result in someone siccing their dog on you.
I really like the rain, the wind and the storm. Why? Because that’s the kind of person I am – romantic, stormy, forceful (I’m assuming none of you have met me) – and it’s this very set of qualities that sometimes creates more waves and ripples than I bargain for.
Take last year. There was a show on television. The kind of show you look at and say, “Why on earth aren’t I starring in that?” and then you realize, it’s because they’ve never heard of you! And why haven’t they heard of you? Because you’re new in town and you don’t yet have an agent. And without an agent you can’t get an audition.
Then I asked myself, in true Talmudic fashion, does the howling wind stop the pouring rain? Of course not. The rain beats down despite the winds. If I don’t have an agent to get me an audition will that stop me? Never! I’ll get my own audition.
I am rain (woman).
So I did the only logical thing I could think of. I tracked down the director of the show, took off a day from my busy schedule of watching television, found his mailbox and gently stuffed an overfull envelope which had a cover letter, pictures, and a self-addressed postcard in it, into his mailbox. Of course, I had to empty out all his other mail first.
Certain that I had impressed him with my earlier material, I returned two days later and placed my showreel and resume into his mailbox – again carefully eliminating all his other (probably junk) mail.
My plan worked. This acclaimed director wrote me a letter saying that he had spoken to the casting director and I was being presented with an opportunity to audition for a smallish part in the show. Strange, but after signing off, the director wrote:
P.S. Can I have my mail back now?
This was my lucky break. I knew it. I was perfect for this series. Within two days I knew every nuance, and had reworked every angle of the 10 lines that would catapult me to fame.
The rain poured by the time my audition came around. I took this as a sign (although it was winter) and told myself I would be the beating rain that takes the Tel Aviv acting industry by storm. It was now or never. The director had opened the doors for me (Yes, I returned most of his mail) and the casting director was giving me her valuable time—blowing this was not an option.
For those thespians among you, as well as for those who have nothing to do with my industry, allow me to introduce you to what I feel is the most important rule in acting: Flexibility. Obviously, an actor must have a clear understanding of her character. But in an audition, or on set, you must become a chameleon, instantly adjusting to the fine nuances in your environment, reacting to your co-star’s energy, and adapting to the director’s instructions. And I knew this instinctively.
The rain beats mercilessly.
And I was great.
At least in my mind.
My knees began to shake and somehow I became deaf, not hearing any stage direction, just watching the director’s lips move as she became more and more agitated. “What’s she saying” I kept thinking to myself? “Can’t she see I’m already doing everything she wants me to do?”
I nodded blankly at her instructions, but repeated the exact acting pattern take after take.
I was the rain.
And I became a drizzle.
I blew the audition.
My first time up in front of a major name, and I couldn’t hold it together. I could barely lift my head up after that. And I silently promised myself to spend more time looking for an agent.
Acting is all about making mistakes: A role you should’ve gotten but you froze up at the audition; a connection you should’ve followed-up on, but you never got around to; a VIP who could have helped you, but who knew you were expected to send her flowers after your meeting?; and sometimes even acting in a role that will only hurt your career in the long term.
A production called “The Pilots’ Wives” (loose translation) has been having trouble casting for about a year. It’s something of a joke among agents and actors: “Yes, they’re still casting.”
The roles on the series are coveted by every actor in the business. It‘s a major, star-studded production.
Last year, I had an opportunity to go on an audition to this show, but I was still too traumatized from the last one, and talked myself out of it.
Now, three days into filming, there are all sorts of rumors coming from the set. One newspaper reported that the actors were complaining that they’re doing 70-80 takes a day. That they’re exhausted and by the time the end scenes roll in, they can no longer muster the energy and focus to act.
Agents are upset, saying they wouldn’t have allowed their actors to participate in the series had they known how inept everyone is. How this will only hurt their clients’ reputation as professional actors. Bridges are being burned all over the place as everyone accuses each other of a lack of professionalism.
Maybe it was good that I talked myself out of competing with all these “names”.
Go figure. That’s acting. It’s not a science. It’s mazal. And making sure the wind doesn’t blow you away.
Sylvester Stallone once said about his pre-stardom days, “I had mastered the art of rejection”. The real art, however lies not in your ability to accept rejection, nor in your willingness to “walk out of an audition forgetting you ever entered it, and leave the experience behind you.” The real art is to take those mistakes and admit, aloud, that you made them. That’s life. That’s acting.
Yes, leaving your mistakes behind you – that takes more skill than most people can muster. But remembering how you went from a torrent to a drizzle, and still somehow reinventing your stormy self again, now that’s the real challenge.
Not to beat a metaphor to death—The rains return even after they let up.
I’m zipping up my raincoat, prepared to begin my day. I’m going to leave the hood off, because I intend to get as wet as possible. I’m even considering sneaking up on that director again….
Which reminds me, anyone know Spielberg’s new address?
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October 22, 2009 | 3:47 am
Posted by Tiferet Peterseil
Perfect. The ad described me to a T. Finally, after searching the Internet and newspapers for days, I had stumbled across a general audition for the lead role in a movie. I might even have a chance to work in a few words in my native language, Hebrew. AND they were paying! What more could a new face in LA want? I read the last lines.
Bondage? I didn’t recognize that genre. Could be a typo. Maybe they meant Bandage? But I’d never heard of Bandage movies (spliced movies?) either. I quickly reviewed the types of movies advertised at my local video store, in Israel: Suspense, Action, Drama, Comedy… Nope. I couldn’t remember anything called Bondage. But then again, that WAS in Israel. What do we know back there? Obviously, in the REAL movie industry, here in LA, the genres are much more wide ranging or specific.
