Singer, Songwriter slash Mom
Inside Life Unexpected – My Adventure in TV Land
20th Sep 2010 Posted in: Blog, Momhood, Road Diaries Comments Off on Inside Life Unexpected – My Adventure in TV Land
Inside Life Unexpected - My Adventure in TV Land

So, my husband and I were looking for something special to do for our anniversary.

“Hey, guess what! Los Lobos is playing in Vancouver that weekend!” My husband is pretty much a fanatic, and I’m close. Also, we knew that Life Unexpected is shot there. Maybe we could go by the set. I email LUX creator Liz Tigelaar to tell her we are coming to town and see if there is any chance we can come say hi.  She says definitely yes.

Oh, fun!

Then a couple of days later I learn about an unbelievable coincidence. It turns out they are planning to shoot a music festival sequence right around that weekend but aren’t sure exactly which days, and do I already have my flight booked? Would I be willing to adjust my travel plans so I can appear on the show?

Let’s see…hmm. Uh, yes! I think I might be able to do that. Holy mackerel!

Well, Billy and I went up there and I did it, and so here is the tale of My Adventure in TV Land. I confess that in the days before we went up, I was quite nervous.  But I can tell you that the Life Unexpected cast and crew is just as friendly and sweet and gracious as you would expect.

I’m not allowed to reveal secrets of the episode or show the set in detail, so you’ll just have to tune in to the CW Network on October 12 and watch for yourself!  But I can show my vacation pictures, right?

*         *          *

Can I just say that Air Canada airplanes are very cool, with the maple leaf? And how strange it is to go to a foreign country that seems so much like home, except very clean and far more polite than the U.S. at the moment?

Anyway, at Customs, the agent wants to know what kind of work I am doing in Canada and why they didn’t hire a Canadian musician for the television show. “I’m playing myself,” I say, knowing how weird that sounds.

We are welcomed to Vancouver that night by skilled oyster shuckers who also introduce us to Salmon Candy. Mmm.  The next morning we get up and take the waterbus over to Granville Island to the Public Market.

Oh, man. This is the kind of thing that makes me want to live in a city. I go to buy some raspberries, and don’t realize I have asked for a two pound basket of them, so she rings it up and it’s $17.00 worth of raspberries.  More cash, please!

Yikes. But look at them! We eat them like popcorn, for two days.

On the docks, they’re having a wooden boat show, so Bill, who grew up racing sailboats, is as happy as a clam.

Kicking off the music portion of the weekend, on the sidewalk an enthusiastic Mighty Wind contingent sings sea shanties.

Jeez, what a beautiful city.

That afternoon is my wardrobe fitting with Shanna and Katia. A car picks me up at the hotel. I am feeling very fancy about that until it occurs to me that of course the shows have drivers or there would be lost, late actors all over Vancouver all the time.

I get there early and the folks in the production office make me right at home with their awesome espresso machine. This is where they have the read throughs – If you’re a LUX fan, you’ve probably seen pictures of this room on Liz Tigelaar’s Facebook page.

Then Assistant Costumer Shanna bustles in with bags of clothes she’s bought for me to try on, and the fitting begins.

See? Clothes for me!

I had been asked to bring three outfits (which meant I had no choice but to go shopping), but they want me to wear the stuff they’ve bought, which…let’s say this. There’s a reason someone gets hired to dress the cast of a TV show; they know what looks good on people. I’d say there were around a dozen different combinations, and almost all of them fit and looked like something I’d actually wear. That made me feel much better because honestly – being told you’re going to play yourself on TV is kind of an intimidating prospect. But Shanna and Costume Director Katia are lovely and fun and make the whole thing a whole lot less intimidating. And I’ve learned a few tips that will help me next time I shop for clothes. (Remember: I was raised amongst the hippies. I did not learn this girlie stuff growing up. My daughters know far more about fashion than I do.)

We narrow it down to about six outfits (three of which are Shanna’s and my favorites).  Jeans are marked, pictures taken. What happens next is that Katia reviews the pictures and sends her top choices to the production crew, who make the final decision. Then that night those clothes are hemmed or taken in or whatever, and the process continues with more cast members before Shanna heads back to her homes away from home – Anthropologie/Free People/Etc. – and returns the clothes they’re not using. Meanwhile, I’m back in the car and heading to downtown Vancouver. By the way, from the ride in, it looks kind of like downtown Austin from South Congress, except for, you know, the mountains and the cold air.

