Finding Vanessa, a short story by KiwiDreamer. Date added: 2012-06-02. Times viewed: 701.
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- Intro: The search is on for an actress to take the lead role of Vanessa in a new TV comedy-drama series and she's found at a small London girl 's secondary school where she teaches drama.
On Monday the theatre at London’s Oakgate High School was packed for the opening night of Dean Mitchell’s play ‘Trouble in the Sixth Form’. The call for ‘beginners’ had just been made when a spotlight in the dressing room exploded and three of the female students received cuts to their heads, necks and exposed arms.
There was blood everywhere and screaming and panic and the volunteer stage manager, the wife of a family doctor, called for calm and appraised the injuries and declared, “There’s no eye damage thank god but these cuts require immediate hospital treatment to avoid bad scaring. Put nothing on the wounds but dry sterile gauze pads. Girls you’ll be okay. Has an ambulance been called?”
“Yes Mrs Ross, I can hear the siren now,” someone shouted to the retired hospital head nurse.
The production principals arrived to add to the crowd gathered as the girls were taken to the side entrance of the building.
The producer Sara Cross demanded, “Who’s injured?”
“Carol the lead, a young volunteer dresser and I regret to say Carol’s under-study Shona,” said her assistant.
“Christ, we’ll have to cancel. This is a disaster.”
“Sara will you make the announcement or would you rather I do it?” asked Wendy Riggs, the veteran director who was head of drama at the school.
“No I’ll face the crowd,” said Sara, the school’s deputy-principal. “You say the inquiries are minor?”
“Yes but require immediate hospital treatment to minimise scarring.”
A young blonde pushed forward and said calmly, “Wait, I’ll fill Carol’s role.”
Everyone focussed on baby-face Estelle French, the production’s lively assistant director who taught English and classroom creative drama.
“Let’s listen to what Estelle has to say Sara.”
The young teacher, who’d only been at Oakgate High eleven weeks, said: “Stage drama has been my life and I made my first on-state appearance in a play when I was six. When it was announced this term’s production would be Dean Mitchell’s controversial play, I first researched Dean Mitchell and then thoroughly examined the play out of interest. I’ve read the play thoroughly and critically at least ten times and have committed it to memory. You are also aware I have been Carol Young’s drama coach.”
“Well I never,” Sara said. “Are you confident you could perform credibly?”
“I’m not sure about the hot scenes with Sam the 18-year old lead Mrs Cross because I’m twenty-six and have had no experience kissing 18-year old boys in recent times.”
Everyone around them laughed and Sara managed a forced chuckle.
“But I’ll deliver my lines okay. All that I ask is we start fifteen minutes late to allow me to be dressed and made up and I can speed-read the scrip to refresh my memory while that it being done and then add ten minutes for the two intervals for me to read the script for the next parts.”
“Is that all you require?”
“Almost Mrs Cross. Wendy you’ll need to brief the males, especially Sam Stone and tell him to be on his toes because I’ll not have great timing and will be off hitting my marks for the next action at times. Just tell the cast to keep calm and not rush when they see my timing or indeed my positioning is a little off, that they’ll just have to adjust. In fact bring Sam through to me in this dressing room. I need to give him confidence that I won’t let him down.”
Sara said, “Right let’s do it. The people out there didn’t come here to be told to go home without seeing the show and the cast and everyone else behind the production will be devastated if opening night fails to proceed.”
* * *
“Good evening everyone,” Sara said, coming on stage with a microphone. “I’m Sara Cross, deputy principal at this school and producer of this play scheduled to open a three performance run this evening. We’ve had an unfortunate accident back stage with some injuries that I have been reliably told are surface skin cuts requiring immediate attention at a hospital emergency department. Would the parents of Carol Young, Shona Robbins and Eva Lombard please come to the side door on my right to go backstage to be briefed by my assistant Mr Archibald who has called the hospital to open communication for you. Please don’t be alarmed. Fortunately the hospital is close by and the cuts received by the girls are not doubt receiving the appropriate treatment as I speak.”
