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Reality

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Apr. 10th, 2012 | 06:34 pm

I said no the first six times.

The seventh year, the seventh season, after an hour-long phone call with William the freelance producer, I think, well, it’s in my mom’s city, and there’s money in it, and this project we’re working on, the one that can’t get booked because nobody’s ever heard of it? It could use some exposure. And I say, “Yes.”

And, with William, I start mapping out the act.

“What the producers really like is the fire trick,” he says. “But bigger. Can you add some aerialists?”

William thinks it’s important it be big. America’s Got Lawsuits (If You Reveal The Outcome Before The Episode Airs) is focusing on group acts this year. I know one fire-dancer, two jugglers, six acrobats and a pole dance team that have done this show. I know fifty more entertainers who will never do this show, who have said no seven times.

I know we’re not going to win.

I know the contract says “Producers of America’s Got Lawsuits reserve the right to determine the winner by any means they choose.” I’ve heard about the holding rooms, about showing up at 7AM in full hair and makeup and waiting in a convention center ballroom full of chairs for twelve hours, for three days, and then being told, “Everyone else, sorry, you won’t be doing your acts in this round, you’ll be flying home tomorrow.”

William has gone through the act with me. We have storyboarded every four seconds and provided a recommended shot list to the director. Everyone in the act has been issued a plane ticket, a room at the Hyatt, and a list of instructions from Aubrey, our perky brunette Production Assistant.

“Remember guys!” chirps Aubrey, “Never look directly into the camera! It ruins the shot!”

I have met the rigger and the pyrotechnician; we have run the full act once and the fire section three times, for the stage manger, the director, and the fire marshal.

And here we are.

The glossy black stage gleams.

The new judge on the left, a shock jock brought in to expand the demographic, wears his sunglasses all the time. The lady in the middle, married to someone famous, smiles supportively. The man on the right twirls the straw in his water bottle. (“Fist bumps only!” said Aubrey, “No handshakes, no hugs!”) He will not drink from anything not handed to him wrapped in a towel, his assistant hovers out of frame with a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Up to this point, we have been guessing what role we will be cast in, how the editors will choose to show us to America. The pre-interview questions—

“Could you say that again, but touch on your street performer background?”

“Could you phrase it something like, ‘This is our big chance?’”

“Just say, ‘We’re here to win’, and make it really big, OK?”

“Can we do that again? One of you glanced at the camera.”

Our guess on the edit is Small Time Big Dreams or Scruffy But Driven.

Before we start the act, the sunglassed judge tells us he thinks street performing is sad and pathetic. We talk about theatricality, about performing for people regardless of their ability to pay, about shows for war orphans in Kosovo. I don’t know if any of that will fit our eventual edit. The lady judge smiles supportively. The straw twirler twirls, and we hold briefly for a new water bottle and a squirt of sanitizer. He’s given a new straw and unwraps it himself, the assistant taking the end of the paper wrapper without touching him.

With a burst of nothing—the sound cue is late—our act begins. The sound kicks in. The singer sings. The aerialists spin in a whirl of colored fabric. The fire-eaters await their cue. And at second number thirty-nine of the act that William has scripted with my complicity, my brain begins evaluating.

What’s that sound? Has something gone wrong?

Fast check. Aerialist Number One, still in the air, her split is beautiful. Aerialist Number Two, his split amazing. Aerialist Number Three is in a flaming aerial hoop. Is she on fire? No. Good.

What’s that sound?

And as I step into position to pass a flame from my tongue to my partner’s tongue and down the line of eight people (second number fifty-nine, midstage close shot) I realize,

That’s booing.

“Hup!” to cue the group and I set my tongue on fire, pass the flame to the right.

Have we ever been…booed before? By a sober person? With a home to go to?

Have we ever been booed by an entire audience?

No, I don’t think we have.

Not in the early years of dirt shows at two-bit medieval faires. Not at new festivals in new countries, navigating foreign social cues. Even the teenage Gypsy boys wanted attention more than to tear us down, and when I learned to say Tumen boot! I love you! in Roma, it stopped them like a switch. Not in the slums of Mumbai, stepping around eddies of trash to crack the whip. Not in Mexico, the freshly-ironed children shyly pressing single pesos and cookies into our hands.

At the eighty-seven second mark (exactly on time, exactly as William and I scripted, wide shot then cut to judges), I am already disconnected, awaiting the verdict I already know. I smile and thank the judges for their feedback. Maybe if we aren’t funny or angry, they will leave us on the cutting room floor. Even when the shock jock judge turns to the crowd, exhorting them first to cheer him and then boo us again, louder, I think only,

Those jeering young men ages 18-25 are certainly his demographic.