The next day we have no official obligations, so: Zipline!  I did it!

This is not the zipline. I couldn’t get our Quicktime movie to freeze frame. But here’s a picture of the butt of one of the grizzlies that live in a pen up on Grouse Mountain. See it, among the white rocks? Awesome. Sad they are penned, but amazing to get that close.

And we drive up to Whistler, blasting Tin Can Trust.

And hey – here’s another photograph in the endless series of me exiting state park restrooms, which after all these years still amuses my husband every time he takes another one.

Finally: Japadog for dinner!

Okay. Thank you for your patience. It’s TV Time.

*     *     *

Monday morning I have a 9:00 am call. (I know the lingo, see?)  There are going to be photographers on the set today documenting the big LUX/One Tree Hill crossover episode. So I get up extra early to get gussied up.

Bill and I go down to the hotel’s drive-through to wait for our car. The attendant asks, “Are you Miss Perry? Your car is over there.” I notice a couple of people look over to see if they recognize me. They do not. But they should! Yeah, that’s right: the folksinger is waiting for her car, people.

We learn a lot about the film business in Vancouver from the drivers. It’s a multi-billion dollar a year industry up there. These guys take a lot of pride in their shows and in taking care of the cast and crew. And from what I can glean Life Unexpected, and in particular Liz, are universally beloved. Liz is like a supernova of devoted, cuddly love, and the whole vibe of the set radiates outward from her, as best I can tell.

We pull up to the next hotel, the Sutton (aka The Slutton), which is where all the actors stay. Cynthia Stevenson and Arielle Kiebel climb in the van. They both look radiant, despite having wet hair and not an ounce of makeup on their faces. (Note to self: you do not need to do your own hair and makeup when your first stop at the set is going to be hair and makeup.)

Cynthia and Arielle are chatting away, Bill is sitting in the front seat with the driver talking about the film business in Vancouver. And I am trying to remain calm but am, frankly, pretty nervous. I’m not a “big” performer – I don’t stride the stage or pump my fist in the air or anything like that. Will me being myself be enough? Or will they want me to do something grander, as this is TV? Which outfit did they pick? Will I look okay? Ack.

Cynthia and Arielle are very friendly, and Cynthia tells me about the trick of trying to think of the camera as a friend. “So, you know, when it’s sticking right in my face, I try to tell myself, ‘oh, look, there it is again, my old friend.'” She and Arielle crack up at how preposterous that is.

And then we’re there! At the “circus,” as the collection of production trailers is called.

Yikes – here we go! We are greeted and taken to my trailer.

And…this is the outfit they picked, plus a super-warm down parka, just in case. Yay! It’s one of the ones I liked a lot.

A fireplace! (It’s behind the chair.)

Billy and I are new to this, so we are not hip to the fact that when the catering truck is there, that’s the time to grab the food. We hear they are still serving but do nothing. And then we wait.

Often, the circus and the set are right next to each other, but in this case, the “music festival” is a mile or so down the road. So everything’s a little divided.

There is a polite rap on the door, and I am called to makeup. I already have makeup on, because I want to look my best.

In the makeup trailer, Cynthia is glancing at the paper, sipping coffee and chatting with the stylist as he puts her hair in curlers. I start with makeup. The stylists – in fact the whole crew – are Canadian. I’m beginning to see why the film industry is vital to the local economy. It employs people in so many fields.

Then Arielle comes bubbling in and she and the stylists are looking at photographs from the previous shoot. Wow. They have to match the look exactly from day to day. Impressive.

And then it’s my turn for hair too. We discuss. What do I want? What do they want – that’s the question. We pick a half-up/half-down style, which he does and then sprays the hell out of it so it stays put all day.

And I am sent back to my trailer to get in my wardrobe. Getting psyched!

And then…we wait.

And wait. That is how it is on a set. Some of my friends told me it would be like that, and they were right.