“Thank you parents. We extremely regret this incident caused by an exploding spotlight bulb. I can announce although Carol Young is lead in this play and Shona Robbins is her understudy, the show will go on, starting in fifteen minutes. To my astonishment I’ve found that a new drama and English teacher who has been at the school for only eleven weeks has out of interest committed the entire script of this play to memory. In another fortunate coincidence, Miss Estelle French has been Carol Young’s drama coach for this play and says that has sharpened her awareness of the script. Under these very unfortunate circumstances, Estelle had volunteered to step in and take the lead. She’s assured me she will be word-perfect but her timing in hitting her spots may be out on occasions because she has not rehearsed for this part. We ask for your tolerance.”
“Estelle has asked me to tell you that the power of the play will be carried by the strength of the script and our production director, Mrs Wendy Riggs, also believes that is so providing you can overlook minor blemishes resulted from the unrehearsed endeavours of our courageous stand-in lead, Minutes ago Estelle told me she first appeared on-stage in a role at the age of six and has acted in various amateur productions in the twenty years since then including taking the lead female role in two major university productions where she studied drama. She projected to me as a daughter of the stage and that convinced me to allow the show to go on tonight. I’m backing Estelle French and the cast to give you a memorable night of high school theatre.”
“Finally I repeat we all backstage were aghast at the injuries to our girls. They were just minor cuts and no eye injuries thank goodness. So relax for a few minutes while our step-in actress is dressed for her part and before the show ends tonight we expect to have received a report from the hospital and perhaps those girls might be back here before the finale.”
The audience stood and applauded, showing support, as the producer left the stage.
* * *
Sheila Wells, sitting with other sponsors and their partners in the audience, whispered to her husband Harry, “Well that’s 500 quid of your money down the drain.”
“Or a damn good investment in youth talent,” said the managing director of Wishing Wells TV Film Productions Limited. “Even if tonight’s show flops Carol should be back for the show on Wednesday and Saturday. And think of the challenge tonight this experience gives everyone involved… in a theatre production it’s much like a ship about to go down until the entire crew work brilliantly together to save the day in a situation they’d not rehearsed.”
“I think I get what you mean darling.”
“This courageous teacher is the step-in captain: if she goes down the entire ship goes down with her. Oh god then why did the stupid woman open her mouth to risk facing her night of ignominy?”
“You heard what Sara said although it’s many years since I’ve heard the term used. Sara said this teacher coming on regards herself as a daughter of the stage.”
“Meaning she feels married to theatre.”
“Yes or that one of her parents or both of them were already in theatre and so the transition was more or less ordained. Oh very good dear but then I did marry you for your brain.”
“Liar,” giggled Shelia sexily.
* * *
Back stage, Estelle hugged Sam Stone and said, “Let’s kiss on the mouth Sam.”
That went fine. Well they were comfortable with each other because Sam had often watched while Carol had received coaching from Estelle.
“Will you be fine with me and able to regard me as a student?”
“Speak to me Sam,” Estelle said and the hairdresser pleaded with her to keep still.
“Yeah you’re really cool Estelle and I’ll be fine and sympathetic to you in being in this tight spot. Um it’s a pity the sex play is only suggested.”
“Oh god,” Estelle shrieked and everyone around them broke up.
“Okay, that’s enough mirth,” Wendy said. “Estelle this is Arnold a tech. I’ll have him positioned up in the flies where I’ll direct him. Arnold will use a blue laser light that won’t be visible to the audience. Usually it is used by crew to set levels. Explain Arnold.”
“Mrs Riggs and I will be working with a grid of the stage and she’s marked in for me your positions for each scene and at her instructions I’ll illuminate your mark you’ll see on the floor as a small blue light. You may have to adjust slightly to be in synch with other actors who may be out slightly with their marks. Those illuminations will be stationary until you hit them when they’ll disappear to avoid you thinking you have a laser light on your head. When you see the light move from a point A to point B that will be indicating to you the direction and extent of your break.”
“God this will be like acting by numbers but I can see it working,” Estelle said.
“It’s an extra load on you…”
“It’s okay Wendy. I’m confident I can cope and actually laser spotting will take pressure off me.”
“You’ll have your microphone and also an ear-piece linked directly to me and you’ll have your own person to deliver dialogue cues if and when required. This is all we can do.”
“God it makes me feel trussed up like an astronaut going out into space but at least they usually came back fine and hopefully that will be the outcome for me.”
