Watch above, or click to view on Youtube
She and Mr. Grilled Cheese had made another trip to the Santa Monica Pier. Earlier, at sundown they had sat with the crowd occupying the westward-facing bleachers and watched the sun set into the water. Now it was a bit later and completely dark. Even though the day had been warm, as soon as the sun had gone down the cool ocean breeze had given the air a chill, as it did most every night and as it had done most every night since the beginning of time.
Sarah was leaning over the railing watching the fishermen on the lower levels cast sideways into the dark ocean.
She said, “I don’t know William. I just can’t help thinking that I’m doing something wrong. Maybe doing everything wrong. Very wrong. I know what I want — I want to be an actress — but I’m not getting there. Not even getting close to getting there. I go to the classes and I go to the seminars and I read the books and I read the trade papers and… I don’t know.”
He didn’t say a word. Just looked at her.
She continued, “And on top of that, now I’m feeling guilty.”
“About walking out on that plastic surgeon. I don’t know why. Let’s face it, that guy was a tactless ass. So why should I feel guilty about walking out on a assless tact?”
“An assless tact?”
“You said ‘assless tact.’”
“Oh. No, I meant a tactless ass. If he were assless then he’s in the business that he could fix it.”
She sighed and said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be going on like this. I don’t like to be Miss Whiney About Life.”
He smiled slightly and replied, “ I don’t mind.”
“You don’t? You like hearing women go blah blah blah about their problems?”
“Not exactly. It’s just that it’s pretty much the first time that I’ve felt that you were really sharing something with me. Something that touched you in some way.”
Sarah said, “Really? The first time? So not only am I Miss Whiney About Life, I’m also Miss Sticks to Shallow Subjects. Jesus, what a loser I am.”
William laughed and said, “No, it’s not in a negative way. In fact it feels nice to think that you’re getting comfortable enough with me to… expose yourself a bit.”
Sarah looked down at the ground and thought. No, she hadn’t exposed herself to him. And not just the way that he had meant it but not in the other way either. She hadn’t even thought about exposing herself to him in a physical sense. Hadn’t, honestly, even felt compelled to kiss the guy. She liked spending time with him and he was a nice guy and all, but…
“Expose myself?” she said, “Okay. Well, I guess if you see it as good, I’ll go with that. And I’m pretty sure that you’ve said more to me in the last minute than in the entire time I’ve known you.”
Mr. Grilled Cheese laughed visibly and looked down at the water. Sarah looked out at the ocean as well.
“I just noticed something,” she said, “There’s this sort of semi-reflection of the Ferris Wheel lights in the water. It’s not like a real reflection because the water’s too rough, but you can see this slight change in the tint of the water as the lights on the Ferris Wheel change color. Why is it that I’ve never noticed that before?”
“Sometimes you just don’t,” he replied.
“I guess not,” Sarah said and she turned away from the ocean, “Wanna walk back?”
So they started to walk back down the Pier. They walked past the fishermen, past the entrance to the park and the Ferris Wheel, back to the main cluster of vendors with their little push carts.
Sarah stopped before a street performer. A mime. A mime who stood there, stood absolutely still… until someone slipped him some money.
“Hang on a second,” she said as she pulled her wallet out of her purse. “This always bugs me to see this guy standing here all stiff like a statue. Let me give him a few bucks so he’ll move or I’ll be haunted by him all evening.”
Sarah put a five dollar bill into the mime’s cash box. Immediately, the mime started moving in jerky little robotic movements. He changed from one position to the next with slow, methodical swings of his joints.
Sarah said to the mime, “thank you” and walked away as the mime went through his robot choreography. William turned and followed. As he caught up to her he asked, “You didn’t wait for him to finish his act?”
Sarah chuckled, “because at the end of his act he freezes again. And it’s the freezing part that gives me the willies. So waiting for the act to end would defeat the purpose. I always walk away while he’s still in motion. Always.”
