Note: This list is intended for entertainment purposes only. Of course we realize that no actor would ever, ever lie or mislead anyone at their survival job in order to make an audition. American society is too well-organized in support of actors and artists for such a thing to ever be necessary.
Even if you are lucky enough to work for a boss who does his best to be flexible with your schedule and co-workers who are convivial and supportive, you will, as an auditioning actor, occasionally find yourself between a rock and a place where you need a convincing excuse fast: it’s inevitable. Professional jobs cast during the day, semi- and non-professional jobs often cast at night, all three can appear at a moment’s notice, and there are going to be times when you have to be in two places at once. You will engage in the actor’s time-honored calculus: Should I go to the audition or to my shift? They’re expecting me at my shift. But my agent could drop me if I miss this audition. But will I get fired if I miss this shift? But why am I working this shitty job if I’m not going to go to auditions?! And you’ll go to the audition, glad that you are gifted with a creative imagination and the technique to use it. This list is a cheat sheet for those times. But first, take note: at any survival job you take, it is vital that you begin establishing three things from Day One:
1. That you are in a relationship, whether or not this is true. (Never let your boss(es) meet your significant other. Only let trusted co-workers meet him or her, and only outside of work. Keep details vague except among your most trusted work confidantes.)
2. Vagueness about pets. Try hard to neither confirm nor deny that you have pets, nor what kind you do or do not have, or like. You never know when you’re going to have to invent a dog or feign a paralyzing fear of birds.
3. Solidarity. (You will need your co-workers to have your back. This is one of many reasons why NYC actors tend to work in restaurants, where the waitstaff tend to be performers and are generally united against the management, who tend to be performers who have given up, native New Yorkers, or something even more hard-bitten.)
With this foundation carefully laid, as long as you are a decent employee, within three to six months you will have vested sufficient credibility to be able to maintain your job even in those dire circumstances when you cannot help being late or missing work because of an audition. You will also find that you can take advantage of the unforeseeable quotidian insanities that accompany living in New York City.
With this in mind, here are ten excellent excuses for missing or being late to work because of an audition, categorized for your convenience.
1. So Easy It’s Almost Dumb
Here’s the deal: You got burned. Burned bad. Actually, how bad depends on whether you just need to be late or you actually need to miss a shift. Regardless, all this requires is an Ace bandage, a wince, and a simple story about being startled while cooking. If you really want to sell it, you can buy convincing hospital-style i.d. wristbands on Amazon pretty cheaply. You might want to invest in some of these now. Which brings us to our second burn-related excuse:
2. There Was A Fire In My Building, And The Firemen Wouldn’t Let Anyone Back In For ________
(The credibility cap on this is about ninety minutes.) This is best for mornings when you intended to be at work on time but got held up because the auditors ran over, or asked you to read another side, or decided to schmooze for twenty minutes with the guy ahead of you. Here’s the deal: there was a fire in your building. You had to evacuate, and you ran out without your phone! (Not you ran out with your phone but it was dead—someone would have had a charger, like, in the bodega. You grabbed your bag thinking your phone was in there, but it wasn’t. If you’re willing to sacrifice some pride for extra credibility, say you left it by the toilet.) You wanted to call someone, anyone, as you stood wriggling with panic, desperate to contribute productively to the workforce, you would have even borrowed a stranger’s phone, but everyone’s number is in your phone, so you don’t have any of them memorized! Ah, the modern age. All our fancy technology only serves to inhibit communication in the end, no? (What started the fire? Candles. Or cooking. Or Kids. A kid was cooking with candles—maybe he was roasting mini marshmallows over a candle with a toothpick. Seriously, candles, cooking and kids are among the top five causes of apartment fires.)
3. I Accidentally Adopted A Pregnant Dog
This one works best on a Monday, or when you’ve been off for a few days. During your break, your boyfriend/roommate/Sarah McLaughlin convinced you to adopt a friend of a friend’s dog, but here’s the deal: the owner either didn’t know or didn’t tell you she was pregnant, and she just dropped a puppy on your 600-thread-count Wamsuttas! “Am I coming in? What do you mean, am I coming in?! I’m not calling because I’m late, I’m calling because I don’t know wtf to do! OMG here comes another one! Aaghh! Why is the blood so GREASY?!” Drop phone. You better gin up some realistic looking slimy puppy photos by tomorrow, but for now, go belt those sixteen bars. Oh, why didn’t you just call the original owner? She’s gone—she dropped the dog off on her way to the airport to do a USO tour.
4. Too Embarrassing To Be Fake, Scatological Version
Simply put, thou pooeth thine pants. The specifics are up to you, I suggest you just use the real details from when this actually happened to you. If this has never happened to you in public, you don’t get to use this excuse. Lying is one thing, but fair is fair. Here’s the deal: If you want to use this excuse in the future but you’re a public defecation virgin, drink a grande Americano, go ham on an Indian lunch buffet, and then go jogging.
