Plot Twist: I'm Pursuing Acting and I'm an Extra

I never ever planned to admit this to anyone (especially the online community), but I promised I'd be honest, so here it is! 

I'm pursuing acting. Yes, it's crazy, but let me explain.

If you asked me what my BIGGEST and most wildest dream is in the whole entire universe, I would say it's to become an actress.

I ruled it out long ago because...

a) It's crazy  

b) My situation

I was living in New Brunswick and I had no real training. I had never even done theatre (besides one very sad high school production, and a drama class in university). 

You only have ONE life. I could waste my time wishing, wondering, and imagining what it would be like and pursue something else, or I could give it my best shot, so that's what I'm doing. 

I've been wanting to act since I was three years old (I clearly remember being three and wanting to be on Barney) but that's a whole other blog post that you'll hear about some other time. 

The same day I quit my serving job on King West (see previous blog for details on that), I had an appointment with a background agency. 

Background agencies help you to get work in the background of movies, TV shows, and commercials. In other words, you're an extra. 

One day, I was browsing the media section of Kijiji when I stumbled on a bunch of ads from talent and background agencies looking to recruit. The ad said "no experience required, become an extra today!" I was like ouuuu yes, this could be fun. I decided to submit my information to a few of them, and soon after, I was asked to come in to get my picture taken. 

The first agency I went to was in a tall building on Bloor Street West. I took the subway from Spidina Station, all the way to Islington Station, and during the entire length of the subway ride, I was very nervous. I wore a blue, knee-length skirt from Forever 21, a white crop top, and wore my hair down and natural. I listened to Make Me Proud by Drake and Nicky Minaj for some extra confidence. I did not know what to expect.  

When I arrived to the office, I filled out another application and then met with a man who I'll call Tom (not his real name). He took my picture against the white wall in his office and explained to me that every week he would submit my photo to casting directors for background. If the casting directors wanted to cast me, Tom will call to ask if I'm available to work.  

He then proceeded to tell me that I would need to pay $100 up front to join the agency's roster. This was a bit alarming because I had been told that agencies should not charge you ANY money up front. However, I thoroughly went through ACTRA's website (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), and read that it's normal for background agencies to charge an upfront fee.   

I also remember the agent telling me I'd be the next Jessica Biel (LOL). I paid the fee, smiled, and took off. 

FOUR days later on a Thursday, I got a call. 

Tom asked me if I was available on Friday to work on a very popular show about lawyers (I'm not sure what I can and can't say, so we we'll leave it at this!) 

"Uh, absolutely!" I said. 

"Great, we'll send you your call time later today," said Tom. 

A call time is the time you must show up to set. It usually comes in an email and includes other information like what you should wear and how you should have your hair and makeup. You never know how long you'll be there for. 

After I hung up, I was beyond happy. I told all of my closest friends and family members that I would be an extra. 

I told my dad (who is one of my biggest supporters) and he put it on his Facebook status. He told people I GOT A PART on the show. I asked him to take it down because a) I did not get a part on on the show (I'm only an extra) and b) I could get in trouble by the production company. 

Background actors are seen as bottom of the barrel (we are basically just human objects to make the scene look fuller or alive).

Our tasks are usually pretty simple:

"Walk straight and take a left." 

"Stand here and pretend talk to your neighbour." 

"Walk to here, wait 10 beats, and sit down on this bench." 

Sometimes a scene will go by super fast and you'll only have to do your action a few times, but sometimes you'll find yourself repeating the same action 15 times in a row and be on set for hours. 

Another thing about background: you wait around a lot. Like A LOT. Once, my call time was at 9 a.m., and we didn't get on set until almost 3 p.m. But honestly, I don't mind waiting; it gives me time to read or write. 

My favourite thing about doing background is being in the scene and watching the actors perform (when I can!) I also love the free food. Yes, when you're on set they feed you. Sometimes you'll get a delicious meal like salmon, fresh salads, sweet potato, veggie burgers, and chicken. Sometimes you'll get a sandwich. It all depends on how long you've been on that particular set, and the budget! 

As long as you're a good listener and take direction well, background acting is pretty easy. I enjoy it a lot, and I'm extremely grateful every time I get to do it. 

Since my first background job in early June, I've worked seven other times for different shows and movies. The work is unpredictable, you usually only get a call the day before, sometimes only hours before. The pay rate is $12.50 an hour but you usually work long hours. 

Doing background is a great introduction into the acting world. I'm currently taking acting/improv classes once a week, and my plan is to get a principal agent (an agent that represents actors going for speaking roles) in the next few months. 

Since background acting is so unpredictable, I'm working as a server at a NEW restaurant (and it's going well!), and I continue to do work with Nora Swimwear and Country Liberty. 

I'm still struggling, but I'm having fun doing it. 

Thanks for reading, 

-Alex

P.S, if anyone has ANY advice on this, I would love to hear from you!