you’ve submitted for background work on a soap opera and received a call to work. Now what?
Here’s the typical process I’ve experienced:
One final note that may perhaps be controversial, but it must be said. In my opinion, working background on a soap opera isn’t an acting job. When I do one of these jobs, I’m under no delusions that I’m there to act – I’m there to be breathing, moving furniture. Unlike films & TV shows, the focus of every scene is ALWAYS the main actors. There are no reaction close ups of the bystanders, no wide shots where they capture the crowd. I’m hired to walk around in the background. That’s it.Step 1: I get a call from the background casting director asking if I’m available for work on a particular day – sometimes the following week, sometimes the very next day. I check my schedule carefully – if there’s any chance of a conflict, I turn it down. (You never want to be seen as the one who always cancels last minute – you’ll never get called again.) If I’m free to work, I’m given a call time and wardrobe requirements.
Step 2: On the day, I show up early and find the sign in sheet, which is either posted or with the stage manager. I sign in and grab a schedule for the day, which outlines the scenes being shot that day. These are always several pages long – much more comprehensive than a standard call sheet.
Step 3: I head for the extras dressing room, where someone from the show’s wardrobe department will come and choose what I’m going to wear. One of the reasons I love playing a nurse is that the show provides hospital scrubs. All I have to do is bring white sneakers – easy peasy!
Step 4: I get breakfast at the studio’s commissary. Soap production never provides craft services, so you’re on your own. Many will have coffee & tea, but that’s it. Bring your own snacks if you don’t want to pay commissary prices.
Step 6: I always head to set a scene earlier than I’m needed, making sure I don’t enter while the shooting light is on. I’ll hover nearby, making sure the stage manager knows I’m there. The director is focused on the principal actors, cameras, and lights – not you. It’s the stage manager’s job to place the background – they’re your point person at all times.
Step 7: I watch and learn! Like I mentioned a few days ago, the main reason I do soap background is to absorb how the main actors work. I watch them rehearse, take note of the way they collaborate with the director and other actors, and marvel at how their commitment and skill. I never approach with questions – even if one of them approaches me to chat, I never talk acting. They could be called back any second – they don’t have time to get into a conversation.
Step 8: Once my scenes are wrapped, I double check with the stage manager to make sure I’m dismissed. If I am, I thank him/her and go home. No hovering to speak to actors or the director. They’re moving on, so I do too.
Still, it’s fun work if you can get it.
Any questions? Post them below!