“You’ll be fine Estelle with all your stage experience behind you,” Wendy said.
She hugged Estelle and repeated, “You’ll be fine.”
* * *
The audience of almost 300 people watched as the curtain went up and clapped as they saw four boys, hands in pockets, standing by a drinking fountain.
“Here comes our infamous and picky leader now,” said one of the boys, as Sam came on stage carrying a guitar in a case.
The audience clapped and the play was underway.
The guys set the scene as a bored group ready to do anything to liven up boring school being in the sixth form when their class teacher, Miss Reid, came out with the eight females in the sixth form, all of whom looked studious and bright in comparison with the boys.
“Right boys join this outdoor class and today we discuss the role in society of the Roman Forum. Oh here’s our new girl on transfer, Sharon Gates. Please welcome her everyone.”
The class remained mute as Estelle entered but the audience, many of them standing, clapped loudly.
At the first internal, Sheila Wells stood and said, “Actually that went surprisingly well. One could say the stand-in is really terrific. Aren’t you coming out for lukewarm tea?”
Husband Harry muttered. “Eh?”
Sounding slightly alarmed Sheila said, “Harry are you all right?”
“I’ve found her, I’ve found her Sheila.”
“Oh god Harry, this is not the place to announce you’re into having another affair.”
“No it’s not that, nothing like that,” Harry said, turning to face his wife, eyes shining and smiling happily. “I’ve found the replacement for Pamela Trent who walked out on us and appear immune because we’d not signed the amended contract she’d signed and had returned to us.”
“Oh god, you think that blonde teacher can play the Vanessa Goldsmith, the anchor in, ‘Pimlico’?”
“Time will tell baby, but it looks promising. My team has been interviewing prospects but nothing has emerged. Our problem is we want an unknown with proven ability and in her mid-twenties with outstanding potential and the cupboard appears bare of the moment.”
“And here she is?”
“Could be. Do they serve coffee out there?”
“I think so. Come on, get your bum out of the seat.”
Minutes later there was an announcement that the three injured girls and their parents were on their way home. The girls were still recovering from their ordeal but none had serious injuries and no severe scarring would result.
Backstage everyone had grouped around Estelle and made comments but Wendy appeared to say it all: “My dear girl, you are a magnificent trouper.”
“I feel we are getting there,” Estelle replied. “Thanks everyone. Out there I could feel the huge support I was being given. What a great crew you are.”
The play ended with standing ovations at the three curtain calls.
* * *
At the after-party, a florid-faced well-build man in his mid-fifties said, “Miss French, may I have a minute of your time?”
“Certainly sir. I think I saw you sitting with other sponsors.”
“Yes and would you kindly answer this unusual question truthfully. Do you instinctively like or dislike me. Please don’t quibble.”
Harry waited, eyeing Estelle’s high cheekbones, striking blue eyes against a near flawless and slightly olive skin, an oval face and as she parted her full lips the teeth he glimpsed appeared very white and even. So far so good.
Estelle examined Harry coolly and said, “I sense something burns within you. Yes I instinctively like you but that is not to say I would trust you.”
He laughed and introduced himself as Harry Wells.
“What the Harry Wells of Wish Wells Productions?”
“Yes,” Harry said in surprise.
“Oooh are you interested in me to fill a role if I can get time off?”
“Something like that. Here’s my card. Could you pop in tomorrow to see me any time from 3:30? You’d not need an appointment. I asked if you instinctively liked me because I needed to know if it was worthwhile investing in you… investing time, money and resources, in the belief if you think you like me it’s worth pushing ahead with this.”
“Yes,” said Estelle, looking somewhat drained. “I can manage to call on you tomorrow.”
“I enjoyed the play. You and the cast were very good.”
“Thanks Mr Wells. I must now circulate and tell people Carol’s mother called me to say Carol expects to be okay to take back her role on Wednesday night. Isn’t that excellent news?”
“Good news indeed. Are you up with TV and film gossip?”
“Very much so.”
“What does the name ‘Pimlico’ mean to you?”
“It’s a new series written by Stephanie Brooks about to go into production. Unfortunately Pamela Trent… oh my god, you can’t mean… you can’t be serious.”
“Keep calm Estelle. First we start by talking and give my people the opportunity to look you over and listen to you.”