Even if I could win a verbal fencing match the edit would make me a Loser. A Bad Loser or a Bitter Loser or an Arrogant Loser Who Had It Coming.

The first exit interview, immediately offstage with a rapper-turned-TV-host, is called the “kiss-n-cry” by most producers. We neither kiss nor cry. I grin directly into the camera and say, “Hey, we’re already professional entertainers and this was just another gig!” and high-five the host.

Edit that like a Loser, motherfuckers.

We bail on the second exit interview, telling Aubrey we’re sorry, but we’re finished. And Aubrey, who is a local, listens shocked when we tell her about the booing and escorts us past five security checkpoints and out of the building. I hope that this lack of footage will help us be no-one, not even a two-second clip in a montage. That the mother called to the stage to be reprimanded for her six-year-old twins’ salacious choreography or the water-skiing squirrel or the girl whose father cuts her hair while blindfolded will be far more fascinating. There is nothing compelling about polite, upbeat professionals.

Later, my mother reclaims her cellphone from the audience security point and tells me that the audience was coached, their cue to boo was the crewman with the white sign in front of stage right. We learn that the audience was seeded with plants, paid to be there, knowing who wins, the locals who lined up for tickets instructed, “If someone next to you jumps up or makes an X, you do it, too!” Knowing that the contest and the voting and the judging is rigged, I don’t know why it surprises me so much that the audience is rigged, too.

America sure does have talent, but that’s not what this show is about. Talent’s not in the 90-second bites boiled into montage clips, not going with the breakdancers “Goin’ to Vegas!”, not listening to the singer stopped at two bad opening notes (this is round three—we were recruited, but that singer waited in line and has twice been told “You’re good enough!”). Talent is back in the driveway where the breakers popped and locked on flattened cardboard boxes. Talent is lip-syncing in its bedroom. Talent is hanging with the adult beginner aerialists back in the gym in Memphis, working out on borrowed equipment, their bodies aging out on borrowed time. Talent is singing with its friends in the car with the stereo up and the windows down.

And that’s the shield that keeps me gracious on mic while the 18-to-25-year-olds jump up and down, howling for our third X. Back at the hotel, showering out hairspray and removing the last of the glitter from my eyes, I wonder just how dumb this mistake will turn out to be, how many Americans this summer will see me and see a Loser. But as I hang up costumes and plan the route to the next gig, and the next gig, and the one after that, I thank the universe that I am up there taking scorn, instead of watching and dishing it out. Even standing up to boos and jeers and the caustic acid of three judges in the twilight of their celebrity—their downward trajectory still a place higher than I will likely ever reach—even that is better than waiting for opportunity to knock, for lightning to strike. Waiting for a life to begin. Waiting for a dream—any dream—to arrive.



If whipchick had taped a popular American reality show last week, she would probably be contractually obligated not to reveal the results. If she wrote about it, she'd change all the names.
 

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Comments {119}

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Deb Au Nare

editing

from: Deb Au Nare
date: Jun. 6th, 2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
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I can thoroughly appreciate this story as someone who also stood in front of judges and performed to rehearsed booing. Yet, I was able to perform my full act without "interruption" until the tv edit came back. A 2 second clip thrown together with overdubbed "x"ing.

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whipchick

Re: editing

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
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If you get a chance, there's an Australian TV clip of Bike Boy challenging the Australian version of the show, and the newscaster points out that in his clip, the audience is enjoying his act and then the booing sound appears briefly over a non-booing audience!

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There is no such thing as "reality television"

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 6th, 2012 07:21 pm (UTC)
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I'm sorry for your experience. First impressions are important.

I did an online 'reality tv' show, and when they had to stop to re-shoot something, because there was the sound of a truck in the background (guess they don't have trucks in reality) I knew that "reality tv" is just a title.

You guys sound like amazing performers who do incredible work where people need it. Keep being wonderful!

Rick

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whipchick

Re: There is no such thing as "reality television"

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
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Thank you :) I feel like I learned a lot, and it was a fascinating experience. I love my job and winning or losing a TV show isn't going to stop me doing it!

