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Kathryn Spira

Working as an Extra

I recently heard a new movie was being filmed in Albany and there was a call for extras.

This is the second such call that I’ve heard of being sent out in Albany. The first was for an Angelina Jolie film.

As an aspiring actress, I started out as an extra on “One Life to Live,” a soap opera. This was when I was living in New York City. I was just starting my career and hoping it would take off from there.

I remember going to the newsstand every Wednesday as early as possible to get a copy of Backstage, which had a listing of auditions, predominantly “cattle calls” for extras.

It was very difficult getting a talent agent as an unknown. Basically, when I made a query call, I was asked what my credits were. The Catch-22 was, you couldn’t get an agent without credits, and you couldn’t get credits without an agent.

So I concentrated on off-off Broadway shows whose audition listings were also in Backstage. Hundreds of people showed up for the parts with the same idea I had-to build up credits on the resume.

I remember I put everything I had ever done in high school, my time with the American Repertory Theater Company (called ArtReach) and my modeling jobs in Cleveland so I could fill up a resume sheet. I also added all the community theater I did in Cleveland.

What comes to mind as I write this is working for the Chagrin Valley Little Theater in Chagrin Falls, a suburb of Cleveland. This was where I met my dear friend Jacques. I can’t think of the place without thinking of him. Before he sadly passed away he also was an aspiring actor in New York City. While I worked in restaurants as a waitress, Jacques worked in a high-end shoe store called To Boot.

Jacques was never a fan of working as an extra.  He hoped to move directly to feature work. Subsequently he became a great shoe salesman.

I tried to go the more conventional route of putting a head shot and resume together and send it to all the agents listed in the Ross Reports, another weekly booklet listing all the New York talent agents with their mailing address but never their phone numbers, because they didn’t want to get phone calls during the day from wannabe actors.

I hoped my work as an extra would lead to being picked out by a casting director for a speaking role which would eventually lead to feature roles.

Since extra roles only gave you work for one day at a time, even though they paid $50 to $100 a day and meals, I didn’t always go for the extra roles because I didn’t want to be known as a “professional extra” by a potential agent.

There was always the elusive hope of being plucked out of the extra ranks by a director, but that was unlikely, since there were hundreds of us in each movie production. I had about as much chance as you have to pick me out of the crowd in “Ghostbusters” or The Doors.”


About Kathryn Spira

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland, OH who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County, New York. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site

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