Waiting, by the way, is not my husband’s strong suit. So he is trying to fill the time with reading me stuff about the cast and crew on IMDB. I am not able to absorb this information. So he lets me be and decides to get some work done.  So then it’s beginning to drive me just a little bit crazy that he is making business calls from the trailer while I’m trying to remain Zen. So I ask him if he’ll make the calls outside. And then I’m worrying that he is driving other people crazy with his phone calls while they’re trying to relax in their trailers. So I ask him to move further away.

I am aware that part of the problem is that we should have taken my friend Kim Maxwell’s sage advice from her extensive on-set experience and grabbed a breakfast burrito from the food truck while it was right there outside the trailer. Bill comes in the trailer with like five raspberries he’s picked in the bushes outside, which makes us both laugh. Then he has the foresight to ask someone if there’s any reason we can’t go down to the set. Yes, sure! Let us call the van!

Oh, duh. Why exactly have we been sitting up here starving? Because we are neophytes, that’s why. But we are learning quickly.

We get in the van and drive to a beautiful park, and there we get our first sight of the set. It looks soooo cool!!! Look at all the extras! It really looks like a music festival!

We are led to the Craft Services trailer, where we try not be too starving orphan-esque with the  fresh fruit and bagels and sandwiches and goldfish and red vines and chai and juicyfruit gum. I am shown the little tent where the cast hangs out between takes, and Kris Polaha, who plays Baze on the show, is there and introduces himself. He is really tall and, if I may say, extremely handsome. Everyone on TV is attractive, so you get used to it while watching, but when you meet actors in real life you are struck by just how really really ridiculously good looking they actually are.  We chat about my hometown of Ojai, where Kris and his wife have spent some time. Totally normal conversation. Okay.

I hear the sound of music, and learn that it’s Ben Lee onstage. Whoo! It’s weird – there’s a beeping countdown, then the song starts and the crowd cheers and then the song stops and the crowd gets quiet, but I look over and they are still all waving and dancing and looking like they’re making noise, but totally silent. And then the music comes back and they cheer again. This happens about a dozen times, and then I hear over the loudspeakers that it’s time to set up for the next scene, which I learn is me!  Deep breath.

Ben comes off the stage and sits in the tent to make a phone call and then quietly read a book. I introduce myself and he is charming and down to earth.

And then someone says “Come meet Liz!” So I walk around to the front of the stage, and Liz Tigelaar is standing with some of the cast taking pictures. She gives me a big hug, and so do Britt and Ksenia and they are so cute, and Liz says, “everyone pose together!”

Here we are. Kris Polaha and his five shorter woman!

Jerry Levine, the director, comes over and starts working on blocking with the actors. Basically what they’re filming today is a conversation that goes on in the back of the festival while I’m onstage.  Now I understand what they were doing with the music. They start the song and get the singer and the extras all moving along, and then they cut the music so they can record the actors talking. Later, music will be added quietly in the background behind the dialogue.

So my job is going to be to mime singing while looking really awesome from about 150 yards away. Okay.


I’m led to the stage and introduced to “my band.” I was told there would be actors cast as the band, so for weeks I’ve been curious what they will be like. I am delighted to learn that the production has cast real musicians as the house band for all the performers (except Sarah McLachlan, who they want with her real band), and impressed to see that they have been learning the actual songs. This definitely adds to the authenticity of the whole thing.

It occurs to me that there is talking in my song – a bunch of laughing and talking during the musical break – so how will we deal with that? We decide that I will turn to the band and we will pretend it’s us laughing and talking onstage. I’m also aware that I’m actually going to be on screen for about ten seconds, so none of this may matter at all. But I have no idea which ten seconds they’ll use, so I have to make it good the whole time.

I also meet Kerr Smith, who is also insanely handsome and extremely friendly in person. He tells me my song has been stuck in his brain for days and I’m beginning to worry that it’s driving everyone crazy. But that’s good, right? It’s catchy!

It’s time to run through – and here we go. I’m hoping my husband finds a place to watch. I’m also hoping that whatever I choose to do will be okay and they don’t tell me I’m not good at playing myself.

We do the whole song a bunch of times, and then it’s our turn to mime singing with no music. We do that about a dozen times.  I am feeling very very sympathetic to the extras, who have been standing in the sun looking super-excited, laughing, tossing beach balls and clapping with their hands above their heads for about six hours now, with six more to go. I imagine they are thinking, “Who is this chick?” But my husband, he tells me later, is beaming with pride that this whole experience for us began with a song I wrote.