And to prove that she was serious, she most definitely did not turn around to see the mime again. She said, “But ya know, even though he gives me the creeps and all, in a way I have to admire him. He’s a professional performer. I don’t know if he makes enough to live on or if he’s got a regular job somewhere that doesn’t involve standing frozen in one spot, but people pay to see his acting. He’s acting. He’s getting paid. He is and I’m not.”
William replied, “You could.”
“I could what? Mime? No thanks.”
“It wouldn’t have to be mime. It could be anything. It could be Shakespeare.”
“Seriously? Shakespeare?” she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a street performer do Shakespeare. I’ve seen them juggle flaming objects. I’ve seen mimes, obviously. I’ve seen them singing James Taylor songs about seeing fire and seeing rain. But I’ve never seen Shakespeare.”
“Good,” he replied.
She shook her head and looked at him, “Are you serious? Honestly? You honestly and in all seriousness think that I should be a street performer and that my act should be Shakespeare?”
“‘Why not?’ Well, because… obviously… because… Street performer? Mixed with Shakespeare? You know…”
William just shrugged his shoulders and they walked on.
But like most crazy ideas tend to do, this one of Shakespeare on the street kept sneaking in on her. She tried to not let it, but it kept coming in. So much so that she found herself really wanting to bounce the idea off of someone. And for some reason the person she thought of first was Larry, the John Deere guy. So after her next acting class she cornered him and asked him out to coffee.
“Well, it’s interesting,” he said as they sat side-by-side on a couch at the coffee shop on Highland, “You do hear of Shakespeare in the park, so I guess Shakespeare at the Pier wouldn’t be all that different.”
“It doesn’t sound, like, completely cracked then?”
“Completely? No. It’s different. That’s for sure. And if it’s just you then you’d probably just want to do monologues. Unless you want to form a troupe or something.”
“Oh God no. A troupe? Definitely not for me. Besides, all those great Shakespeare soliloquies? The best monologues in the world. ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ and ‘To be or not to be’ and ‘Once more unto the breach.’ And on and on and on. There’s just a ton of ‘em.”
Larry paused to think about it. Then he said, “Yeah, I suppose that you’d have a hard time running out of good material.”
“But should I do this?”
Larry shrugged. “Why not? What else have you got to do?”
She had to admit that just now she didn’t have anything else to do. Unless you counted working for a living, cleaning her apartment and incessantly worrying over her lack of career progress. But really, who would count these things? Larry’s logic was sound. For all intent and purpose she didn’t have anything else to do. So, she told herself to prepare to do this thing.
“And say,” said Larry, “What was that creepy Jeremy guy talking to you about in class tonight?”
“Oh, Jeremy. Well, Jeremy’s not really an actor.”
“That’s his thing: ‘I’m not really an actor.’ He just wants to learn how actors think. And Jeremy wants to make a movie and he wants me to be in it.”
“Oh, that’s a nice compliment. And I guess I shouldn’t have made that ‘creepy’ remark.”
“Jeremy wants me to do an intense dramatic monologue topless.”
“Actually, that was the revised offer. First time he asked he wanted me to do it nude.”
“I figure that if he comes back and offers bra and panties, then we might be within negotiating range.”
Larry shook his head and said, “Sorry I asked. How about we go back to Shakespeare?”
Sarah sighed and laid her head on his shoulder. “Done,” she said.
The next several days were the first days that Sarah had enjoyed in quite a while. Enjoyable because she spent them going through her Shakespeare anthology and pulling out all of the great monologues and choosing which she would like to perform. She decided early in the process that she didn’t need to stick to female roles. Though there were some good ones in there, it was no contest to say that the best of the soliloquies belonged to the male roles. Hamlet. Macbeth. Julius Caesar. Yeah, no contest.
She delved into the task, and her delving not only was enjoyable, but also was so consuming that for those few days she was able to forget all of the other crap that was going on in her life. The only person she discussed her project with was Larry. She called him several times a day to bounce ideas off of him. He was a good guy to talk to. She liked him. What a shame that he was old enough to be her father.
