The assignment was to read the script of a commercial for a mock Comcast advertisement. The Gishes gave the group five minutes to practice. Kade went to a corner and began reading passionately. He showed me how he marked the lines of the script with symbols to remind him to inflect each one differently.
Several people went before him, including the massive Italian guy and the large black guy and the female doctor, all of whom, I’m sorry to say, were quite bad. I’d never before fully realized how brutally the camera can reduce a person, and by the time it was Kade’s turn, I couldn’t help but wonder why any sane person would willingly subject himself to such an ordeal.
Kade appeared nervous. After handing me his camera to record him so that he could later post his performance on his blog, he stood at the front of the room and announced his name. Susan Gish called “Action!”:
Does this look like your phone bill? Ouch. With Comcast digital voice, you can get more phone service, for less! For as low as $39.95 a month, you get all this: unlimited nationwide calling, voicemail, and 12 great calling features — included! …
When he was done, he sat back down beside me. Immediately, he asked me what I thought. I told him he was great. I lied.
Here’s what I wrote in my notes: Wicked strong Philadelphia accent. Camera diminishes him. Not believable. Doesn’t feel conversational. Odd rhythm. And finally: Not a distinct enough personality. The Gishes, apparently, agreed; Susan Gish named one of the 14-year-olds the winner.
Kade was undeterred. In a blog post about the workshop, he wrote that he “nailed the read.” Claro, he wrote, “called me the next day and told me ‘They said you have a model look and tremendous talent; you’re born for the spotlight’… When I see that type of genuine reaction from professionals, I know I am born to do this.” (I called the Gishes to ask them their thoughts on Kade’s potential; they declined to comment.)
After the workshop that night, the aspiring actors made their way down the steps. It was one of the last cold nights of spring, with a bright white moon in the sky. Wearing the backpack for which he’d traded in his briefcase, Kade stood on the sidewalk. “People say I’m delusional,” he told me, “but I have to believe in myself. I’m living on a couch, and I’m happier today than I’ve ever been in my whole life.”
He plugged his iPod into his ears — was it the beat of “Eye of the Tiger” ringing out? — and began the long walk back to whatever couch he was sleeping on.
At that moment, it was possible to see Arthur Kade for everything he is — an unmitigated douchebag, to be sure, the poster boy for all that reeks about contemporary society and culture (the former businessman turned aspiring celebutard, forging a burr-hole through the cacophony that is the Internet), but a character at the same time entirely familiar, one wholly American, a modern-day Tom Joad setting out, sanguine to a fault, westward. And even if “The Journey” should end badly — even if it should end three years from now with little more to show for it than a few fleeting moments of background work recorded on celluloid — as far as Arthur Kade’s concerned, that will be enough.
As I drove across the city, I imagined him and the others — the middle-aged doctor, the massive Italian, the bald black man, the overzealous teenage girls — making their way home in the moonlight, all of them hoping, dreaming, for something other.