Then, after watching for about half an hour, Billy has started wandering around the lake and snapping some beautiful pictures.

And then…I’m done! And it’s four pm, which in TV Land is lunch time. I find Billy and we go up to the catering tents and have the most awesome catered lunch. We are not really free to go home, though, because they might need me again. But they have moved on to the One Tree Hill stars, who I’m hoping to watch, but it’s time to go to…Los Lobos at the Pacific National Exhibition!!!  And John Hiatt too!!!  This is so totally awesome.

By the way, Canadian audiences are very polite, not crushing up to the stage like we do. At first the band looks a little stiff because of that, and at one point, David Hidalgo says, “You folks are really quiet!” But right after that, Cesar introduces a new song and some guy yells out, “We love new shit!” which cracks the band up and the night is a party from then on. We strike up a conversation with some diehard music fans standing behind us. They have been to Austin and like all the same music we do. What a great night.

Cesar Rosas rocks the house! “This one goes out to the ladies…”

There is a storm rolling in, but it’s a Canadian storm, so it politely waits until just after John Hiatt’s last encore to break lose. We rush to the exit and get a cab. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the Superdogs, but we did grab some piroges on the way out…

The next morning, sigh, Billy has to go home. It’s still raining. I chill out at the hotel room until it’s time for my call, which today is a very humane eleven am.

I am wiser today and do no makeup or hair. It would be stupid anyway, because it’s only going to get wet.  Miraculously, the hair and makeup artists are able to exactly match the way I looked the day before.  And I grab tea and breakfast right away. I’m now a pro.

Today they have Ugg boots in my trailer and a rain parka and giant umbrella. Again: feeling very princess-like until it occurs to me that a muddy costume could cause an hour-long production delay. But still – I’m nice and snuggly warm. I even light my fake fireplace.

It’s time to go down to the set, and whoa. The set is soaked.

All the extras are huddled in a tent, just in case the weather breaks. There’s plastic all over everything. How are they going to match this with yesterday? Today’s plan was to shoot the musicians like a real concert, with camera on a crane swooping over the crowd. But they can’t do that now.

Still, everyone is in a great mood and I realize that this is what they do in Vancouver all the time. They can make it match later in post-production. Wow.

An artsy picture from inside the Craft Services trailer…


On stage, while the cameras are getting set up for my segment, a

n impromptu jam session forms. Kris Polaha is playing the keyboard and Jerry Levine is on the guitar. I step in for some doo-wop backup vocals.

And here are some very wet and yet freakily enthusiastic die-hard Canadian crew members! They’re tougher in Canada, eh!

Here I am with my very very chilly band:

So I do my thing again – this time in closeup – and I hope I did a good job. And then: I’m done! And my husband is back home…so what to do?

Well! The thing to do is to change back into my own clothes, and then to hang out with Shanna and Katia and Arielle! That is the thing to do. And wait until evening so we can watch Sarah McLachlan. So that will be the plan.  Katia and me:

The van comes to take us all down to the set again, and Sarah and her band are in it, and they are…just like everyone else on this show…exceptionally friendly and fun and lovely, chatting about the snack foods available in Canada in the seventies.

So we stake our spot in front of the stage, and the rain lets up, and we stand there in the drizzly darkness as the cameras roll and Sarah McLachlan’s ethereal voice echoes out across the lawn and the lake and I just feel like…wow. Thank you. Thanks, Liz, thanks Wendy the music supervisor who picked my song, thanks Les and Cindy for giving my song to Wendy. Thanks everyone on the set for being so welcoming and making a fairly intimidating experience utterly fun.

And then…back to the hotel to totally and completely crash, knowing that the crew is getting up in just a few hours to do it all again the next day.

As for me…I spend the morning emailing, and then go for a long walk in Stanley Park, as the Vancouverites soak up the last few days of sun before fall arrives. I treat myself to a very civilized lunch:

And then it’s home with my souvenir for my daughters: some real, badass, grade D maple syrup, which is about as thick as motor oil. Yes.

*          *          *


And now, I’ll be watching this great little show on Tuesday night just like everyone else! Except that I’ll be crossing my fingers that I don’t look weird.

9 pm – 8 central – on the CW network – check your local listings and be there or be square!