During this time when she was picking out and rehearsing monologues she also made a trip to a shop that made signage. They made for her a sign which would fit on an easel. The text was all in an Old-English font — very Shakespearean-looking. Along the top in large text were the words Street Shakespeare. Along the bottom was her name. And in the middle was an open space with two little hooks on which she could hang the title of the piece she was currently performing.
So the day came — the day which she had somewhat arbitrarily marked on her calendar as the day that she would start her street performing career. All day at work she had been looking forward to it. She rushed home, changed clothes, gathered up her signage and Shakespeare anthology, grabbed her car keys…
As she stood there next to her door, car keys in hand, she began having second thoughts. Was this a smart idea or a terrible one? Maybe she should have picked another night to start. Maybe she should rehearse some more.
Sarah went back and forth in her head like this. For several hours she went on like this. Until she was roused out of it by a phone call from Larry.
“Well, how did it go?” he asked.
“I, um, I haven’t done it yet,” she stammered.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I thought it was tonight.”
“It was. I just… I just had to put it off a day. I start tomorrow.”
“Oh yeah. Tomorrow for sure. I just need to do a few more things before I get going. Then I’m good to go. Tomorrow.”
Then tomorrow came and it was pretty much the same thing. She grabbed her things and then just froze by the doorway. Why? She couldn’t figure that one out. For some reason, the thought of actually going out and doing this scared the hell out of her. It shouldn’t. At least it seemed to her that it shouldn’t. Wasn’t it just another performance situation? She was good at performance situations. She should be nailing this. But for some reason she was terrified.
Sarah realized that she was not getting out that doorway on her own. So she called Larry. He was older. He was more mature. He could help. Maybe.
“Um,” she began the call, “I’m, um… My car’s not running right. Are you busy? Can you come and give me a ride to the Pier?”
“Of course. Tell me your address. I’ll be right over.”
Sarah was still standing with her things in her hand when Larry buzzed at her front gate. For a moment she seriously considered not answering, just standing there frozen until he finally gave up and walked away. But she screwed up her courage and walked out the door.
As they pulled into a space at Santa Monica Parking Garage 3 she said to Larry, “I… I kind of lied.”
“Lied? Lied about what?”
“There’s nothing wrong with my car. There’s something wrong with me. Basically, I’m terrified.”
Larry appeared noticeably surprised. He asked, “Terrified of what?”
“Terrified of doing this. This thing on the Pier. I’m terrified and I don’t know why. I don’t get nervous before a performance. I just don’t.”
Larry slowly drummed his fingers on the steering wheel in contemplation. “Well,” he said, “this isn’t just a performance, is it? It’s a venture. A venture that you’re undertaking on your own. It’s not someone casting you in a role and having you go at it. This is you doing something of your own choosing. I’d say that’s the scary part. You’ve got this idea that’s yours and who knows if it’ll work… And that’s scary.”
Sarah laid her hand atop his on the steering wheel. A lot of her tension eased when she did that. She said, “I knew there was a reason that you were the one I called.”
“Thanks,” he said, “Would you feel better if I went with you? Or would you feel better if I stayed here?”
“Actually, I think a combination,” said Sarah, “If you could come help me pick a spot and set up my sign. But then if you’d leave.”
“I can do that.”
“This looks like a good spot,” said Larry.
“No, no. We’ve got to move down.”
“Why?” he asked.
“I need some space between me and… him” said Sarah as she pointed to the mime who stood motionless about ten feet away.
“Why’s that? Look at him. He just…” she shivered, “He gives me the creeps. I can’t act if I can see him out of the corner of my eye.”
They moved a bit down the Pier. Sarah put up her easel. Larry hugged her, wished her luck and then walked away.
So here she was. This was it. The start of something. In her planning she had thought that the most appropriate speech to start with was “To be or not to be.” That really seemed the only one to start with.
Sarah took two deep breaths and was about to launch into it when she noticed that — oh God! — the mime was walking toward her! He was walking like a normal person, not the robotic mime-type walking. No, he was really walking toward her!