This was just one of the problems I faced as an actress raised in Israel by English speaking parents. Maybe I spoke perfect English but that didn’t mean I knew the American culture or lifestyle. Like the first time I parked a car in LA and the meter said Insert Dimes Only. How could I know what a dime was? We had only used Shekels in Israel. So I approached a young woman walking two children, spread my palms out full of coins and asked her, in a flawless English, “Could you tell me which of these is a dime?” She looked at me as though I had just landed from outer space, picked up both her kids and started running. She shouted something that reminded me of one of my mother’s favorite desserts – “Fruitcake!”
But it wasn’t only the different country cultures. I grew up in a Jewish, Orthodox home, where lots of common American expressions were just never mentioned. Like the term “Want to come up for some coffee?” which my date asked me as we left a movie. I had actually been craving a caffeine kick for some hours, but apparently, in LA, “some coffee” was a code phrase for something else. Entirely. As I rushed out of his apartment I realized that his craving and mine were world’s apart.
So I was sure that back home we probably watched Bondage movies all the time, we just didn’t know that’s what they were called in the States.
As the professional actress I considered myself, I sent in my picture, requesting an audition as soon as possible, and assuring the producer/director that of course I was familiar with Bondage. “Why it’s my favorite genre, by far,” I assured him.
After all, wouldn’t it be a shame to blow my big shot at stardom simply because I hadn’t done a little research?
So I sent an email to one of my guy friends in LA, who happened to be a film teacher, asking him for a speed course on Bondage.
He wrote back that he would be more than happy to give me private lessons on the subject, and that he was looking forward to moving our relationship up a notch. He even assured me he had all the props we would need, and that we should meet later.
But later was no good. I needed to learn NOW.
I thought of calling my father in Israel for some information, but realized that the ten hour time difference meant he was sound asleep. As a last resort, I called my cousin, an entertainment lawyer, and told him I needed help preparing for a bondage audition. I practically begged him to help me.
“Come over, now!” he commanded, clearly upset.
When I arrived at his office, he ushered me into his room, saying, “Trust me, Tiferet, you DON’T want THIS audition.”
“But I do!” I insisted, almost in tears. “I was MADE for this role. They’ll appreciate me for myself. Can’t you just give me some pointers so I don’t come off like an idiot?”
“The only thing that will come off in this audition IS your clothes, you idiot!” My cousin buried his head in his hands. “Tiferet, Bondage is…. It’s….” He looked at my eager smile and bit his lower lip. “Do you know what S&M is?”
“A production company?”
“In a manner of speaking,” he quipped. “It’s more like a pre-production company in that…”
You’ll be relieved to know (although not as much as my parents were), that after his detailed explanation of the unorthodox use of high heals and leather belts, I passed on the audition.
This was my first lesson in the pitfalls of the acting industry. It served me in good stead when I packed up and flew back to Israel, ready to make a name for myself in the city that doesn’t let anyone sleep, Tel Aviv. After all, I’m still a small town girl (from Jerusalem) in a big, unfamiliar city (Tel Aviv, or as we Jerusalemites call lit – Sin City). And sure enough, most men here have the same definition of “some coffee” as their brothers in L.A.
So, older and wiser, I was ready for almost anything as I awaited instructions from the Casting Director who was auditioning me and three other girls for a part in a car commercial.
My agent told me to come in sportswear. This was to be an informal audition.
“So girls,” began the director, “although you are auditioning for the part of handyman – woman, in your case—we are actually placing less emphasis on your fix-it abilities and more on your flirting abilities. We want you to look pretty, and inviting.”
Ah hah. There it was. Inviting for WHAT? “Some coffee”, perhaps?
“Also, there is something we forgot to mention to your agents.”
Just as I thought….
“Should you be accepted for the commercial, we will also require you to be available for a photo shoot for our product catalog. Please sign these consent forms.”
I looked around at the other girls. So sweet and innocent, clearly not as seasoned as I was—they wouldn’t know what hit them. It was up to me to uncover this wolf in sheep’s clothing.
“Let me ask you,” I said diplomatically, “would these happen to be NAKED pictures we’re talking about?”
Silence. The director’s jaw dropped, and the girls looked at one another.
I had caught him off guard. At least the girls would know –
Suddenly the director and his crew burst out laughing.
“Only if you really, REALLY want to be naked!” the director roared with laughter. “Miss, we’re selling car parts not body parts!”
“Do you think we should tell the company to change its name from Deals on Wheels to Bonkers for Honkers?” his assistant joked.
“Gee, I didn’t know this was that kind of audition,” one of the girls said. “I would have worn a lot less.”
Okay, so I didn’t get the part (neither did she). But I did get an ecstatic call from my agent saying he didn’t know I was an actress who would audition naked, and that opened a whole new set of doors for us…
You know, it takes time to get your bearings in a new place, whether in tinsel town or Sin City. But I was – am – determined to make a name for myself, a name I can be proud of. It’ll take time, of course. But I’m learning.
So, welcome to my life. A wise man once said, You are where you’re at. And I’m East of Hollywood North of Jerusalem, South of Haifa, and West of the Mediterranean Sea.
I’m in Tel Aviv, an actress ready for a career filled with Drama, Action, Suspense, Comedy….
And Bondage? Let’s just say I’m still searching for the guy who can make me a good cup of coffee.