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      Call Board: a theatrik blog

      The Pros and Cons of Working as an Extra

      Some actors look at it as a gig for when they’re in between jobs. Other actors frown upon it and feel it’s not worth their time. And some actors who are new to the industry don’t even realize it’s an option. I’m talking about background, or being an extra.

      Background work certainly isn’t glamorous and probably not what a lot of actors have in mind when they decide to pursue this profession, but it is a job (and can pay pretty well, too). As with any job, there are pros and cons:

      Money (particularly if you are SAG)
      If you’re non-union, then no, you won’t be making a ton (but it’s still a paycheck). If you are union, however, you will receive a higher rate. Additionally, you get pay bumps for a variety of things (i.e. if actors are smoking in the scene you are an extra in, you get a smoke bump; if the scene requires you be sprayed with water, you get a wet bump; if you have a car the production uses in the scene - even if it’s just parked - you get paid extra for your car; the list goes on). For SAG members, background work can count towards your insurance when the acting jobs are lacking.

      Possible Upgrades
      It is possible to earn your SAG card by doing background. When you do background you receive a voucher - union members get union vouchers and non-union members get non-union vouchers. However, occasionally a non-union extra might be upgraded to work on a union voucher. This happens in a variety of ways, such as they are featured prominently in a commercial or they are hired because of a special skill. You need three union vouchers to become SAG-eligible. However, not all cities operate on the voucher system, which can make it harder to earn your SAG card this way.

      On-Set Experience
      For actors just getting started in their professional careers, working as an extra can provide invaluable experience. You learn what it’s like to be in front of the camera, common set terms and rules (i.e. “back to one” - resetting back to your first position of the shot - and “MPV” - Meal Penalty Violation), and the various jobs of others (i.e. 1st AD vs. 2nd AD vs. 2nd 2nd).

      Availability…or lack thereof
      If you commit to a background gig you become unavailable for other work that day, as well as auditions. So if your agent sends you a last-minute audition for the following day, but you’ve already booked work as an extra, you are going to lose out somewhere. With self-tapes becoming more and more common hopefully conflicts like these become less frequent. It’s never a good idea to cancel a background job once you’ve already booked it, as this will hurt your reputation with your background service (a service that provides job postings and arranges the details for extras). However, you also don’t want to cancel an audition. It can be a tricky path to navigate as an actor.

      Getting Stuck
      Background work can be a pretty decent gig, especially when acting jobs are few and far between. The more background you do, the more connections you make and the more work you can book. As more paychecks come in it can be tempting to rely on the guaranteed income rather than pursue auditions, causing you to get stuck in a rut of working as an extra rather than pursuing your acting dreams.

      It is not glamorous
      While there are definitely pros to working as an extra, it can at times feel, well, somewhat soul-sucking. Large calls can be particularly dreadful. Extras holding - the space where background waits until needed for the scene - can be anything from folding chairs set up under a tent outside to a large warehouse. It’s often uncomfortable (those who do background on a regular basis often invest in their own chair they bring to set in order to be more comfortable). It’s easy to feel like you are just a number, one in a crowd being herded from one spot to another. There is a lot of downtime - many bring a book or some other activity they can do to pass the time. It can be a long, slow day with little activity and not much artistic reward.

      Despite the cons, I think it’s a good idea for actors to work as an extra at least once, if for no other reason than to have the experience of being on set. I have worked as an extra myself, as well as a stand-in, and learned far more about tv and film sets than I ever learned in my college theatre courses (we didn’t have a film program at my school). For those interested in getting into background work, I recommend seeking out a background service that is responsible for booking extras (a simple internet search should return some results). It will be far easier to find these resources in larger cities such as LA, Atlanta and Chicago than it will be in towns without a tv/film industry presence. If you do live in an area where working as an extra is an option, go on and give it a try! You’ll gain experience and make a little money along the way.





      The Art of the Slate, Part 2

      Personality Questions horror banner

      This post is a follow up to the previous entry about slates titled The Art of the Slate. In that post I discuss the basics of giving a clean, professional slate while still allowing your personality to shine. But what about those slates that ask for answers to specific personality questions? They’re the dreaded “tell us a little about yourself” type of questions that require actors to think on their feet while being funny/charming/approachable/charismatic/professional all in one. These types of questions range from such topics as favorite color to “If you had to choose between being a giraffe or an octopus, which would it be?” Um, what? Or the questions could be a bit more vague, with instructions to “give your name and tell us three things about yourself.”

      "...there are two types of personality questions:

      the kind you can prep

      and the kind you can't."