The mime walked up to within a few inches of Sarah. Then he stopped and with a very real, non-mime-like gaze, looked her right in the eye and said, “And what do you think you’re doing?”
Sarah froze momentarily. It had just spoken to her. Oh God, was she dreaming? If it had spoken, then what was next? She’d once had a dream about being attacked by socks with teeth. This one was worse. She struggled to find her words, but only came out with, “What?”
The mime said, “I get so damned sick of you people. All you new people. You’ve got no respect for the rules. You’ve got an act and your little sign there and you think that you can just do whatever you want.”
Sarah squeaked out, “Rules?”
“Rules? There are rules to street performing?”
The mime glared at her. “Are you stupid?” he asked, “Of course there are rules. And you didn’t even bother to figure them out. So allow me to educate you. First, we rotate different spots. If we didn’t then there’d be big fights over who gets the best spots. This is not your spot. You’re new. You get the worst spot, over there on the other side of the Carousel.”
“Okay,” she said, “I can move.”
“Damn right you can move.”
As the mime glowered at her — and she thought that there was nothing more disconcerting than a mime’s glower — Sarah picked up her sign and easel and moved over to the spot on the other side of the Carousel, where she then spent several minutes attempting to get her focus back.
She opened her Shakespeare anthology and began to re-read “To be or not to be.” For some reason she was having trouble remembering it even though it had been committed to her memory since the seventh grade.
“Are you the new one?” she heard a voice say. Sarah looked up and saw a policeman staring down at her.
“I guess I am,” she said.
“Can I see your permit? The mime didn’t seem to think that you had one.”
The policeman looked at her. “Okay, that sounds like a negative. City ordinance requires a permit for any public performances. You want to be doing something on the Pier or on the Promenade then you need to have one.”
Sarah was truly puzzled, “A permit? I need a… You mean, all these people doing street acts… They’ve gotten permits first?”
“Wow, that kind of changes my perception of it. I always thought of these guys as… I don’t know… anti-establishment. Free spirits and all that. But they get permits?”
“They get permits.”
“That really doesn’t seem fair. Aren’t public streets public? You should be able to do what you want.”
The policeman sighed and said, “Miss, I really don’t want to sit here and argue politics with you. Are you saying that you don’t have a permit?”
“Okay. Then you’ll have to pack up and move on.”
“But that’s not right. I’m not hurting anybody.”
“If you don’t move on, then I can take you in. Frankly, I don’t want to do that because it’s such a silly little infraction and also because I’m really tired and I should be going off duty in 24 minutes. So do us both a favor and go home, then go apply for a permit and come back when you get it.”
Sarah grumbled, “Jesus. First I get pushed around by a mime and now…”
“One,” the policeman said. As she looked at him, he said, “Two.”
Sarah thought for a moment. Then she picked up her sign and easel and she walked away.
Street performers and the best Shakespeare monologues
So Sarah endeavors to do what the greats of theater have done before her: tackle the best of Shakespeare's monologues. It is an admirable goal. And one that a really good actor such as herself could probably triumph at. If only the world would let her do it.
Realizing her need to take her career into her own hands, Sarah endeavors to perform the Shakespeare that she wants to perform rather than waiting for someone to cast her in a Shakespearean role (or waiting for someone to cast her in any role for that matter).
Her plan? Street performance! And it would seem to be a good plan, if not for the fact that the world again conspires against her in the form of a mime and some surprising local ordinances on street performance.
Not to mention the fact that first she has to get over her own newly discovered insecurities. And how, she wonders, does she have these insecurities? She is a performer, and by all accounts a good one. So why the hesitation in this venture?
Probably the street performances aspect of things. It is one thing to be performing Shakespeare (and those wonderful Shakespeare monologues) in a theater setting. But to do the same thing on the Santa Monica Pier, hoping that tourists will tip her for her efforts? A different matter altogether.
Luckily she does have the support of her middle-aged friend Larry. So after choosing the best (and not just the best Shakespeare monologues for women, but the actual best of the best) she is ready to bring her vision of these classics out into the world.
If only there weren't that mime.