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No business in show business (Part 1)

Once upon a time, there was a very nice, sort-of-middle-aged woman, peacefully minding her own business, a teacher getting ready for school to start, a columnist writing humorous stories for her readers to enjoy and a speaker emoting hilariously for groups around the triangle. One day, this woman — let’s call her V, for simplicity’s sake, not that I’ve ever met her — gets an e-mail from an agent who owns a talent agency in Wilmington, N.C., and who met V at one of her speaking engagements and took home V’s card just in case she heard of any opportunities that would fit V to a T.

The e-mail — which V hasn’t checked for a few days, due to having a life — says that V has an audition in Wilmington that very day at 4:22 p.m., with a casting director who is looking for people for an upcoming commercial promoting a new game in the North Carolina lottery, called the "Jumbo" game. The casting folks need to find a woman to play the minimart clerk who sells this guy — a guy who wants not simply to "live large" but to "live Jumbo!" … get it? — a Jumbo lottery ticket.

The minimart clerk has one line in the commercial, but would make $800 a day to shoot it, and another 15 percent as long as the commercial runs in North Carolina, like one to three months, which sounds great, although V has no idea what it’s 15 percent of. Is it 15 percent of the number of folks who actually watch it? Or, 15 percent of all the Jumbo tickets purchased? Or, maybe it’s 15 percent of the top Jumbo prize. Who knows, although V would never ask, because she doesn’t want to sound like a rookie, and hey, 15 percent of anything is good with her.

So, V considered the possibilities for approximately 16 seconds before e-mailing the agent and accepting the opportunity. Besides, it was 13 days before school started, she was all caught up on her columns, and she had nothing to do, due to having no life! The agent was thrilled, and gave V directions to the casting studio. And, after showering, dressing in her new embroidered capris, and actually getting her hair to look somewhat lifelike, off V went.

On her way to Wilmington, V practiced her line — "Yeah. I know." — in every possible connotation. She said it angrily, she said it joyously, she said it sarcastically and snidely. She said it chewing gum, and she said it with an accent. She tried it with a high, blonde-type voice, and with a husky, Demi Moore-type voice. She tried it with gestures, and with every facial expression that exists on the planet. And, by the time she arrived, those three words had absolutely no meaning for her whatsoever, but rather sounded like something the Vietnamese lady who gave her a pedicure once could possibly have said.

The "studio" was a teeny, tiny hut on a residential side street in Wilmington, which the agent had told her wasn’t even marked with a sign, because "some pretty heavy-duty casting for TV and movies gets done there, and they don’t want to advertise their location to the local folks," or, you know, they’d be besieged by no-talent nutcases trying to be the next Julia Roberts, or Snookie, or something.

Still, V felt a little like an unsuspecting streetwalker being lured into a huge police sting, as she slowly opened the door to this hut, leaned in and whispered to the woman sitting behind the desk, "Uh … is this the right place?"

The desk lady said coolly, "That depends — what are you looking for?"

V replied, ready to make a speedy escape at the first sign of someone who resembled a sex-trade-like kidnapper, "Uh … auditions for a commercial?"

The lady said it was the right place, asked her name, and showed her where the restroom was, because it had been a long drive for V, and let’s be honest, most sort-of-middle-aged women who’ve been in a car for a couple of hours, and also are somewhat nervous about being on TV — which adds at least 30 pounds, she has heard — and possibly making 15 percent of something, well, odds are that the bathroom will be her primary interest.

Afterward, V entered the front room and sat on a worn couch, surrounded by four men who’d also come to audition. No other women. This was a good sign, V thought — having absolutely no idea what she was talking about — so she relaxed a bit, until a very stern, no-nonsense woman walked in, stared at all of them, then fixed on V and said with a mocking half-smile, "Are you ready?"

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at vwentz@mindspring.com.

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