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Treading the Boards

Treading the Boards

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One unseasonably warm March day, this guy called Goulée came to me looking for an acting coach. I was running my office out of a pretty swank little loft space on Ste. Catherine Street, and Goulée fit the bill: He was a muscular, cut, bald, good-looking young man who had the clothes, the attitude, and the cash.

He came upstairs and sat across from me at my big, glass desk.

“I’ve been to a lot of different acting schools,” Goulée said. He spoke slowly, deeply, with a slight Quebecois accent.

“Oh, yeah?” I said.

“Yeah. But I need more specific training. I need more focussed training.”

“I can give you that.”

He handed over the $550 for five sessions. “When do we start?” he said.

“Tomorrow,” I said. “I’ll give you a short monologue to learn and we’ll see what you can do with it.”

I handed him a page with the monologue and he looked it over. I noticed that he was squinting as he read it. “Looks good,” he said. “You write this?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s like a confessional about addiction.”

“That’s interesting,” he said. “I know about that.”

Somehow, I knew that he knew about that. There’s something about addicts that makes us know one another.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve been sober a while now.”

“How long?”

“About two weeks,” he said.

Fuck. He was still in the throes of it.

“How long have you been sober?” he said.

“Just over two years.”

“Good for you,” he said, standing up. “Well, I better get to work on memorizing this.”

“We’ll see you here tomorrow. How’s 10 a.m.?”

Goulée squinted at me. The sun was shining through the window behind him, and his bald head was like an eclipse against it. “I don’t get up so early,” he said.

“Fine,” I said. “See you at 3 p.m.”

He returned the next day at a little past three. I got him on camera and he knew his stuff pretty well. He was an intense performer, but I noticed that the more intense he became, the more he squinted. At times, his intensity was overacted. Sometimes he sounded like he was sitting on the toilet, grunting out a huge crunch.

He did his first take and I gave him some notes: “Try not to… try to ease up on the lines a bit,” I said. “Don’t force them so much.”

We did another take, and it was all right. He was still grunting and squinting. I tried to give him some more positive feedback before he left.

Over the next few weeks, Goulée came back to perform new scenes I’d given him. But it was always pretty much the same: He showed a lot of intensity as an actor, but he was always way too severe with the lines, never letting them play. That, and the fact that he never really opened his fucking eyes. He always kept them closed into narrow slits.

On a dark, overcast day at the end of our fourth session, we were sitting across from each other on the grey sofa. We were talking about Shurtleff and Meisner, and about the actor’s need for vulnerability, and I said to him, “Tell me something, man: Why do you always have your eyes slightly closed?”

He said, “Oh… I do this so that I can protect myself.”

I said, “What do you mean?”

He said, “I want to be able to protect myself. With my eyes closed like this, I can see you, but you can’t see me.”

“Oh,” I said. “Why don’t we go out and have a cigarette on the roof?”

The back door of the loft opened onto a rooftop that gave us a full view of the downtown core. The mountain was behind us, Crescent street was below, and all the skyscrapers along René Lévesque towered before us against a gray backdrop.

I lit his cigarette, and mine, and that’s when he started talking about working as an actor in the city.

“Everything seems to be run by fucking Jews,” he said. He was grunting and squinting. He was clenching his big arm muscles. “Fucking Jews everywhere! Every time you try to fucking do something, there’s some fucking Jew telling you what you should fucking do! I go into auditions and I see all those fuckers lined up. Making all the decisions. Ready to judge me. Fucking Jews!”

It went on like this for several minutes. These are just some of the milder passages. I took a final pull on my cigarette and said, “Let’s go back inside, man.”

“Okay,” he said.

We went back inside and I told him, “Yeah, I think if you want to improve as an actor, all you really got to do is let things play a little more. It shouldn’t always be so intense.”

Goulée kind of nodded at me and looked at me through his slitted eyes. I guess he was looking at me in such a way that I couldn’t see him.

We had one coaching session left to go, and I really didn’t want to do it. There wasn’t much more I could teach him that I hadn’t already tried to.

I wanted to tell him face to face. It was the first time I ever had to turn away a client, but I needed to get Goulée far away from me.