      So how does one prepare for these types of questions? First, let’s talk about their purpose. The reason these are sometimes included in an actor’s slate instructions are simply for those watching your audition to get a sense of who you are. They are trying to determine if you are someone they want to work with and would be compatible with the others booked on the job. Second, there are two types of personality questions: the kind you can prep and the kind you can’t. Obviously if you are submitting via self-tape you can rehearse your answers to all the questions, which has its pros and cons. Pros: you can ease your nerves about having to think on your feet and deliver a polished yet funny/charming/charismatic answer. Cons: your answer becomes too polished and you lose that sense of personality in your delivery. It’s a bit of a Catch-22. If you are in fact asked to answer personality questions in your self-tape, try not to allow yourself too many takes. You want your answers to feel genuine and not overly rehearsed.

      If you are auditioning in person, the thought of answering personality questions can be a bit daunting, so let’s first focus on the answers you can prepare in advance:

      • Have your “favorites” locked down. These include things such as your favorite color, food, movie/book, etc. You probably won’t get asked these often, which is why if you do it’s easy to get thrown off. If you have answers already prepared for these you’ll find it’s easier to talk about why they’re your favorites, which in turn will allow your personality to come through.
      • Have a short joke prepared. In fact, have two. Every once in a blue moon you might be asked if you know any jokes. This isn’t meant to throw an actor off - it likely means the director likes you and just wants to get a feel for your sense of humor when it’s not scripted on the page. Having a joke or two in your back pocket will keep you calm in this situation and allow you to actually have fun rather than freak out.
      • Identify some fun or interesting facts you can share about yourself. Perhaps you have a unique talent, such as you can hold a handstand for nine full minutes, or you’ve been taking clogging lessons for fifteen years. Maybe all the females in your family are twins, or you’re the first in your family to graduate college. When given the dreaded prompt, “Tell us a little about yourself,” many actors resort to basic info such as “I’m from Milwaukee and I have two dogs.” While that’s fine, it doesn’t really say a lot about the person. If you can highlight some of the unique things that make you you, your audition will be far more memorable.
      • Make note of anything particularly funny or interesting that occurs during the week. Funny observations can often be useful in an audition setting, and are another tool to have in your back pocket.

      For those questions in which the answers are impossible to prepare, such as, “If you were an ice cream flavor, which would you be and why,” it can be easy to get caught up in your head thinking of the “right” answer. The thing is, there is no right answer, which in a way is really freeing. Oftentimes these types of questions are asked simply to catch different facial expressions, particularly if the scene is MOS (without sound). Have fun with these! You honestly can't give an incorrect answer. Directors really do just want to see your personality shine through.

      Preparation, along with knowing why you are being asked these questions in the first place, can help take the awkwardness out of your slate and make for a far more successful audition.

      And the Nominees Are...

      As everyone is probably aware by now, the Oscar nominations were announced on Monday. As usual, there were snubs (Regina King, Delroy Lindo) and history-makers (Chloé Zhao, Riz Ahmed, Steven Yeun). And while people will be celebrating a bit differently this year, the Oscars still promise a pretty fun time; the looks, the guesses as to who might take home a trophy - it’s a ceremony that typically has people talking even after all the awards have been distributed. The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony will air April 25th on ABC. Will you be watching?