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Brian Romberg

Thanks for sharing

from: Brian Romberg
date: Jun. 6th, 2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
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Sorry that they put you through all of this. Glad you got to speak your mind even if they later edited it out. The audience cannot all be plants so there are people out there that will remember you and what you said. ;o)

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whipchick

Re: Thanks for sharing

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:26 pm (UTC)
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Thanks :) And in the end, it really is just another gig :)

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(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 6th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
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Whipchick,
I SO thank you for this brilliant fictional storytelling!! You are an artist, and art is neither good nor bad, just different than other forms. DON'T EVER let anyone put down your art. Especially with what graceful performers you are. Your performance sounds stunning!!
Kelsey

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! We went directly to the next gig, and we're still on tour, so it's not really more than a hiccup, thank goodness :)

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Jim Mackenzie

Shine

from: Jim Mackenzie
date: Jun. 6th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for shining a light on the roaches. They talked me into auditioning for the second season, but I was very leery of the whole situation and put as much effort into making it difficult for them to use footage of me as the actual audition. I wanted no part of providing them footage to use without me. I still watch the show and saw your performance. I'm glad to have this backstory because what was aired made no sense to me. Well written and well acted.

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whipchick

Re: Shine

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:27 pm (UTC)
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Good for you for being wary! Thanks for reading and I'm glad this gave you some context.

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skivee

TV lies

from: skivee
date: Jun. 7th, 2012 05:29 am (UTC)
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Years ago my entymologist sister got a fair amount of ink and TV facetime during one of the 17 year cicada outbursts. Local press interviewed her, then state level, then national news orgs were all talking to her about cicadas. I inquired of her after a while why she was getting interviewed? She is an experienced and highly qualified bug scientist, but I didn't think that her main interests was cicadas.
It's not. She just said she got labeled in the press as an expert and soon she was Doctor Cicada.
A bit later she got a call from The Sally Jessy Raphael show. A Big Glitzy trip To CHICAGO!!!!!Their production folks repeatedly lied to her about the theme of the show...purported to be "Women in Unusual Professions"
One of the production people innocent asked her at the end of the telephone pre-interview"...so...you eat bugs, right?"
Like most etymologists she has eaten bugs more than a few times, but it's not like she sprinkles her salad with grilled crickets. It turns out that they wanted to get her there with some other saps and goad them into doing things like eating bugs on national TV.
When she said "No!" the PA said with compleat non-belief that anyone would turn down the chance,"But you'll be on NATIONAL TV!!!...as if she was offering sis a new kidney.
She replied, "I've been on national TV several times. No."

Edited at 2012-06-07 05:32 am (UTC)

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whipchick

Re: TV lies

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
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I know - like clients who want us to work for free because it's "good exposure" :)

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You are a talented writer

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 8th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for the wonderful story about the BS that is AGT. I have watched so many friends go up there and throw themselves to the wolves and be judged by these idiots. I have been asked to appear on this thing over 50 times. The idea of someone judging my life's work in 90 seconds is so insane. I wonder how a masked Howard stern would do on that show?

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whipchick

Re: You are a talented writer

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
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Well, he certainly knows what he's selling and presents it well :) Thanks for reading!

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Jordan Horsefeathers

Wow

from: Jordan Horsefeathers
date: Jun. 11th, 2012 09:19 pm (UTC)
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I watched the episode online and I was shocked at the booing and "loser" portrayal of your act. The fire eating is impressive... I don't care who you are. It was hands down the most impressive part of the video promo I made for you. I don't understand why they attempted to spin it so negatively.. even from a producer standpoint?

I am not surprised about the audience reactions being scripted, but I'm more shocked that they plant people to trick the rest of the local crowd believing it's real people's reactions. Well anyway, it just reinforced my choice to not have television in my home... it's all garbage. Keep moving on, and do your thing :)

-Jordan

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whipchick

Re: Wow

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:29 pm (UTC)
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That was an odd choice - especially since it's what we were specifically recruited for! I did wonder if they put it in specifically to gross out the germaphobic judge. Still loving the video you made!

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Miss Cleo

(no subject)

from: MissCleoBB14
date: Jun. 11th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
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Whoa whoa whoa...you expect me to believe that the audience was seeded with plants? That's just preposterous! I mean, come on, how do you know? It's not like these plants had mics so that the home audience could hear their "spontaneous" impromptu commentary during the acts! That would be the most absurd, manipulative thing ever.

Uh, wait a sec...

Oops. Never mind. It looks like I'm completely wrong, and it was indeed the most absurd, manipulative thing ever.

Wonderful post. Far more entertaining and satisfying than most of what I've seen on this season of "America's Got Sob Stories".

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
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Thank you - I'm actually pleased to have had the experience to be able to write about it!

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are you available for interviews

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 11th, 2012 10:45 pm (UTC)
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how can I contact you?

Reply | Thread

whipchick

Re: are you available for interviews

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 12th, 2012 06:11 am (UTC)
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I can be reached at allison at angelsintheair dot com. Thanks for your interest!

