Two weeks ago, I met the singer of a local country/folk band at an unlikely venue. But before you rush to ask about her, you might want first to learn how we met.
If you’re an actor, living in Vancouver, you’ve probably heard of the ‘standardized client’ program at the University of British Columbia. In the Spring and Fall, actors can earn money by acting as patients in the final exam of medical students. Let me explain.
In September, I got an email from Susanne Schmiesing, the program coordinator, to see if I was available for the exam on Sunday, November 17th. If so, I would need to attend the training scheduled for Friday, October 25th, at the Friedman Building of the University of British Columbia.
This particular exam was for physiotherapy students. Previously, I have had roles as a cancer patient and a physiotherapy patient. The cancer patient role was about a year after my cancer treatments – so I didn’t need to use my imagination.
Pete Smeader, a fellow cast member from Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding Show, had told me about the standardized patient program. He said that you get paid ‘big bucks,’ and there’s lots of food!
Well, as most of my readers know, I can’t eat solid food. And I don’t usually need the money – but I’ve had several cancelations for Santa Danny, so I’ll add my earnings to the funds I raise for the UBC Oral Cancer Prevention Fund. He’s still hopeful of reaching his 2019 fundraising goal of $2,000.
It had been a few years since I last did this gig. I enjoyed playing the role of a patient and renewing my friendship with actors I’ve met over the years. But the drive to the university from my place in Langley is a long one, and I’ll need to be there at 7:00 am on the exam day. And on the Friday training day, I needed to be there at 4:45 pm – which meant driving during rush hour!
When I arrived for training, I met Carrie, the physiotherapy trainer. She had an American accent, and I noticed that she resembled one of the characters in the screenplay I’m writing. I wanted to ask her where in the USA she came from but decided to remain silent. My voice isn’t easy to understand at the best of times, and by day’s end, it’s at its worst.
Carrie gave each of us a handout that described the patient’s background and medical history. There isn’t a script to memorize – but you need to know the patient and his medical issues. On exam day, you usually work in a rotation with two other actors. You do two fifteen-minute exams, and then you’re off for one. This sequence continues throughout the day, from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. I won’t go into any more detail because of the strict confidentiality requirement.
On Sunday, November 17th, I got up at 1:30 am to let Holly outside and then decided to stay up because I was worried that I might not wake up in time. It was raining buckets, and I knew that it would be a hard drive on the dark highway. My night vision is terrible, and I find it hard to see the lines on the road when it’s wet. And the pools of water along the route were massive and scary when you hit them at 100 km/h, so I drove much slower.
I arrived at the University at 6:30 am and parked my car. It had stopped raining, and after walking for a couple of minutes, I was in the large auditorium of the Life Sciences Building. I went to the room to sign in and then back to the hall where about fifty or sixty people were eating breakfast. Some of them were staff, some were examiners, and the remainder were the actors.
I surveyed the room, hoping to see a familiar face, but I didn’t recognize anyone except for Susanne and Carrie. I sat by myself at the end of a very long table and watched the activity around me.
At about 7:05 am, Carrie suddenly made an announcement: “Danny, is Danny here?”
I raised my hand.
Carrie came over to me with a puzzled look.
“I shaved it off,” I announced. “My mustache – I shaved it off last week. I’ve been here for thirty minutes but didn’t want to disturb you,” I explained.
I was hoping that she’d tell me how much younger I now seemed, but she didn’t. And compared to all of the youth in the room, I was one of the only dinosaurs present!
During Susanne’s opening comments, I noticed a young lady at another table. She was sitting by herself. I found myself staring at her until she looked my way, and our eyes met. I quickly looked away.
“Who is this girl? Do I know her? Should I approach her and ask her if we know each other?”
But I kept to myself and gave her no more thought. I’ve learned to be careful when trying to interpret subtle messages as they travel from the heart to the brain. I decided to put my imagination ‘on hold’ for the rest of the day. I needed to focus my attention on being a client/patient.