      "The Father"
      "Judas and the Black Messiah"
      "Promising Young Woman"
      "Sound of Metal"
      "The Trial of the Chicago 7″
      Maria Bakalova, "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"
      Glenn Close, "Hillbilly Elegy"
      Olivia Colman, "The Father"
      Amanda Seyfried, "Mank"
      Youn Yuh-jung, "Minari"
      Sacha Baron Cohen, "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
      Daniel Kaluuya, "Judas and the Black Messiah"
      Leslie Odom Jr., "One Night in Miami"
      Paul Raci, "Sound of Metal"
      Lakeith Stanfield, "Judas and the Black Messiah"
      "Another Round" - Denmark
      "Better Days" - Hong Kong
      "Collective" - Romania
      "The Man Who Sold His Skin" - Tunisia
      Quo vadis, Aida? - Bosnia and Herzegovina
      "A Concerto Is a Conversation"
      "Do Not Split"
      "Hunger Ward"
      "A Love Song For Latasha"
      "Crip Camp"
      "The Mole Agent"
      "My Octopus Teacher"
      "Fight For You" from "Judas and the Black Messiah"
      "Hear My Voice" from "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
      "Husavik" from "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga"
      "lo Sì (Seen)" from "The Life Ahead (La Vita Davanti a Sé)"
      "Speak Now" from "One Night in Miami..."
      "Over the Moon"
      "A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon"
      "Borat Subsequent Moviefilm"
      "The Father"
      "One Night in Miami"
      "The White Tiger"
      "Judas and the Black Messiah"
      "Promising Young Woman"
      "Sound of Metal"
      "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
      Riz Ahmed, "Sound of Metal"
      Chadwick Boseman, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
      Anthony Hopkins, "The Father"
      Gary Oldman, "Mank"
      Steven Yeun, "Minari"
      Viola Davis, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
      Andra Day, "The United States vs. Billie Holiday"
      Vanessa Kirby, "Pieces of a Woman"
      Frances McDormand, "Nomadland"
      Carey Mulligan, "Promising Young Woman"
      Thomas Vinterberg, "Another Round"
      David Fincher, "Mank"
      Lee Isaac Chung, "Minari"
      Chloe Zhao, "Nomadland"
      Emerald Fennell, "Promising Young Woman"
      "The Father"
      "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
      "News of the World"
      Sean Bobbitt, "Judas and the Black Messiah"
      Erik Messerschmidt, "Mank"
      Dariusz Wolski, "News of the World"
      Joshua James Richards, "Nomadland"
      Phedon Papamichael , "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
      "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
      "News of the World"
      "Sound of Metal"
      "Genius Loci"
      "If Anything Happens I Love You"
      "Feeling Through"
      "The Letter Room"
      "The Present"
      "Two Distant Strangers"
      "White Eye"
      "Da 5 Bloods"
      "News of the World"
      "Love and Monsters"
      "The Midnight Sky"
      "The One and Only Ivan"
      "The Father"
      "Promising Young Woman"
      "Sound of Metal"
      "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
      "Hillbilly Elegy"
      "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"

      3 Tricks to Ease Audition Anxiety

       Casting sign

      Scenario: You just received a notice from your agent for an audition. The sides are four pages for a new Netflix show and the audition is in two days. Normally, four pages wouldn’t be such a big deal. You’d spend the next 48 hours trying to get off book, break down the beats of the scene, and then forget about the audition an hour after you left the casting office.

      But this is different. Because the show was created by her, your idol, your “OMG if I ever get to work for her then I’ve definitely made it” idol. And the role is perfect for you. It’s like she created the part with you in mind, despite having never met you before. So you begin to freak out. You start to hype this audition up like it can make or break your career.

      Walking into an audition room is always going to be a bit nerve-racking, no matter how experienced you are. Being as prepared as possible - familiarizing yourself with the script, doing your scene work, developing strong character choices - will naturally ease some anxiety. But there are tricks you can play on your brain to help calm your nerves during those few minutes of an audition. That’s really all it is - just a few minutes out of your day. You only need a few minutes of confidence out of the entire day and then you don’t have to think about it anymore.

      These might not work for everyone, but here are three specific tricks I used repeatedly as an actor when I had an audition:

      1. Pretend the role has already been cast with another actor.
      There is a common phrase actors hear often from casting directors: “We’re rooting for you. We want you to be good!” It’s meant to ease an actor’s nerves, to let them know the casting director is on their side, but too often it ends up having the opposite effect. Hearing a casting director say “we want you to be good” puts unnecessary pressure on you, the actor, as though you don’t already have enough to worry about. However, if you pretend the role has already been cast, what do you have to lose? I don’t mean you should tell yourself, “Oh, they’re probably going to go with so-and-so,” I mean actually tell yourself, “They’ve already cast so-and-so in this part.” Telling your brain there is no way you can get the part in turn tells your brain there is no way you can fail.

      2. Make yourself unavailable for the project.
      I don’t mean actually make yourself unavailable - what would be the point in that? You just want to trick your brain into thinking you are unavailable for the project. Case in point: I was planning to visit my family who lived out of state, but I hadn’t yet picked which dates I would travel. An audition came up for a lead in a play that I really wanted. It was a cool script and I’d get to work with fun people, plus it was the lead, you know? So I chose to book my trip for the opening week. I was telling my brain this audition didn’t matter because I wasn’t available for the project anyway. I didn’t list the trip as a conflict (obviously) knowing I could reschedule my plans should I land the role. However, telling my brain I wasn’t available freed me from placing too much emphasis on this one audition. It also allowed me to walk into the audition room with an aren’t-you-sad-you-can’t-work-with-me attitude - not in a cocky way, but with an air of confidence. I booked the role.

      3. Act as though you’ve already been cast in the role.
      Instead of following the first trick I list where you pretend the role has been cast with another actor, you can try the opposite. Regardless of whether it’s an initial audition or a callback, telling your brain you’ve already been cast is yet another way to take the pressure off. When approaching an audition I often hear actors say, “I don’t want to mess this up.” How can you mess up if you’ve already booked it? Believing you’ve already landed the role can provide a much-needed boost of confidence.