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mabjustmab

(no subject)

from: mabjustmab
date: Jun. 12th, 2012 03:54 pm (UTC)
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love it! can I link to this from our fb group? https://www.facebook.com/pages/Artists-Against-Americas-Got-Talent/56659819097

we love story time there!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:30 pm (UTC)
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Thanks, Mab :)

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Casey O'Rourke

(no subject)

from: Casey O'Rourke
date: Jun. 12th, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
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great piece. thanks!

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whipchick

(no subject)

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed!

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respect talent

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 02:02 am (UTC)
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This is awesome. Not what happened, but the writing. That is talent. Thank you for this, and to anyone who has taken the time to hone their craft, nurture their dreams, and had the guts to put it out there. I applaud you.

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whipchick

Re: respect talent

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
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Thank you. That means a lot to me, and I'm grateful for your feedback!

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Oh, that "reality"

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 13th, 2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
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Great, great bit of writing on what will - historically - be considered a very bizarre period in the history of the "other" entertainment. I've been reporting on novelty & variety exhibition for decades now (c/o my SHOCKED AND AMAZED! journal), and virtually nothing infuriates me more than AGT... but then I have folks in the biz who say it's "helped" them. Of course, they don't counterbalance the 50X more folks who've been trashed by it (with even scarier developments/revelations than yours, scary as they are), but they do give one pause.

Sadly, what I lust for for the biz is the return of true variety to TV and not the variety that has become TV itself, where the viewer simply flips from station to station, changing "the show" every 20seconds, trying to find an even more amazing/interesting thing than they watched for the last 20seconds. The word I got in my own failed attempts at reality (a program showcasing novelty & variety acts, not sandbagging them and "pitting" them against each other) were that no network would buy such a show. And so it goes.

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whipchick

Re: Oh, that "reality"

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 26th, 2012 06:38 pm (UTC)
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True - what would be artistically satisfying is so often not "good TV" :) I wonder in some ways, too, if we're trying to fix the wrong medium - if in fact the kind of quality acts and personal connection we seek is not well-express-able on TV?

Reply | Parent | Thread

Awful article

from: anonymous
date: Jun. 26th, 2012 05:54 pm (UTC)
Link

You sound like every bitter want-to-be "artist" who can't understand why they aren't successful. You were given a tremendous opportunity, and it you blew it by performing poorly. Because you did not succeed, you ungraciously place the blame on the show and its producers rather than accepting responsibility.

As for the producers egging you on to actually produce quality television, what do you expect? By choosing to audition on the show, you are in-turn agreeing to provide them with content. Don't begrudge them for wanting to tape interviews with you and making a spectacle of the judging, because without that, you wouldn't be there in the first place.

And if storming off the stage and doing whatever you can to attempt to ruin their footage is "professional", I'd love to see what's unprofessional.

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whipchick

Re: Awful article

from: whipchick
date: Jun. 26th, 2012 06:51 pm (UTC)
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You might check through some of the other comments from artists who have experienced the same situation :)

I wouldn't call appearing on a reality show "successful" or "unsuccessful". It's a gig - you do the best you can, and accept that you have very little control over the situation. I already make a full-time living as a performer, traveling around the world, owning my own home, and not having major financial worries. I employ 8 people as full-time artists and another 30 on a part-time/occasional basis. I love what I do and enough people like it that I get to do it full time; I especially love getting to share it with young people through our outreach program. For me, that's success. Your definition may vary.

If your definition of success is "Wins reality show", then by that means, I've also already succeeded - my partner and I took home $250K from the CBC (Canada) show Dragon's Den; another company member was a coach on MTV Made; we've been the subject of an independent documentary; and we've used our Dragon's Den win to create a large-scale touring show - the same show, ironically, that was recruited to appear on an American reality show. For me, what's odd is the juxtaposition between the thesis of discovering unknown, amateur talent and the practice of recruiting working professionals as contestants.

I absolutely understand that when one signs up for a reality show, one is at the mercy of the producers - that's what making good TV is all about! And to this day, our Canadian fans often remember that we were on Dragon's Den, without remembering that we won. The part that sticks in everyone's head is footage of me crying and being yelled at :) So for me, the victory of appearing on an American reality show was that I kept my composure - that we walked calmly off stage, smiled into the camera, and conversed pleasantly and positively with the host (admittedly, not all depicted in the essay above). Perhaps you'd prefer angry, photogenic tears?

Thanks for weighing in - it would be a boring world if we all agreed :)

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