Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You Gotta Have a Gimmick

Do something special
Anything that's fresh'll
Earn you a big fat cigar.
You're more than just a mimic
When you got a gimmick -
Take a look how different we are! *

We are all special.  Well, that's what the parents and teachers tell us in childhood (and therapists and self-help books in adulthood).  In Scotland, mostly you are told not to get ideas above your station and never to bum yer load (toot your own horn). And never to split an infinitive (I suspect that was just my parents).

I think most actors (working or resting) have daily/weekly/monthly (the regularity might depend on the regularity of jobs) doubts about themselves.  We go back and forth with that feeling of worthlessness, not knowing what to do, feeling inadequate and then that other side of what we really know, deep in our soul: we have something special.  If we did not believe that in some part of us (even if we hide it well), how could we survive?
So, here I am in America.  Land of the brave and free.  One of the reasons I chose to come to study here in the states was that self-belief that seemed to ensue.  I have a love/hate relationship with it.  Torn between never wanting to seem big-headed but dealing with the knowledge that I am fantastic.  I also like the idea of coming somewhere new.  Much as I love Cheers, I liked the idea of going somewhere where no one knew my name.  I had the freedom to try and fail.  Try and succeed. I am Polly McKie.  Not somebody's daughter.  Not somebody's wee sister.  Boy, I miss my family. But thanks to Skype and Metro PCS, I am still wee P.  The runt of the litter of a wonderful family.

We strive for the perfect headshot, perfect song, perfect monologue.  And what makes it perfect?  We hear in classes, in workshops, from casting directors, agents, at auditions, "bring YOU".  Sometimes I think I'd rather bring my mother to the audition than just ME.  She could sell me better.  It's always easier to have someone else sing one's praises.  

You can pull all the stops out
Till they call the cops out;
Grind your behind till you're banned.
But you gotta get a gimmick
If you wanna get a hand. *

They have not called the cops out for me yet.  But I do have to deal with immigration issues.  (details of all of that to follow in another blog, for fear that this entry may go on ad infinitum).  After approval here, I had to visit the U.S. Embassy in London.  After the first interview, I was ushered to another room and the nice lady asked me, "So, what makes you extraordinary?" Surely that is not my question to answer?  That is why I had all those letters from others. I was raised that it is not my place to say that I am great. So I stood there.  I hummed and hawed and said some things about what other people had said.  It's all a bit of a blur.  I remembered, though, what I said at the end of my awkward waffle, "People seem to think that I am funny.".  The nice lady behind the desk smiled and said "Yes, I can see that.  Your visa is approved."

Now I approach the difficulties of trying to get a green card.  I could extend my O1 visa but there are limitations  (that's another blog I'm not brave enough to write, but my mother is ready to write to Obama!).  My biggest breaks for auditions have been by word of mouth.  My favourite.  Someone else saying I can do the job.  So much easier than pushing ourselves forward.

Most days I think, "I messed that up. I do not know what I am doing. I have so much to learn." 

Today I choose to say that I am special.

I am Polly McKie.

I'm electrifying
And I ain't even trying. *

*You Gotta Have a Gimmick from Gypsy: Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim (as per)



  1. The problem is that casting directors usually have no imaginations at all. If they are looking for your type, fine. If not, nothing to do about that. "I am sorry but we are not casting....... today. I once lost an oncamera cameo because they did not have a costume to fit me. Love your blog all the same.

    1. There is a blog coming about casting: maybe more than one! I have heard stories about people booking a job because they had the right shoe size. Thanks for reading.

  2. As someone (coming from AuditionUpdate) who is in the process of applying for her O-1 visa ... yep. All of this. Aren't those letters supposed to tell you why I'm so super extraordinary? It's hard to own our abilities a lot of the time.

  3. Yes, Bee! Break a leg with the O1. It can be a tough journey but we have to believe it will be worth it. We're special, right? Extraordinary aliens!