"we can only do what it seems to us we were made for, look at this world with a happy eye but from a sober perspective.”

-W.H. Auden

Leading Ladies

We bribed our good friends Dave and Jenna Weglarz-Ward last year. Our daughters have been friends since kindergarten but they were slotted to attend different middle schools. Dave and Jenna were wavering though, and we used this as an opportunity to bribe them: send Madeline to Jasmine’s middle school and we would host them for dinner once a month. They accepted these terms, and it has worked out well for everyone involved. The girls enjoy being together. The Schreibers like having the Weglarz-Wards over. The Weglarz-Wards like free food.

A few months ago, we learned at one such dinner that Dave had used his hypnotic prowess to become location manager for a movie that was going to be shot here in Champaign-Urbana. Plus, Jenna was going to be the extras casting director. It turns out that Dave and Jenna nurture non-payola friendships with the broader world—namely with Dan Beahm and Erika Randall Beahm, who are producing and directing the film.

We must have served especially good food one night, or more likely, served too much beer, because Dave and Jenna asked if we wanted to be extras in the movie. Also, if we wanted to help out in other ways, they would let us. This sounded like a great deal to me. I’ve always wanted to be on a movie set.

I assumed the movie would be a small step above teenagers running around town taking videos on their cell phones. After all, this is my friend Dave, who needs me to shepherd his old high school videos from the hard drive to his computer screen. He’s not exactly on the cutting edge of the digital world.

So I was impressed when I found out some big-name dance stars were involved, as well as an experienced crew. The movie is called Leading Ladies, and is about an overbearing dance mom and her two daughters. They signed on Melanie LaPatin (who dominated Latin and Ballroom dance circles for 20 years) and Benji Schwimmer (winner of So You Think You Can Dance). My entire exposure to the world of dance is the four episodes of Dancing with the Stars I watched with my daughters, so I had no idea who these people were. But I do have access to the internet. And I am now duly impressed.

Plus, they recruited a real cinematographer—Peter Biagi, who worked on some Robert Altman films. Apparently, being a location manager (finding locations for all the scenes in the movie) is different from being a producer, director, actor or a cinematographer. And Dave is a great location manager, having secured various locations around town at little or no charge. It eventually dawned on me that this was a real movie, as they are planning on submitting it to Sundance in the fall.

As the time got closer, we asked Dave and Jenna whether there was anything we could do to help. It turns out there was: we have a big house, and they wanted to have a “Welcome to Champaign-Urbana” party for the cast and crew. Would we be willing to host? Heck yes! We love filling our house with large numbers of people.

The cast and crew were very gracious. And everyone was enthusiastic about the start of filming. At the party we learned that Melanie likes children and pets (or at least she like the Schreiber kids and our dog Jac). Benji likes old houses and regularly goes on humanitarian trips to Mexico. Peter Biagi is interesting to talk to, but a terrible basketball player. There were a bunch of Dans, Daves and Bretts involved in the production, but I had no idea who was who. It was like staying to watch the credits at the end of the movie. And serving them plates of food.

We really hit it off with Dan and Erika Beahm, the producer/director. The Weglarz-Wards have good tastes in friends, even if you discount their running bribe with the Schreibers.

So, I’d been trying to help out with the movie as best I could. One day, my task was to find a cello. Another day, provide a glue gun. I failed to produce enough liquor bottles in the quantity desired for one scene, but did manage to find enough futons for a different scene. Much earlier, we had provided the name of our neighbor with a 70s era kitchen as a location for the movie. Their house was on the market and they had already moved to Chicago, so it was perfect as an empty place with the right look. Also, I’d been encouraging people to sign up as extras.

Last Thursday I found myself driving up to Kankakee to pick up some extras, who happened to be semi-famous dancers. They were being brought to town for a big dance scene at a local Jerry’s IGA (a prime Champaign-Urbana location). They were all on So You Think You Dance, but my four episodes of dance history failed me once again.

Why Kankakee? The dancers flew into O’Hare from LA and Dave’s dad drove them down to Kankakee, where I met them to take them the rest of the way. It is what I would imagine smuggling immigrants is like. Except that these immigrants were dancers from LA with a lot of luggage who watched Real Housewives for most of the drive.

Politely, they crammed themselves into the very back seat, probably to be as far away from the middle-aged chauffeur/dad/grunt as possible. For posterity, the dancers were Katee Shean, Courtney Galiano, and Kherington Payne. The most exciting thing about it was telling everyone that I went to Kankakee to pick up some dancers. I am sorry to report that the reality of picking up dancers in Kankakee is about as exciting as the reality of getting picked up in Kankakee by a middle-aged man.

Also for posterity, I am now an official movie extra. My roles are as follows:

  1. Awkward Guy Standing Near Bar at a Gay Nightclub. Words cannot describe my lack of fabulousness that causes no one to ever mistake me for a gay man. With legitimately fabulous people dancing and milling about, I wisely hung out near the bar and talked to the guy who played drums in the fake band. My only hope is that I might pass for awkwardly bi-curious. Mostly, I am hoping not to make the cut for this scene.

  2. Single Dad of Two Teenage Daughters at a Pizza Parlor. This was supposed to be the “father of a family of five at a pizza parlor,” but my wife was at a conference that week and my son was at summer camp. The girls had to act bored and/or uncomfortable being in public with their dad. They passed with flying colors.

  3. Face in the Crowd at Ballroom Dance Competition.

I didn’t get the one extra role that I truly desired: the off-screen one-night stand of Sheri, the overbearing dance mom. I’ve never had a one-night stand in real-life, so I thought it might provide some closure to be the fake one-night stand of Melanie LaPatin’s in a movie. Plus, the only thing this character has to do is snore off-screen. But, it turns out they don’t really need an extra for someone snoring off-screen, which is too bad, because I’m sure that’s a role I could have nailed, given how dedicated I am to the practice of sleeping and snoring.

Oh well. In the Leading Ladies universe, I’ve decided that Single Dad at Pizza Parlor went to a gay nightclub one night to become Awkward Guy Standing Near Bar, only to be picked up by Indomitable Dance Mom, resulting in his becoming One-Night Stand Guy Snoring. Maybe his back-story needs to involve dancers from Kankakee too. At any rate, this would provide all the backstory anyone would ever need for why Single Dad at Pizza Parlor is single, and why he might later show up by himself at a regional ballroom dance competition. That is plenty of closure for me.

Pictorial Oddities Roadshow

The Flâneur and the City