So, Debi Gutierrez was our guest star for Hollywood Dream Role June 4th.
Unbeknowst to her, Debi and I had spent a lot of mornings together... via my television set. Back when I actually got reception, the first channel I turned on every morning was PBS, and there she was doing her show A Place of Our Own. And lo and behold, I found out a couple weeks after this particular HDR show that Debi worked with a buddy of mine during her PBS time. For a town this big, the world of entertainment is so small...
It was the HDR teams's first episode after our month long LA Comedy Festival hiatus, so, gathering in the theater, we were hugging each other around the necks and in a festive mood. We got up onstage and started scraping the rust off our brains so that we wouldn't look like unprofessional fools when our guest arrived when the door opened... and Debi walked it.
We turned and it felt like we had been caught with our pants down. Even our fearless director mumbled something like, "Oh, I didn't get your call that you were here! Did you get in okay?... I mean... you're here... so obviously you did..."
We're with it! I swear! We don't have to do warm-ups before the guest arrives! We are naturally in control of our instrument and our brains are set to "On" all the time! Really!
She was very gracious and pretended she hadn't caught us metaphorically taping our boobs together before the metaphorical beauty pageant and she was kind enough to pretend we were all naturally stacked, metaphorically speaking.
Debi was an absolute doll, spunky and fun, and completely grounded and professional. Her dream role was playing Melinda on The Ghost Whisperer. She had done a guest spot on the show and had fallen head over heels in love with the people and the world. In case you aren't familiar with Ghost Whisperer, they sometimes would pull in characters from seasons before to wrap up the loose ends of a multi-layered plot and Debi had hoped that someday, she would get to go back.
It was such a bittersweet HDR to be involved in. It had just been announced the day before that Ghost Whisperer had been cancelled and Debi hadn't heard the news. When Joseph broke it to her, she actually teared up. This HDR would end up being a loving homage to that show (you know, with some cuss words and dick jokes) and Debi's last chance to step into that world.
I think that's really and truly the part of this show that I enjoy the most... There are projects and shows that us actors will never have an opportunity to be a part of. My heart breaks a bit that I was never on Pushing Daisies. Mad Men is probably going into its final season and it looks like that ship has sailed. With HDR, we get to live in a dream world for forty-five minutes each week, and when we are doing it right, it feels like a soul massage.
I was only familiar with the Ghost Whisperer insofar as the cliches that are bantered around: Jennifer Love Hewett's perfect makeup no matter with time of day, the obligatory cry fest, etc.
I had watched a recent episode online, which was, unfortunately, not a good representational episode. Polio children marching lockstep around a hospital whilst wearing halloween masks and JLH being possessed by these shadow things.
But Debi sat us all down and started talking about the tropes of the genre, she explained in detail all of the themes and how the characters fit together... her enthusiasm was contagious. I went home and downloaded the pilot episode and a couple more episodes from iTunes and totally understood why this show had been on so long. Don't tell anybody, but it totally made me tear up and the characters are still so alive in my head.
Come on. I said don't tell anybody.
Back to the rehearsal. I can't remember the genre of the first practice episode we ran Debi through. Was it a horror flick? I'm sure it will come back to me... Usually, the guest stars are chompin' at the bit to get out of there after being put through their paces. But Debi? She asked if she could do another, sir. Because that's how cool she is. So we put her through a musical fairy tale (I think her name was Princess Filopia) and I got to be a dragon (I think my name was Hot Flash..?). Personally, I kinda dug it because I got thrown a musical number.
Me singing on stage = Slow and painful death
Well, that is, until Blake... da Musical. And now I secretly sort of really enjoy it. Shhh.
So we sang and danced across the stage and it was a frickin' awesome episode. Debi was a SCREAM and I have never had to fight laughing so hard as watching my buddies pulling off Cockney, furry woodland creatures.
We showed up on Friday and it was a great crowd. We played warm up games in the greenroom and then, after our Hands In Circle of Love (think basketball hands in except usually involving a song), went around and did "Got your back", where you just touch everyone in the room, look 'em dead in the eye, and promise them that you aren't going to drop them on stage. And Debi looked up at me, completely taken aback and said, "Thank you."
She explained later after the show.
She a stand-up comedian and her experience performing live has been in the comedy clubs and she said that you are more likely to find a knife in your back than someone telling you they have your back and it really meant a lot to her to feel so supported. And... you know... that meant a lot to me. Actually, to us. There were several of us around when she told us and... you know... it felt good.
We in the HDR ensemble have actually talked about it in the time that has passed. That sensation of being able to fly on stage without a net and know that the person holding your hands from the trapeze is not going to drop you... well... It took a lot of courage for her to trust us that much. It took a lot of courage when I first started improvising to trust someone that much. It feels good to be able to return a kindness. I love that there is a place that most folks think is the scariest place in the world, up on stage with no script, making up every line as you go --- but in truth, if you're a member of the club, it turns out it is the safest.
I won't go too much into the show because you can watch it online. The one thing I'll note, though, is to pay attention to the way that Debi sets up the jokes. Folks, what she does is pure genius.
She builds up the line and then leaves the open space for us to come in with the punch. And she did it so clearly, it was like she was saying "Mary had a little _____" and we were like, "LAMB!!! She had a LAMB!!!" And the crowd went wild. It is frickin' tough as old ballz to do what she did and she did it like she was backstroking in a swimming pool instead of white water rafting through Class IV rapids.
The other thing to note is the museum scene. Sometimes people forget that there are actually people up on stage actually doing the things they are watching and those things feels like it would actually feel like if YOU had to do it. So in this museum scene, we needed some statues:
Look at those statues for just a second. Please note their arms. Please think about holding your arms for five minutes like that. To my fellow actresses, I have but one word for you: Suckers! That's why I always play "dead"! (see: just about every other HDR episode prior and my vast resume of "dead body" work)
Anyhoogle, giving a play by play of a show is about as interesting to folks as bringing out the baby pictures, so go watch the episode at http://www.youtube.com/hollywooddreamrole. Debi was FANTASTIC. She dropped right into that world and committed to that reality 100%. Such a fun show to be involved with and especially fantastic to get to play with such a great person!