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ActorQuest: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Bway 2

This November, Kristin Huffman made her Broadway debut as Sarah (flute, piccolo and sax) in John Doyle's production of Company.  The actress continues her collection of stories about a 15-year career that has led her to the door of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

You will notice in some of the bios for Company that a few folks mention "Commercial and Industrial" work.  These can be really quick "fill ins" for theatre folk and actually pay well too!  An Industrial is an "In House" instructional video (or sometimes it's even live, at a trade show!) that a company will produce to explain a new product, feature or procedure to their employees.  Some places hire actors to describe their new furniture lines or car features.  We often pose as "salesmen,""hostesses," or in this next story of mine, a "nurse."

I teach vocal performance to big college students and little neighbor kids. I need the money. When I get to the part of my lecture about controlling nerves at auditions, I tell them to remember that this is not brain surgery. We are doing what we love. It is entertaining and artistic but not THAT crucial in the grand scheme of things. We aren't doctors who actually save people's lives.  Today, however, I did an industrial that made me rethink all that.

The video industrial was for a company promoting a new product that will help hemophiliacs stop the bleeding. I was hired to be a "novice nurse" learning about these new procedures and products from a real nurse, Regina.  

First of all, my 'not brain surgery' advice failed me because if Regina or I screwed this up and didn't pay attention to all the details, we could have a bunch of hemophiliacs bleeding to death all over much of the planet.  Regina had the really hard stuff to say and do, but as a good actor, I needed to know what her long paragraphs were about so that I could throw in my one liners like, "Is it ok to clean both vials with one alcohol wipe?"  The problem in memorizing all this was that Regina had lines that sounded so technical and lengthy that there was no way for me to figure out where to throw in my lines. Things like, "First take the reconstitution device and place it firmly in the rubber stopper of the diluent vial and then pull off the plastic casing from the diluent factor and push the other end of the prefilled syringe down with the plunger rod."   All that sounded like to me was "Duguda wawa muh di manumanum wewah wo wig a dig a dig"  So my plan was to wait until she came to a complete stop and then throw in my next line. "Okay, I understand this procedure pretty well." 

The growing idea that I was poised to kill people was compounded by the fact that we were shooting this in an actual HOSPITAL - The Pediatric ward of Yale New Haven Hospital.  Then my hypochondriacism kicked into high gear when a real doctor showed us to the ward and immediately pointed out the hand sanitizer thingy on the wall.  In a very off-handed way, he suggested that we use it frequently throughout the night because "it IS a hospital after all, and there are germs here". 

You need to know about a personal problem: if I read about a disease, I have it.  A couple of years ago my mother had open heart surgery and a bit later my dog died and then my husband decided to go on a week long camping trip with no phone service available.  In that one week, I contracted numerous heart-related symptoms.  I became so convinced I was having a heart attack that I tried to call my parents.  After getting their answering machine, I told IT that I thought I was having a heart attack and then hung up to write a "farewell cruel world" letter. I spent a good half hour writing it out nicely.  The next morning my father called and sarcastically asked if I was dead yet.  He then made fun of me for writing the note instead of going to the emergency room.  HELLO... There are GERMS there.

So back to the contaminated hospital scene.  I sanitized my hands about 10 times in the first 20 minutes, doing an Adrian Monk imitation. Finally, the makeup lady got tired of watching me do it and decided she had to fix my hair. Her hands did not smell clean.  We got into our nurse costumes, and luckily, I was given surgical gloves. But I still felt odd touching things like that chocolate donut and coffee from the Kraft Food service table. 

It was a really long shoot from about 5pm to midnight.  We had three procedures to get through and there were many needles, syringes and vials of liquidy stuff. As the evening wore on, I noticed some bluish streaks on my inner arm.  In a panic, I consulted the real nurse, Regina.  She determined that it was magic marker.  Since we were paused to reposition the needles and stuff, I took the opportunity to ask her about a mole on my shoulder...and arm...and stomach.  She told me she thought they were fine but I noticed that one of them had gotten a little darker since the shoot began.

During the next break, I asked her if she thought the discolored spot on my neck might be skin cancer.  She said it looked like tanning gel and I realized she actually might be right about that one.

After visiting the Kraft food table a few times for coffee to keep me awake I had to go to the bathroom.   I am always pretty cautious about touching things there but in a HOSPITAL I could literally catch Bubonic Plague, so I sanitized my rubber gloves, sanitized the toilet seat, sanitized the faucet and paper towel dispenser handle, and opened the door with a clean paper towel.  After coming back out I stripped off the gloves, sanitized my hands, WASHED MY HANDS, and alcoholed them off with a wipe meant for the vials of diluent. 

When we came back to shoot the final procedure, I was pretty tired so I drank some more coffee and had some chocolate. As we started the "scene" my heart started skipping beats and I was sure that I had some sort of fibulation thing happening. Or maybe a hole in my heart. I tried to focus on slinging in my next line, "And what is our next step Regina?," but all I could think about was that fact that my mouth had dried out which could mean I had contracted hoof and mouth disease.  Then my back started hurting on the left side. I tried to concentrate on my lines, but I was actually trying to remember where my liver was located. I felt better when, after the scene was over, Regina started complaining about her back hurting from standing up so much. But it still could've been some vital organ that had become contaminated from that bathroom.

The director wanted to shoot one more bit and as he looked at the tray with all of the implements he noticed a greasy spot.  So he took a USED PAPER TOWEL out of the little throw away tub we were using and licked it and rubbed away the spot.  I thought I was gonna puke.

Finally, we wrapped up the shoot. I swallowed down my last swig of coffee and high-tailed it into the elevators, forgetting my usual claustrophobia in my haste to get to my car. When I got home, as you might expect, I washed my hands, alcoholed them off and lay down to sleep it all off.

Thanks to all the caffeine and chocolate I had imbibed, I lay there wide awake staring at the ceiling thinking, "OH great!  Now I've caught insomnia!" 



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