"We have a look-see!" my adoptive dad happily announces before I'm even settled in the back seat of the car. I knew there had to be a reason he was picking me up from school rather than having me take the bus. Either a death in the family or another look-see.
"When?" I ask.
"Friday at five," he tells me. "So you won't even have to miss any school."
A "look-see" is a kid's audition. If I were older, they'd refer to it as a "cattle call." Basically every kid with a parent interested in pushing them into show business shows up. In this case, it'll be every kid ages twelve to fourteen.
"It's big," my dad tells me as I shrug off my backpack and yank the seatbelt across my body.
I've heard this before. Prior to the other look-sees. The bottled water shoot, which I didn't get, was big. The line of kid's clothing, which we never heard from, was huge. The canoeing catalogue, that promised they'd "call us next time" but never did, was mammoth.
"It's a film," he tells me.
Now I'm a little more interested.
"Like Disney?" I ask. "Like Raven-Symoné?"
He hesitates and says, "Kinda."
My father, prior to the time I was adopted, was a playwright. His "office," formerly our attic, has some dry-mounted flyers and a few framed reviews hanging on the walls. He used to work below, in what's now my bedroom, but as he likes to say, "I've moved up in the world."
Now he uses his office mostly to grade papers. He teaches at a Catholic university -- three sections of a course called "Academic Writing." It's the most work the college can stick on his back without having to hire him full-time. But he still "knows people," as he likes to say. In this case, it's his former agent – a grown man who likes to be called "Jamie" – a guy who at least sends him an e-card on his birthday. Jamie has pictures of me my dad has sent, and every so often he'll call with something.
By the time we get home, Jamie has already e-mailed a copy of the script. My adoptive mom, who's not that crazy about the "show biz stuff," gives me a banana-nut muffin and a chocolate milk while my dad prints it out. "You really want to do this again?" she asks.
"Why wouldn't I?" I ask.
"I don't know," she says. "It's just that we've seen more than our share of rejection."
It's a statement I'm wise enough not to question.
My dad comes down with two copies of the script and a Hi-Liter. He puts one on the table in front of me, and sits down with the second copy. "You're up for the role of 'Kid,'" he says. My mom clears crumbs from the table while my dad flips through the pages, marks something fluorescent yellow, then flips on.
"You don't have any lines," he tells me, "but you have actions. And actions are much more important."
"They are?" I say.
"Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker," he reminds me. "No lines. All action. Got the Academy when she was about your age." I look at the title page: Lets' Say 'Hi' to Hygiene. It's one of those instructional school films, the kind where after it's over and the lights come back on, most of the students have their heads down on their desks.
"Page sixteen," my dad instructs.
I search and finally find this:
KID sneezes into hand.
NARRATOR: This youngster is spreading germs faster than a racecar at the Indianapolis 500. Now everything he (she) touches will be contaminated.
KID sneezes, this time into the crook of his (her) elbow.
NARRATOR: Ah. That's better!
I glance up. "This is it?" I ask my dad. "I sneeze?"
"Twice," he says enthusiastically.
The look-see is in a high school auditorium in Queens. We've gotten there early, at about 4:45, but at least a hundred kids with a hundred parents have beaten us. At a table just inside the door, a half-asleep teenager is taking contact sheets and giving out numbers like in the deli. He holds out a ticket and I can see the number. One-seventeen. Except that he glances at my picture, looks up at me, nods, puts old one-seventeen back, and goes to a separate, smaller stack. When he hands me my number this time, it's number six.
Something like this happens during most of my look-sees. Not because I'm beautiful, not because I have any credits, not because my dad is "connected." It happens because I'm Chinese. Asian is "in." Like I heard one of the parents whisper at the last look-see I went to, "She's lucky. Oriental is the new Mexican."
And it's not that I don't want to do well. I would like nothing more than to leave an audition room, dash over to my dad, and gleefully announce, "I nailed it! They offered me the role right there! Right on the spot!"
But in truth, I stink. I am incapable of smiling on cue, unable to delve into the persona of a two-dimensional character, unwilling to follow a dream I've never had. The director will give me direction, the photographer will suggest an adjustment, but I am as helpless to respond as I am to lift my arms and fly around the room.
A couple of years ago, while I was in the attic searching for something-or-other, I looked in a trunk filled with stuff from my dad's playwriting days. I found a newspaper review, cracked and yellowing, pressed between the pages of Edward Albee's Delicate Balance. It was dated almost eighteen months prior to the day I was adopted, and it was far from favorable. "Andrew Janetti," the last line said, "has left his earlier promise of making a truly unique theatrical statement well behind him."
Why would he keep this? I wondered to myself. I quickly realized the answer. To remember to get even.
I'm called back to a small room behind the stage of the auditorium, a dressing room I guess. There, squeezed around a card table, are two men and a woman. The woman, obviously in charge, looks at me, smiles, and says, "Great. Chinese talent."
At least, I think to myself, she's half right.
words: Tai Dong Huai, Connecticut
image: Diana J. Wynne, California (The Daily Interface)
a counterparting story from China: Sunshine