“But you have the whole of London and beyond…”
“But I believe I’ve found the superior Vanessa. Stephanie and I talked about the role again when Pamela departed to what she thinks is a better offer and Stephanie then made the point that the role is perfect for an unknown to make a big name for herself and I found myself in agreement. Until tomorrow then, say 4:00?”
“That will be fine,” Estelle said looking at Harry and shaking her head slightly as if in wonderment or alternatively thinking he was short of a few marbles.
* * *
Estelle checked on the three slightly injured girls next day at school and all were fine, having had their cuts treated and protected against infection. A plastic surgeon who fortunately was still at the hospital at that time of evening when they arrived used silicone to treat the cuts and explained to them how to massage the flesh around and over the cuts to lessen the chance of scarring.
“I’m ready to go on tomorrow evening,” Carol said. “See I’m so fortunate, the cut to the side of my face can be covered by my altered hair style.”
“Are you confident about going on?”
“Oh yes I really am Miss French and I understand I have a tough act to live up to.”
Estelle hugged her and smiled, “Never fear; you’ll be great.”
Leaving school at the end of her teaching day, Estelle raced home, showered and let her hair down and then dressed in sexy lacy black.
She then had a change of mind and, leaving her hair down, dressed in a cream cowl
neck tunic with elastic insert at the front and back holding a draw-string front tie and she added narrow leg black jeans and black ankle boots plus a long-sleeved black turtleneck under the short-sleeved tunic and was pleased when viewing her ‘middle of the road’ appearance in the dressing mirror.
The PA led Estelle into Harry’s office and he welcomed her warmly and introduced Estelle to the six other people seated, all of whom remained seated and all looked disinterested, almost rudely, at the school teacher Harry had pulled from a school play to star in the biggest project the company had undertaken by far.
Harry pointed Estelle to the empty seat that left her facing the other six people.
The company boss and principal shareholder launched straight into it.
“Estelle last night I indicated to you we might have a part for you in the series we have received funding for eight episodes simply called Pimlico. You immediately knew what I was on about, obviously being in touch with film and theatre gossip because there’s been nothing in the media about the project yet. Have you any idea what part that might be?”
“I believe you wouldn’t have approached me last night about this knowing I had just commenced my career as principally a creative drama teacher unless you were confident I could be lured away if I met expectations. That led me to believe it must be a prominent part, possibly the lead role, but nothing about the script has leaked so I cannot put a name to the leading lady.”
Harry said, “Right there you have it folk. Estelle only has a vague idea what this is about and knows nothing about the series. You have had a brief look at her and I think that was enough to suggest that with Estelle what you see is what you get. She’s not into pussy-footing and the indications are, I believe, she’s capable of holding her own with five ambitious rivals.”
Harry described the titles of others in the room to Estelle and then said, “Stephanie, would you kindly summarise the storyline briefly.”
The author said, “Vanessa Goldsmith applies for one of the six bedrooms in a house in Pimlico, London, and the young financial consultant who’s letting out the house on behalf of his aunt who had the previous tenants evicted, allows Vanessa to choose a room. She takes the largest bedroom on the third level that’s rather grand and has two chandeliers. The nephew Mark Castle declares she must therefore assume the role of ‘house leader’. Vanessa asks did that mean and is told she runs the house in return for a reduction of 15% in her monthly rental. A farming couple’s daughter from Devon, a widowed architect’s daughter from Cheshire, the daughter of an accountant and university lecturer from York, the daughter of a judge from Cardiff whose husband had abandoned her and the daughter of a bus driver who suspect his wife is a prostitute from Buckinghamshire are allocated the other rooms.”
“The house appears to be run as a brothel but that’s not so. The girls keep running into interesting guys who stay half the night and they include bankers, MPs, solicitors, male students, two spies, two troopers of the British Household Cavalry, a cross dresser, a prison escaper doing time for serial rape, a tax inspector, a debt collector and five test cricketers from a Commonwealth country. The struggle of the girls dealing with their male companions and their respective family problems at home and their great nights out in The City are designed to show parents how their hopelessly irresponsible and promiscuous daughters can survive in London providing they have a lynchpin of the calibre of Vanessa Goldsmith running their home even if Vanessa’s own life is a mess.”
