The Hollywood movie Oklahoma had been buzzing about was just a few steps away, in a hallowed out shell of a hundred year old shopping mall. Bare brick walls, high tin ceilings, and timeworn wooden floors were brimming with camera gear, and people. It was organized chaos stumbling towards magic.
Extras were corralled along the back wall, sitting on folding chairs, finishing their boxed lunches. Everybody wondered who everybody else was.
Through a crudely made opening in the brick wall, was another vast room, separated from this one by a black curtain. The fictitious Trill Tavern, where day was night, and cinematic endeavor filled the air.
We plunged into the frenzy and headed for the roped off instrument pile to stash the fiddle and bass. That’s when we noticed Bill Macy heading directly our way. We all shook hands and smiled. He said, “Thanks for being a part of this, and for bringing your wonderful music.” What a gracious man.
After the heartwarming welcome, we had no pressing business besides observing the scene. We wandered over to the crowded extra’s lounge where we saw familiar faces, locals, Cacky Porch, and Lucas Ross. Soon Casey, Cacky, and Lucas were exchanging juicy stories. Many of the extras gathered round to listen. We all laughed.
Afterwards Lucas told us, “I didn’t get to play my accordion! Basically, I’m up on stage, take a big breath, get ready to play, and BAM! -they cut to another scene.”
Next a production assistant herded us through the black curtain into the Trill Tavern. The kind makeup woman reappeared and took me into a different waiting room to fix my unruly winded hair. We were in the area for actors with speaking roles and folks with other important jobs. Everyone was sitting in a directors’ chair except Bill Macy. He sat at a low desk looking into a computer monitor intensely, reviewing the scene that had just been shot.
Mr. Macy walked up and explained, “This is how it’s going to happen, you’re going to hear your song over the P.A. for about five seconds, then it will cut out, and only you will hear it through your in-ear monitors. You’re going to lip sync and pretend to play your instruments to the song, but try not to make a sound. While you’re doing that, we will be filming dialogue. Billy (Crudup) will exchange greetings with Chelsey’s group at the bar, then he will set his guitar case down and walk out past the stage. It will take about thirty seconds or so. All right?” He smiled, and we nodded. Then he turned to the room and made an announcement for the extras, “Behave however people normally do in bars. Smile and bob your head to the music. Let’s make a great movie! Places everyone!!”
As we sound-checked, I felt a load of bricks hit my stomach. I hadn’t realized I would have to fake playing my fiddle instead of actually playing. I reflected back on the many movies I had seen in which people pretended to play violins they clearly didn’t know how to play. At the time I had imagined they were actors, not musicians, but now I wondered. Maybe they were really musicians who were horrible actors. I took a deep breath and began to learn how to make believe I was playing the fiddle. It was difficult keeping the bow off the strings while appearing natural. I peeked at Casey. He encouraged, “Smile big, dammit, and look like your having fun!” I nodded, taking more deep breaths.
A young man rolled a fog machine to the front of the stage and added just the right touch of atmosphere. We gazed out at our audience. The haze, the drinks, the chatting people, blinding stage lights, it was like a real gig at VZD’s or the Blue Note!
The middle of “Be By You” chimed in the ear monitors so we would have rhythm when the scene began. It happened just like Macy described. The music played, and we pretended to rock. The bar patrons tapped their feet and grooved to the music while HonkyTonk StepChild did the thing. We acted and watched the scene between Crudup and Chelsey play out in front of us. It was over fast. Macy entered the set singing, “Be by you, be by you, all I want is to be by you!” It warmed my heart to hear him sing that. Casey said, “Did you hear that!?”. Macy talked quietly with Crudup and Chelsey for a moment, then he retreated backstage. We began again, and again. On the fourth take everybody did everything right at the same time, we were finished.
Afterward Billy Crudup approached us, shook our hands, and thanked us for being there. Casey was star-struck and said something silly about Dr. Manhattan. I don’t keep track of stars and movies, so I just thought he seemed like a nice guy.
About a month later we ran into Chelsey Cope. Casey confessed that we were afraid our scene would be cut. Chelsey slammed her hand down, “Oh my gosh, me too!”
Years from now I hope to be lying in bed with Casey watching Rudderless on Netflix. That’s when it will be real for me, but for now we wait.
Dear Hollywood, please work your magic. Love, HonkyTonk StepChild.
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