I am so sad to learn that the very talented and funny actress, Glenne Headly died yesterday. It’s inspired me to write this post about my “encounter” with her. What a talent!
My first exposure to her was in 1979, when I was one of two people selected from my department to go to Milwaukee, for the TCG (Theatre Communications Group) auditions. (This allows theatres to see the new crop of talent coming out of universities or acting programs throughout the country.) I’m quite pleased with myself for having been selected to go..
(Just FYI: I studied acting at the O’Neill Theatre Institute, a very small, selective program, that only accepts 25 students, and where you learn from professionals like, in my case, Henry Winkler and Sheldon Patinkin. I also attended Drake University, which was one of only two universities in the country at the time to offer a Theatre degree. While I’m exceedingly grateful for both experiences, they put ENTIRELY TOO MUCH emphasis on appearance!)
It’s a miserable slushy, snowy day in February, 1979. I’m all dressed up in heels etc and and totally unprepared for the weather.
After signing in and dropping my pic and resumes etc. I’m told to take a seat as I would be called when it’s my turn.
There are four or five directors seated at a table in a dimly lit room with a small work light overhead. I witness a couple people go up before me and think, “I’ve got this! This is kind of a snooze fest…”
Suddenly and seemingly put of nowhere, in walks this young lady (a couple years older than me), frantic because she’s running late. Cardinal sin #1.)
She has thick red hair which is cut in a long bob and no makeup. She’s sporting green army fatigues and men’s old school, black rubber boots that buckle halfway up her calves. The buckles are undone causing the rubber flaps to flop around as the buckles klink occasionally. Is she serious? (Cardinal sin #2.) She is representing the school of the St. Nicholas Theatre in Chicago. (Never heard of it! What is this?)
I’m feeling a little sorry for her, thinking, she must be in the wrong place. Then they call her name and I REALLY feel bad thinking, she IS in the wrong place because the person they called is named Glen! That’s a man’s name. Isn’t it?
I guess not. She steps into the spotlight and announces her audition pieces.
Before she begins the first piece, she blurts out these words. “I’m really nervous!!!”
What???? Noooooo! You’re never supposed to say that!!!! Where was this chick educated? Doesn’t she know the expression, “Never let them see you sweat??”(Cardinal sin #3.)
The impact of saying she is nervous brought on the sympathy of the judges immediately. Everyone in the room wants to see her do well, myself included. But my head is spinning because she has thrown out the Playbook that has been drilled into my head the last four years.
I have no idea what she did for an audition piece. I think it’s from a Sam Shepard play. All I know is, she blows everyone in that room to smithereens!!! It’s AMAZING! Guess who has to follow that?
I’m so knocked off my pins by her talent, her fearless rule breaking and her simple honesty.
“Julie Butler?” Comes the call from the inquistion, in the darkness.
I’m proud not only of the work I’ve done, but also for finding a rather unique classical piece. I’m playing Moll Flanders from “The Roaring Girl” by Dekker and Middleton. I’ve rehearsed like mad with my rather quirky, but brilliant Shakespeare professor. I’m even implimenting fencing, a skill I acquired at the O’Neill. I’m ready to set the world on fire ( if only I could tell them I’m scared shitless!)
I announce. “My first piece is from “The Roaring Girl” by Dekker and Middleton. I’m playing Moll Flanders”.
They look intrigued as I assume my fencing position, ready to strike my imaginary opponent.
I belt out…
Silence. Like the infamous Lot’s wife, I suddenly turn into a pillar of salt.
I’m motionless. While my throat is parched, making it difficult to speak, it doesn’t matter because I have no words. Moll Flanders? Who’s that?
This isn’t my first time at the rodeo either. I began singing in a nightclub when I was 18 years old and a student at Northwestern. I’ve been playing in piano recitals intermittently since I was 5 and I have a number of shows under my belt. So who is this alien that has robbed me of me? It’s like invasion of the bodysnatchers.
It’s horribly uncomfortable for everyone. There’s a long, dreadful silence until I finally look at them and say, “May I please start again?”
“Sure” comes a reply from the darkness.
I try, but it’s completely in vain. I can’t get past the first lines to save my life.
They ask me to do my contemporary piece. I just barely manage to get through it. I get one or two laughs, max. Like a dull party that has gone on way too long, we just want it to be over and I just want to go home.
I’ve failed…miserably. I’m not accustomed to failing (outside of swimming meets and math classes, which is why I hate them both.)
Utterly dejected, I make my way back through 2 hours of sleet and snow, to the comfortable suburbs of Chicago.
What the hell happened? It’s all HER fault!! That Glenne girl! The one in the golashes and army fatigues. Who wears that to an audition?? (Evidently, someone who is smart enough to be prepared for crappy weather.)
I often wonder whatever happened to her.
About a year later after graduation, I find myself doing volunteer work, stuffing brochures in envelopes at the Saint Nicholas Theatre, shortly before becoming the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre. (Ironic, considering I became an entrepreneur, marketing for theatres for 30 years.)
By now they’ve received numerous accolades for their work. Everyone is very nice to me. Occasionally I run into actors like John Mahoney (Frasier) or Jeff Perry (Scandal). I go to get something downstairs when I spy company pictures on the wall of…Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) , Jeff Perry, Bill (William H.) Macy (Shameless), John Malkovich and his wife, Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dick Tracy). There she is!
That clinches it for me. Shes working!! Living the dream! Good for her!!!
The beautiful, talented Ms. Headly gave me an extremely valuable lesson that day. BE YOURSELF! Don’t be afraid to let them see you sweat.
Whether singing onstage in front of an audience or pitching a client, never again did I try to put on airs or to be anyone other than my true self. I’ve been told I can be “a handful” but that’s ok!
Am I still uptight about my appearance? HELL YES! And I HATE that! It only holds me back. But I don’t scrutinize my wardrobe or shoes etc. because it has nothing to do with talent. My body? That’s another story for another day…
I have Glenne to thank for this sentiment which has seen me a long way over the years. I will never forget that cold, lousy day when she broke all the rules and blew us all away in the process.
Sweet dreams you wonderful, talented and gracious lady.