The Time I Accidentally Worked Naked For Free
Updated: Sep 20, 2021
Ella Steinbeck is a stand-up comic, writer, and accidental exhibitionist for famous people.
After doing stand up for about 2 years I got a call from a friend. He had given my name to a manager who was scouting for “the principal female role in an upcoming movie”. They had scoured both coasts and still hadn’t found the girl they needed. If you are coming to Ella Steinbeck after scouring both coasts then you are really scraping bottom of the barrel. I WAS ECSTATIC! I felt important.
I was in Las Vegas visiting friends when I got the call. They sent me the entire script, not just the usual 2 or 3 pages of sides. I had to audition with the first 13 pages. OMG! That’s a lot of pages. I rehearsed for 5 days in my hotel room. Met with an acting coach for an hour and then shot my video. It was good. Not great. But it was a sincere effort and I still look at it and think “not bad”.
Even though I didn’t get the part, the manager liked it enough to want to continue working with me. After a couple of months she asked me to come in and meet her in the flesh. I went to her office. It was the cutest little carriage house in NYC. While I was there I met her cats, her son and 2 other much younger and much more talented individuals who were also meeting our “manager” for the first time. She went on and on to them about how awesome I was and as I glanced at the resumes of the 2 young people there I kept thinking “boy, I am out of my league”. These two had training and credits and were the real thing. Who was she trying to convince that I had any reason being there? Herself or them?
After our meeting the manager would call me periodically to go on auditions. Once she called me to go on an audition for a touring musical. It was Rent or Cats or Hairspray or Le Miserable or Phantom of the Opera. I can’t remember. I don’t sing or dance. I tell jokes. I am average at doing that. She said, “just do the best you can”. I wanted to say “what are you talking about? Are you out of your mind” but instead I told her “I don’t sing or dance. A boyfriend once paid for me to take singing lessons just so I could sing along to the radio. It’s really not a ‘do my best’ kind of situation”. I swear to you that I did take singing lessons for radio sing-along purposes. I am seriously tone deaf. I try to play it off as being cute but I can guarantee that anyone who has heard me wail to Tool’s “Prison Sex” would not call my vocal training a “success”.
A few months later she calls me for a Virgin America commercial looking for "whacky talents". I asked her if she was sure I should go there and do my stand-up for the audition. Her reply “hmmm….can you spin plates or something?” NO. I CAN’T! I am not a ceramic juggler or a spinner. I can’t make fun balloon animals or swallow razor blades. I must be such a disappointment to this woman. Sometimes I send her roles I would like to be submitted to. Ones that seem more suited to what I can actually offer and play to my strengths but I never hear back.
I almost forgot, I did get one gig from her. I didn’t end up getting paid (not exactly what I agreed to) and I had to be totally naked (not what I agreed to). Well, to be fair, not TOTALLY. It was for Fashion Week in NYC. NYFW. The designer, Tara Subkoff of Imitation Of Christ, asked if we were OK being partially nude. I’m fine with that. Nude, fully nude, whatever; I don’t care as long as the role pays. It was supposed to PAY. I FINALLY booked a job! We were told it was TFC, trade for clothes, COOL! I get clothes instead of money?!?! I like clothes. After all, that's what I would spend MONEY on! I went the next day for the fashion show’s fitting. I was given a pair of flesh colored Payless Shoe Store heels for the day of the show. I am told that I will be wearing a dress made of glass and that my body will be distorted by the placement of the glass and videos being projected over my body. The day of the show I get there early and a man asks me to come into the bathroom and try on my outfit. By “outfit” he meant “hernia garment”. I was not familiar with hernia garments and I don’t remember them ever being mentioned in the description or at the fitting. They are a crotchless piece of elastic fabric that cradles the butt cheeks with a strap on each side and has a thick wide band that goes across the stomach. Nervously I put it on. He then places, with fishing line, what looks like a light bulb in front of my most private of parts. I am wearing a glass globe on my crotch and am totally nude otherwise. Ok. I can do this. I am getting free designer clothes. He checks with Tara, the designer, she doesn’t like the glass. “No glass”. One girl did get to wear an actual dress made of glass. She looked beautiful, like some kind of fairy princess. The rest of us, 8 other girls, wore a hernia garment. NO glass. The video projection did not camouflage us in any way whatsoever. Everyone with a camera and iphone was snapping pictures. If you look online they are still there sitting in people’s fashion blogs. A couple of pics even made it to the Vogue Italia website. Chloe Sevigny, the director from The King’s Speech, and an actor from 30 Rock all saw us the way God made us. Hey, maybe they will remember me for that part they need to cast in the movie they are making and just can’t find the “right girl”.
You never know. I could be discovered. You hear about these things happening. This could be my BIG break. I will let you in on a little secret: It wasn’t. We never got free clothes or compensation of any kind. I emailed and called my manager and the designer. I was told that the shoes were my TFC. Great. Free Payless shoes. The message is clear…unless I learn to sing and dance and do acrobats the sum of my career in show biz will be full hernia supports and a closet full of free BOGO Payless shoes. Maybe if I really hit it out of the park someone someday will finally let me have some light bulbs for my crotch.
I know I made the story sound funny and humorous but it was actually horrible. The photo of the "outfit" and me is in the bottom photo. I was in so much pain after this one day. I was on the couch for 9 days with heating pads and pain meds. I took off the shoes during the show. They were pure torture to wear. I was hidden in the back and ended up resting as much as I could . We were allowed to take breaks by squatting in place on the floor. I took as many as I could. I hadn't signed up for this many hours and could only give so much. I had no idea what I had signed up for. We were on location for what was supposed to be a few hours and ended up being a full day -morning til evening. It was impossible to get an answer as to how long we would be there. We were not provided robes or covers, which meant we had to stand around naked during rehearsal and after make-up was applied. At one point I had to ask a group of people, who were not even supposed to be in the room, to leave. They were early for the event and not one person in charge told them to leave. They were just standing there talking about us and our bodies and taking iphone pics as if we weren't human. I was livid! The other girls were upset and didn't know what to do so I did it for us. Telling those people to stop taking pics and to leave was the right thing to do. "The show hasn't started yet. You need to leave."
I am in the row closest to the wall. I wish I could credit the sources for these two pics but I have no idea who took them. If you do know who took them please tell me!
me (below) right after telling a bunch of strangers to go away and right before Chloe Sevigny and Scott Adsit and Tom Hooper saw us.....