5. Too Embarrassing To Be Fake, DIY Version
Ah, this is where you benefit from the fact that we live in an age when you can look up how to make literally anything on the internet, from a messy updo to a pipe bomb to yes, fake bird crap. Here’s the deal: this requires a little preparation, but all it really entails is buying a cheap T-shirt, putting it in an H&M bag, and putting both in your bag. You can even carry these around all the time for use in a pinch. It’s New York—it’s not as if you don’t already have the contents of the average Kia Sportage in your bag as it is. Then, when you finally accept that there’s no way you’re going to make it on time (this excuse won’t really get you much more than thirty minutes—forty-five if you can work up some convincing germophobic distress), pop in a Duane Reade, buy some Redi-Whip and pepper as per the instructions in the link above, apply to your shirt in a Starbucks bathroom (come to think of it, you can also procure the whipped cream and pepper there!) put on the T-shirt, put your befouled shirt in the H&M bag, and blammo! A pigeon munificently crapped on you, and you had to stop in an H&M to buy a T-shirt to put on because you were too disgusted/ing to take another step. The shirt’s right here in the bag! Does anyone want to see? (Why didn’t you throw the shirt out? “It’s my favorite shirt! It’s my roommate’s shirt! It’s a $100 shirt! What kind of question is that?! A pigeon crapped on me! I could die of cryptococcosis!”)
6. You’re Peeing Blood
Here’s the deal: you’re peeing blood.
7. Subway Horror
This will work for literally any amount of time, from ten minutes to two weeks to disappearing entirely, because there is no scenario so appalling that it could not, nay, has not occurred on MTA New York City Transit. Here’s the deal: Save up your subway horror stories to use when you need excuses: resist the urge to process them with your work friends. If you don’t have a story, wait. I guarantee you that every single person you know has several. Get them down now and memorize them. Here’s a freebie:* I know someone who fell asleep on the G train (tip: people will believe any story you tell them about the G train; there is a brand of LSD called “G Train” for a reason) and only woke up because the woman next to him was trying to keep a guy from stabbing her guinea pig. The woman had a guinea pig in her lap. A live guinea pig. It was kind of tawny, and it was making a horrible noise. My friend swears this guinea pig had not been in her lap when she sat down. The woman had no bag. My friend, to his immense surprise, was overcome by the “fight” half of the “fight or flight” response and threw his body over the woman to protect her, and the pig, from the stabber, who got off calmly at the next stop (Hoyt-Schermerhorn).
8. The Roseanne
Here’s the deal: you took an Ambien last night, and while it didn’t bring your latent racism to the surface, it did cause you to get up at 4:00 a.m. and butter and eat approximately fifteen of your roommate’s cigarettes.* They were menthols. You are not feeling so great, and you are headed to the E.R. in case you have nicotine poisoning. You’ll be quite late. Break out those hospital bracelets! And look wan. You can learn how to look convincingly sick with make-up on You Tube. How did anyone ever lie without the Internet?
9. I Was Stuck On A Conference Call With My Mother’s Lawyers
The beauty of this excuse is twofold: 1) It really takes people aback and they generally can’t recover in time to question you before you’ve already begun working (Is she in prison? A psychiatric facility? Rehab?) and 2) The average person’s unwillingness to question you more closely happily reveals that the world is still tethered by a straining tendon to a modicum of tact. I have used this line half a dozen times over the past fifteen years, on occasions when I was unavoidably, disastrously late. Only once has someone had the brass to question me. Here’s the deal: The key to proper execution of this excuse is in the demeanor—a weary shake of the head, a wee sigh, and an air of ironclad certainty that the person you’re speaking to totally feels your circumstance. Back-pocket this one. It’s a little gem, and it neatly skirts any understandable superstitious reluctance you may have to lie about an actual mishap befalling your mother. You’re not a sociopath, after all, you’re just an actor trying to make an impossible life work.
10. Syrup Of Ipecac**
You can buy this in drugstores. It’s an emetic: i.e. it makes you barf. I am always surprised at how many people are unaware of syrup of ipecac. It’s something my mother had on hand in case we ingested something poisonous, as we were the type who were always trying to eat mountain ash berries and so on. Here’s the deal: for extreme cases only, when you have been late so many times that you are certain to get fired this time if you don’t pull out the big guns. Pop into Duane Reade and buy a bottle of syrup of ipecac. (I don’t recommend carrying it around with you—the urge to vomit your way out of anything you don’t feel like doing may quickly become too strong to suppress.) Take a dose approximately seven minutes before you walk into work. If you want to keep your job, position yourself away from customers and on tile flooring. Begin apologizing to your boss. You should start vomiting well before you have to make an actual excuse.
Et voila, ten handy excuses to keep you surviving in that survival job long past the endurance of any normal boss’s patience. Use them with care, tend them and practice them, and above all, commit! Auditions come and go, but a truly inspired excuse is the performance of a lifetime.
* This actually happened.
** I am officially going on record telling you not to actually do this.
Molly Goforth is the Features Editor for OnStage Blog. She recently wrote about actors and envy.