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Performing in the Background

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

Performing in the Background

By Sally Ibbertson


Ok so Broughton Dramatic Society are currently in the middle of rehearsals for the upcoming performance of “Two” a drama written by Jim Cartwright that focuses on the lives of both bartenders and various customers in a pub. 


As well as portraying the character of Lesley, I will also be taking on the role of being a background actor, an extra if you will.


I think a lot of people make the mistake of assuming that the job of an extra is to stand in the background and look pretty.  And yes, ok, I’m not going to lie and pretend that it is a hugely complicated thing to do, but it’s more than standing in the background.  It’s using your facial expressions and/or your body to react to certain characters and certain situations. 


It’s adding a touch to a scene to make it more realistic and maybe even making it relatable in some way.


As well as the above, it can also mean NOT reacting to characters or situations.  Like if there is a scene that is played as a comedy scene then you have to try to think whatever happens, unless you are directed to, DO NOT LAUGH, no matter how wee-your-pants-funny the scene is.  Or if it’s a scene that’s quite emotional and charged, do not cry and do not get angry.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ignoring the situation or that you’re cold and detached, it just means that you’re not distracting and taking the attention away from the main cast members or the speaking role cast members in that scene. Sometimes it can be so tempting to sit and watch the scene - especially when the actors are doing an amazing job, but you really cant!


On of the hardest jobs of being a background actor i think is to stay in character through out the scene. When you don't have any lines or any interaction with the main action you need to make your own little story up. Who am I in this pub right now? Why am I here and what am I doing. Sometimes the scene may call for a little low noise chitter chatter and in others you need to be pretending to have a conversation completely silently. - which is hard work.


So yes whilst being a background character isn’t the hardest job in the world, it also isn’t as simple as some people would assume and it certainly isn’t something that should be underestimated.  The actors in the background have a huge job to set the atmosphere of the scene and add that touch of realism. Next time you come to see a play (and I hope that will be Two) check out the actors in the background too!


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