At twelve I knew I wanted to act. It was what I thought I’d be in adulthood. I guess it was just going to happen naturally because I never had a plan. I failed to position myself for that occupation, relying on the ‘will of the universe’, or ‘fate’, or whatever my idiot mind told itself – so it never happened.
My first foray into Community Theater was in the early 2000’s. I had auditioned for a play in the late 1980’s or early 1990’s, but didn’t get cast, so I probably told myself I wasn’t ready yet.
I spent the better part of today as an extra in a film, driving over two hours to the set, and riding back home after 10 p.m., exhausted, and probably shouldn’t have been driving, but had I stayed at a motel, I would have spent more than I earned, and had I tried to sleep in a parking lot somewhere I would have been too paranoid to sleep.
This was the fifth movie I’ve been a paid prop in, oops, I mean background work, and I finally realized tonight, after almost getting a featured spot that the director, or the universe, or fate, decided to nix, that chasing acting is trauma re-enactment. I’m still trying to convince those in control that I’m worthy of notice. I’m so tired of my psyche trying to reconcile my neglectful past. It’s not going to happen.
The same cast of characters appears each time, albeit in different physical forms. There are non-protecting bystanders, abusers, and victims. (Victim is often a loaded word, so hear it un-weighted.)
Rising early, I rush about readying myself for the day’s work, ensuring I have collected all I need and might want, and set out into the dank, murky pre-dawn. The creeping light flings itself out in eye-searing magnitude just as the crush of rush-hour traffic gathers at the crest of an eastward hill, and I jam on the car’s hazard button, hoping to avoid rear-collision while slamming on the brakes in what appears choreographed timing – as though the traffic were all swimmers breaking the surface one after the other in dizzying succession.
Surviving the first sun-caused hazards, we attempt merging with the big boys and girls zooming along on the super-highway at their break-neck pace: a feat reminiscent of double-dutch jumping without tangling both jumpers in the ropes – only with higher stakes in the highway metaphor.
Once successfully merged, we soon come to several stand-stills, where many of us frustratingly shift from stopped lane to nearly stopped lane, seeing the traffic gods punish us with every lane but ours beginning to move.
An hour later, fleeing the chaos of four-lanes, for the migraine of two lanes, and a GPS with a shitty sense of humor, or probably just sadistic, I double back to the left turn it told me to take as I was passing it in the wrong lane, and I finally rumble into a bumpy lot, park, and kiss the steering wheel for getting me there without bodily harm or auto damage.
A dozen other, sleepy, hopeful stars ascend the shuttle bus stairs and settle in for our ride to the set.
Once there, we queue up to fill out our pay slip forms, find space to don our costumes, and then stand in the next line for hair, and then one for make-up, and finally find our way into the holding area where there is coffee and juice and cereal and muffins, and why are they feeding us all this crap when we’re trying to stay svelte for when we’re discovered the nineteenth time we cross that street when the director calls: ‘action’? So, I opt for coffee and a banana, and wait for our day’s adventure.
Extra work is similar to traumatic childhood in that we’re never told exactly what is happening that day, and what our role is. We have to become ‘instant experts’ once we’re schlepped to location and placed. Then we’re told that we’re excited, or mad, or confused, or disgruntled, or perhaps all of the above, and the day continues with each of us trying to out prop the other.
I swear the women who were behind us who ended up in front of us toward the end of that particular scene were going to end up in the car with the principal actors by the end of the shot.
And here’s the thing: the principal actors are who matter. Background is sound and color, and does serve a core purpose, but you wouldn’t know it by the haphazard treatment that I’ve experienced on every set I’ve worked on.
My goal is for principal actor roles. My reality is that extra work will never meet that goal. I need to change my approach, or nothing will ever change. In life, or on film.
© seekingsearchingmeaning (aka Hermionejh) and Abstractly Distracted’s Blog, 2010 – current