We agreed to meet at noon at a busy café on the corner of Ste. Catherine Street and Guy. Neutral ground. It was a sunny, balmy day, the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day, and the streets were too busy. People walking around everywhere. When the warm weather hit in Montreal, they all came out of their cozy nests and flocked downtown. Fucking pigeons.

My bad feeling about the whole thing was made worse when, walking up to the café, I saw a clown sitting, panhandling beside the front entrance. I never liked clowns. I’d spent nights awake doing acting research, reading about John Wayne Gacy and all that shit. So, whenever I saw a clown, I thought of all the dead boys he might be keeping under his floorboards.

I walked inside and the café was packed. Mostly young people in their twenties, sipping at their expensive iced lattés. Goulée was nowhere to be seen. It was two minutes past twelve. I didn’t bother getting a coffee, and sat down at the only free table: one furthest from the door.

Eight minutes later, I texted him: Where are you? A minute later, I got a text back: Are you here? I texted back: Yes. He texted back: I’ll be right in.

And sure enough, the fucking clown walks in. I look at its face, and it’s fucking Goulée. He’s dressed up like a full-on, bald clown, with white face, blackened eyes, red mouth, black coat and pants, and he’s headed straight for my table, way too slowly. People in the café are trying not to look at him. It’s bad enough that he’s dressed like a clown, but as he gets closer, it becomes clear that he’s been sweating: There are streaks of black and white and red sweat pouring down his face and neck, and he’s fucked-up on something. So, he’s the scariest fucking stoned, muscular, slit-eyed, melted-faced clown the world has ever seen, and he’s here for me.

He sits down at the table. “Hey, man,” I say to him, trying to sound real casual.

“Hi,” he says. His eyes are the slittiest slits that have ever been.

“How’s it going?” I say. My heart is beating in my head.

“All right,” he says.

I say to him, “Listen, man, I’m going to level with you: I don’t think we should do our last lesson. I don’t feel like I can teach you very much anymore. And, honestly, don’t take it personally—at one point my acting teacher told me to stop taking acting classes, to just get out there and do it—and that’s what I recommend for you, man. Go out there. Audition. See what you can come up with.”

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He nods at me for a bit. I’m not sure if he’s going to take out a handgun and blow my head off.

No, he just nods and says, “Okay.”

I reach into my wallet and pull out six twenties and hand them to him. I consider asking him for the ten bucks change but don’t bother. Looking around, I notice the relative silence that has fallen over the café. These kids want to know what we’re doing here, and why I just handed this demon clown a handful of twenties. Goulée says nothing and puts the money inside his coat. He sits there, head bowed, sweat dripping onto the table. I try to think of something to say.

“Hey, man,” I say. “Let me ask you something: Why are you dressed up like a clown?”

The café is dead silent. Everyone is looking over. They want an answer.

“I just had an audition,” Goulée says. “A part in a kids’ play. The part of a clown.”

“Oh,” I say.

For a moment, I actually consider telling him that it’s bad form to dress up too much for a part. Then I imagine the horror on the faces of the auditioning panel as they stare at this fucked-up embodiment of a child’s nightmare.

“Well,” I say, standing up. “I have got to go now.”

Goulée stands up. “I’ll come with you,” he says.

Aw, fuck.

He follows me outside. I turn around, and reach out to shake his hand. “Good luck to you, man,” I say. “I hope it works out.”

Goulée takes my hand and pulls me close to him. There’s a reek off him of booze and Tiger Balm.

“Hey,” he says. “Do you know where I can find some Asian prostitutes?”

I look at his eyes. They’re fully closed.

“No, man,” I say.

“No? You don’t know any Asian prostitutes?”

“I’m sorry. I really don’t know any.”

“Okay,” he says.

I turn around and start walking away as casually as possible.

Don’t follow me, you fucking freakshow.

I take a good twenty paces before looking back.

Goulée is still standing on the corner, head tilted skyward, his eyes boarded up, clown makeup melting in the sun.

Cover image courtesy of danishdynamite via Flickr

View Comment (1)
  • Always wonderful to read your work, Adam. A very big congrats on almost 10 years sober, what an accomplishment.

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