“God it sounds wonderful,” Estelle said excitedly although looking somewhat stunned.
“Thank you darling,” Stephanie said. “Oh because of adult content, the BBC proposes to schedule the series to run from 9:00 to 10:00.”
Harry said, “Well that’s in a nutshell Estelle and we need to complete a pilot soon to allow our client to assess the calibre of the how this promising story appears on screen for them to assess its future because a second series would need to be under production even before the first series is screened. We here believe the time is ripe for a comedy-drama of this calibre and if it goes as well, as we believe it will, the public of the UK and beyond will quickly give a favoured programme rating to about this diverse group of women housed in Pimlico with their wacky ways, adventures and heartbreaks. I’ll now leave you with the team Estelle who to make their assessment of you, and yes the part I have in mind for you is that of Vanessa Goldsmith. Would you be prepared to give up your teaching job to be Vanessa?”
“God yes, even for only eight episodes.”
“Well there you are guys, rip into Estelle and dissect her and I believe within a couple of hours you’ll call me back here to thank me for finding Vanessa. But you are the professionals and whatever call you make I’ll accept it. It’s up to you Estelle.”
* * *
The school principal, Mrs Jennifer Fields, re-read the resignations and sighed.
“Young woman if you walk away from this teaching position after only 12 weeks you’ll do irreparable harm to your teaching career because it will stand as a blot on your CV.”
“So be it.”
“Estelle, what kind of answer is that?”
“May I speak to you in absolute confidence?”
“I have successfully film-tested for a major role in something and this all goes back to that night when I stepped into the lead role of ‘Trouble in the Sixth Form.’ I was spotted and as a result I was pushed through the mill and popped out the end still intact and after the film test I was offered a contract and signed.”
“What!” Estelle said showing alarm.
“Keep calm dear. I too have been shared a confidence. My brother Harry Wells attended opening night, I attended the final show. Harry had mentioned to me about his great expectations for Pimlico and later he told me about the frustrations they were having in finding just the right person to take the lead. Well Harry will expect me to do the right thing for him. Yes dear I accept your resignation and you may leave at the end of this week. Best of luck and I promise no one will learn from me why you are leaving. They will suspect pregnancy of course.”
“Oooh me pregnant, and so unexpectedly!”
They laughed and Mrs Field said, “Coffee dear or something stronger? God this is so exciting. I feel it in my bones that Harry’s made a brilliant find with you. You know when I interviewed you I thought this young lady really has no need to use us as a stepping stone in her career because she’d ready to launch and then I lost the plot because you began speaking about secondary school theatre being the initial training ground for future stars of film, stage and TV and that was something I’d never really thought about.”
Wishing Wells TV Film Productions Limited raised the finance to buy a six-bedroom terraced house in Pimlico required to be secured for the filming of this series and to secure its availability if other series were to follow. Meanwhile replicas of three of the rooms were made at the company’s studios in its premises that were two former warehouses less than five miles from the Pimlico house.
The rest of the cast were also unknowns, as Harry had requested. It was assumed that he wished the characters to grow on to the public and become associated only with Pimlico to give his PR and publicity department the opportunity to grow media attention in the six females as the media likes claiming new ‘finds’ and revealing new things about them.
The six featured actresses met for lunch and arrived at the studio viewing room at 3:00 to join Harry and his executives and everyone who’d worked on the pilot for the first viewing of the completed 30-minute long production.
The girls linked arms and were shaking in either excited or trepidation although the director had told them everything was fine.
Both Stephanie and Harry expected Episode I would a particularly strong opener to the series and so concentrated later on in the script for Episode 1 for the content for the thirty-minute pilot based around Stella from Devon being wrongfully arrested for attempting to break into an enter to the house in Pimlico.
The screening began by setting up Stella and her dilemma that became even worst when the police pounced on her.
The male cop called her a liar for saying she’d lived there and had forgotten her key so had tried to unlock the entrance door with her metal nail file to get inside. The red-head from Devon reacted badly at being called a liar and slugged the cop, catching him under the jaw and he stumbled backwards into the arms of his female partner and that female cop called for backup.
