Thursday, January 5, 2012

Soap Me Up: Why I Go Soap

The first in a four-part series about background work on daytime soap operas.

I haven’t done extra work in years. I left that phase of my acting career back in Boston after many, many background jobs spent outdoors in the freezing cold.

The lowpoint had to be working as a Fenway Park fan for A Civil Action. We were told to wear tank tops and shorts for the summer scene, which would have been fine if it hadn’t been the coldest day in November. The 2nd 2nd AD kept screaming at us not to breathe because the camera could see the clouds of frozen air coming out of our mouths. As we fake cheered and shivered in the background, production assistants with giant heaters attempted to melt the remaining snow on the field for the next day’s shooting. I made $54 that day.

Now I only do speaking parts. With one exception.

Daytime soap operas.

Yes, I still do background for soaps. Why?
  1. I love watching soap actors work. Soaps usually only book a few extras per day, and since the sets are small, there’s plenty of opportunity to watch and learn up close. Contracted soap actors memorize dozens of pages a day, hit their marks every time, and can go from laughing and joking to the emotional power zone in a nanosecond.

    I most enjoy watching the veteran actors because even though they’ve been playing the same character for years, they’re still collaborating with the director and their fellow actors, shaping each moment so they can give the best performance. It’s like watching theater actors work. Everyone’s work ethic is impeccable and it reminds me how to be a professional.

  2. It’s fast and easy money. Even if you only work a partial day, you still get paid for a full day – somewhere around $144. A little less if there are lots of extras on set for a party scene or something. And soap actors are so skilled, they almost always nail every scene in one take, so the day flies by. If the call time is early, I can be in and out before lunch.

    Once I was on set for less than five minutes for two scenes before I was wrapped. Brilliant.

  3. It’s wicked fun! I grew up watching soaps in the summertime, Santa Barbara being my favorite. I love the predictability of the plot twists. Working on a show gives me a sneak peek into the latest melodrama, and it’s always hilarious. Of course she has an evil twin! And he has amnesia! But wait, he was just faking it! Delicious stuff.

    As a writer, I admire what these shows have accomplished – forward movement on dozens of characters for decades, constantly reinventing stakes and creating new conflicts. Make fun all you want, but that is no easy task.
Of course, I would rather have speaking roles, but in the meantime, I'm enjoying myself. Since moving to LA, I’ve played a background nurse on Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, and Young and the Restless, with the latter being my most regular gig these days.

Wanna hear all about it? Check back on my blog tomorrow, when I’ll talk about how I got these bookings and how you can too.


  1. when i was on "all my children" in NYC i always thought the extras had a really good gig - b/c it moved so quickly, they were always in/out in just a few hours!

  2. @Ben - I loved Santa Barbara too! I saw A Martinez (Cruz) at a House MD audition once and got a little starstruck. :)

    @Lynn - Thrilled (and slightly jealous) that you got to actually work work with these actors I love so much. Especially Elizabeth Hendrickson, who is devilishly good on Y&R right now.