      Most audition rooms are closed for the time being due to the pandemic, forcing casting sessions to be held online. These same tricks still apply, only now you get to use them from the comfort of your own home. And when it comes to self-tapes you can REALLY have some fun. Think about it: you get to try the audition as many ways as you want. Mess up a line? Just re-record. Want to try something that seems like it could be a little risky? Try it! Watch the playback and see how the take reads. Self-tapes, though they can be annoying and even frustrating at times, are incredibly freeing and an excellent learning tool.

      While nothing can substitute for preparedness, using brain tricks that take the pressure off can help you get through what seem to be “make it or break it” auditions, no matter how nervous or anxious you are. Maybe you already use other psychological techniques to calm anxiety during auditions. I’d love to hear about them! Email us at or reach out via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter @shoptheatrik.  --Kate McCoy






      How Are You Holding Up While the World Is Burning Down?

      When life as we knew it spiraled into oblivion last year I began searching for ways to keep my mind preoccupied. Though running Theatrik is a full-time job, I stumbled upon a little side hustle that admittedly I am not proud of…that of a doom scroller (it’s only part-time, though I’ve been putting in a lot of overtime these last couple of weeks). I’m not sure why I’ve chosen this second occupation. It certainly doesn’t pay well, the hours are terrible - sometimes I’m scrolling long after I should be asleep at night, or as soon as I wake up - and frankly, my boss (uh, me) just doesn’t know when to back off.

      But I can’t bring myself to quit.

      The world is burning down. At least, that’s how it feels sometimes. And apparently my thumbs have a pressing desire to scroll through my phone and learn just how high the flames have risen. Our phones provide what seems to be the only outlet for connection, especially during this time when we’re all cooped up in our homes or workplaces without much human interaction, and nearly all activities and events are held virtually. I’ve lost count, but I’ve already checked my phone at least four times in the writing of these last two paragraphs. And the thing about the doom scrolling is that NO GOOD CAN COME OF IT. It can lead to so much anxiety and depression, yet it is so hard to stop. One day while talking to my therapist (side note: therapists are amazing and EVERYONE should have one) I mentioned my doom-scrolling gig. It went a little something like this:

      Me: I keep reading all the horrific news and it’s making me feel super anxious.

      Therapist: What do you usually do when you start to feel that way?

      Me: Well, I usually try to distract myself by scrolling through my phone.

      So you see my dilemma.

      I know I’m not the only doom scroller out here. Horrific news is in no short supply and there is a constant demand for other scrollers like myself, which begs the question: How are you holding up? Are you making a conscious effort to put away your phone? Are you treating yourself to small luxuries now and then? Are you doing some sort of physical activity each day?

      Are you still making art?

      As artists we have an innate need to create. Creating helps us work through our emotions and provides a better understanding of the world around us. But with theaters shuttered indefinitely and many productions shut down (though many tv and film shoots are back in action full force - in the middle of this pandemic - and that is a topic for a whole other day), finding that necessary outlet is challenging, to say the least. So my next question is this: Are you creating? I’m not talking about the “work” kind of creating, where you set unrealistic goals for yourself and force yourself to write a play or produce a podcast or pen a novel while in quarantine. I’m talking about the carefree, “play” type of creating, where you scribble down random musings, doodle in a notebook or make up songs while you cook dinner. The type of creating that’s just for you, that keeps your mind active and allows you to have fun. It’s the kind of mental health check-in we don’t typically recognize as self-care, because perhaps it seems frivolous or unimportant. However, playing is vital to our well-being.

      Listen, I’m all for coping in whatever ways it takes to get through this. Want to eat ice cream all day? Grab a spoon! Feel like staying in your pajamas for three days straight? Who cares? Plan on spending an entire Monday watching all eight episodes of Bridgerton? That sounds like a pretty great afternoon and evening to me. But I also know how important it is to maintain some semblance of a “normal” routine, whether it’s keeping up with your workouts, reading consistently to keep your mind active, or completing household tasks that perhaps you’ve been putting off. And as artists, creating is also part of your routine, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant that creative activity might be.

      The news is terrifying, there’s no debating that. And I fear what might transpire in the days ahead. But it’s important that we don’t completely lose ourselves. So this is just little ol’ me, checking in on all of you, and looking forward to the time when we can once again attend plays, and run into each other outside of a casting office, and go out for a drink after a show. Stay safe, wear your mask, wash your hands…and play.