At the police station the Inspector had just told the Senior-Sergeant to charge Stella with breaking and entering and assaulting a Police Constable just as Vanessa arrived. Stella had been given a phone to make one call and instead of calling for legal support she’d called Vanessa.
“ ’Ullo, ’ullo, what’s this eh?” mocked Vanessa arriving and attempting to act like a seasoned defence lawyer.
“Vanessa,” yelled Stella, rushing to her and hugging the house leader.
“Who are you?” the Inspector asked curiously.
“I’m Stella Christie’s legal guardian, assigned by her parents in Devon to look after their 21-year old daughter in London and here’s the letter of my appointment Sergeant.”
“God you look awfully young to be an Inspector,” Vanessa exclaimed and the guy looked modest and pleased.
“Well I guess we can sort this out,” Vanessa said authoritatively. “Briefly Stella, what happened?”
“I was last to leave Pimlico Haven and closed the front door and realized I was without my handbag and keys. I attempted to work open the front door lock with my nail file to return inside when I was er apprehended aggressively.”
“Well Inspector, it’s scarcely a crime to enter your own house to retrieve your handbag and house key?”
“She slugged me,” said Constable Saddler, rubbing his jaw.
“Estelle I told him I lived at the house and had accidentally locked my handbags and keys in the house and the [bleep] called me a liar.”
“Er well we were investigating two other reports of attempted break-ins in that locality and I naturally thought I’d caught the offender. I er might have called her something.”
“Inspector, can you imagine what the reaction will be in court when I say on behalf of Stella that being a very moral red-head off a dairy farm in Devon what else could she do but defend her honour by belting the jerk who called her a liar?”
“Um Estelle, have you thought of joining the Crown Prosecution Office,” smiled the Inspector. “Off you go Stella and in future ask for an apology instead of lashing out.”
“Outside the Police Station, the relieved Stella hugged and kissed Estelle and said Estelle had acted brilliantly.
The female constable who’d seen Stella hit her colleague, emerged from the station smiled at them and said, “Are you soliciting in public in front of a Police Station Stella?”
Stella lunged, the laughing policewoman danced out of the way and Vanessa kept a firm hold on Stella and squawked, “Oh god Stella, cool it.”
Scenes incorporating five other mini-dramas followed that initial opening and when the lights came on almost everyone stood and clapped and faces were beaming.
Harry squeezed Stephanie’s hand and she whispered, “Careful darling, be discreet.”
Harry pulled his hand away nervously and said loudly, “Well we’re underway with a job well done everyone. You and I deliver this pilot to our client for a screening at noon tomorrow Stephanie.”
“Okay everyone, to the cafeteria for booze and finger food,” he yelled. “This is more than a big moment for us all. I feel it marks the start of a major triumph. I repeat again everyone you’ve all done a damn fine job. Vanessa, I mean Estelle, may I chat to you briefly please?”
Estelle walked up to where Harry and Stephanie were standing in the premium seating area.
Harry and Stephanie kissed Estelle and congratulated her.
“You have brought my work alive,” Stephanie smiled. “Thanks darling.”
“Yeah good professional work from you all,” Harry said. “You know, you were asked to lead your group of six and we’ve seen that happen. Those give girls gather round you as if you were mother hen.”
“Gee thanks boss.”
They laughed and Harry said, “The client wants you to accompany Stephanie and me to the screening of the pilot tomorrow. The BBC tribe want to meet you. Is that okay?”
“Yes I’ll be available. Do I dress up or down or go for the middle?”
“Wow them,” Harry said. “Dress sleekly. A formal lunch will follow the screening. And I expect you’ll be interviewed for an excerpt on the Evening News about the upcoming new drama series to be followed with more words from you and some clips from the pilot on the entertainment news show later in the week.”
“You suspect or you know?”
Harry put up his hands defensively and said, “Okay, okay. You will be interviewed in front of us while we eat.”
“Thank you for being so informative and so open with me Harry.”
He sighed and said he’d forgotten she had a brain.
“Kick him Stephanie,” Estelle laughed.
When they reached the cafeteria Harry said softly, “Walk in ahead of us Estelle. Knowing my team they’ll want to give you a big moment.”
Estelle walked in and the shouted acclaim and clapping were deafening acknowledgement that at least that crew and fellow actors believed a new TV star was in her ascent.
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