There were numerous examination rooms in two areas of the building. I went to my assigned room and met the examiner. We chatted for several minutes while waiting for the first student to arrive at 8:15 am.
After each examination, the student leaves, and then there’s a brief interval before the next student arrives. As previously mentioned, we followed this process throughout the morning. The atmosphere was intense – this was very serious, and you could see the stress on the students.
I noticed the ‘girl’ throughout the morning. And several times, I got an urge to talk to her. But there was no time for idle chat, so I put my thoughts on hold. Maybe, I’d see her during the lunch break.
I wouldn’t be having lunch because I’m not able to eat solid food. I brought along a thermos of Ensure, the meal supplement, and sat by myself at one of the tables. It wasn’t until I sat down that I noticed the girl again. She was seated directly across the table, and she was alone.
I almost was tempted to use one of my killer ‘openers’ like: “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve seen in two weeks!”
But I didn’t.
Because when I looked at her and our eyes met, I got a very different emotional feeling. It was the ‘paternal’ kind – the one a dad feels for his children or grandchildren.
My next thought was to say hello. I have never been shy about meeting people for the first time – otherwise, my life in sales would have been very brief. Besides, there were lots of other girls – why was I only getting this feeling about the one across the table from me?
I remembered a girl I dated in high school. On our first date, she saved the wrapper from a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum. She also kept a package of matches from the restaurant that we visited after the dance. I wondered if she still had those souvenirs or the love letters I used to send her?
So I just said hello and.
“The one thing that today has brought me is the stress I used to feel during exam time. And do you know that I used to wake up in the middle of the night, years after graduation because I was having a nightmare that I had an exam the next morning!”
That brought a smile to the girl’s face. So I reached my hand across the table and introduced myself as we shook hands. She said her name was Adrienne.
We chatted for a few minutes, and then I got up to use the washroom.
Afterward, I walked around the building to stretch my legs. When I got back to the auditorium where everyone was, I noticed Adrienne standing by the soft drink table. So, I approached her. She greeted me with a welcoming smile.
While drinking a sip of water, I apologized for my voice and explained that it was due to throat cancer. I told Adrienne that my voice was getting worse, and at one point, I even thought of giving up on being an actor. I explained that I had never given up on fighting my cancer and told her my 40% survival story.
I knew that I had struck a nerve when Adrienne began wiping the tears that were forming on the corner of her eyes.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you with my story.”
Adrienne then told me her story. She had been a child actor from the age of six. Initially, she went to university in the theatre program but later changed after the first year because she knew that her first love was singing.
“You’re a singer!”
No wonder I was attracted to her. I told her how much I loved music and listen to it always during the day. I mentioned that my dad and two of my brothers were very talented, musically, but I couldn’t play an instrument.
Adrienne and I chatted for another few minutes, and then just before we parted, I noticed that tears were forming in her eyes.
“Let me give you a hug,” I offered.
And to my delight, she stretched out both arms, and we embraced. I felt a warm glow running through my body. I now had a new gal pal, and she’s a singer!
She said her band does a blend of country/folk, and they write their music. We’ve published three songs, and they’re available on iTunes and Spotify.
“What is the name of your band?”
“It’s Fallow State,” and we’re playing a venue in Gastown on December 4th,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
I gave her my card and told her that I would be going to see her band perform on that date. She told me that she looked forward to reading my stuff.
We hugged again and then went back to our respective exam rooms.
I regretted not being able to take a selfie with Adrienne – but cell phones are not allowed during the examinations.
On the way out of the building, I saw Adrienne again, and we both exchanged hugs.
I could still feel the warm glow of her friendship in my heart that night when I got home.
The next morning, I visited Adrienne’s band’s website, and then I went to iTunes to purchase their album.
And although I’m usually in bed by 8:00 pm, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to see Fallow State on December 4th at the Guilt & Company pub.
If you’d like to join me – give me a shout or email.
And Adrienne, if you’re reading this -break a leg!
Dedicated to Adrienne Nye
Today’s tunes from Danny’s library (purchased):