Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical. ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   11 Comments )
Subject: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Performing Arts
Asked by: dho1115-ga
List Price: $12.00
Posted: 26 Apr 2006 23:19 PDT
Expires: 26 May 2006 23:19 PDT
Question ID: 723244
I heard that television shows and films sometimes uses "extras" for
their sets, and that no prior acting experience is necessary. I was
wondering if live plays or musicals ever use "extras" and if so, how
can one go about applying and how much would the pay normally be?
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
Answered By: alanna-ga on 02 May 2006 22:36 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hi dho1115-ga, 

Believe it or not, it CAN be done.  It's not easy to get walk-on
roles, but if you follow a plan, who knows what will happen?

Most of the Comments Section covered opera "supers."  Here is some
information on dramatic stage work.

I am most familiar with the procedures in New York. My reference is a
well-employed extra, walk-on, and small speaking-role actress in New
York City. The Chicago basics would be the same.

This is what you do?especially if you want to get paid for your work.    

1. Get a head shot.  This is a good black and white photo, usually
head and shoulders.  To find out more go to:

Survival guide for performing artists

The links in the above web site are for New York, but the site is
informative about what is required everywhere.  You need one or two 8
x 10 glossies showing you in two "guises," maybe one casual and one
more formal, or one "country" and one "urban."

2.  Take your glossies to an agent.  An actor's agent is the one who
will get you the jobs.  You really can't do very much without one
unless you want to contact individual directors.

Here is a list of agents in Chicago.

Creative directory services

3.  You will probably want to join a union representing stage actors;
your agent will have the particulars.  But here is a reference:


Actors Equity   (this site has many valuable links)

That's "all" there is to it.  Like the actors who want to be "stars,"
the walk-ons and extras have to wait, wait, wait for the lucky break. 
But they also have to do the footwork first.

Another note about pay: it varies so much (from nothing to "scale"
which can be hundreds of dollars per appearance).  Also, be aware that
dramatic plays use much fewer non-speaking actors than television
shows.  There usually are no "crowd scenes" in a play,  but a police
show for TV can have lots of them.  Most of the links in this answer
will also give you information on TV work.

Here is another reference on theatre in Chicago.

Chicago Theatre

Google Search Strategy

Search terms: stage actors union Chicago

Search terms: head shots how to

Search terms: actor agent Chicago

Good luck in your quest to tread the boards!   (Or as they often say
to actors before a live performance: "Break a leg!")

dho1115-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Excellent resources, alanna-ga! I'll definitely look into this!

Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: probonopublico-ga on 27 Apr 2006 01:10 PDT
You'd better join the Actors' Union before seeking paid work
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: tr1234-ga on 27 Apr 2006 13:55 PDT
Just based on the nature of the economics of making live theater or
musicals,  I'd suspect that this sort of "extra" is fairly rare in
those media. Sure, big productions may have lots of
seemingly-extraneous performers on stage at a certain time, but I'd
suspect most of those folks are expected to have some measure of
talent and experience to contribute--as a singing or dancing chorus
member or some such.

Also, as perhaps counter-intuitive as it may sound, I think that live
theater/musicals require less (or a different kind) of verisimilitude
for its audience than do movies & TV. Therefore, there's probably less
need for a "crowd scene" in live theater to have lots of extras around
to define the crowd than there is in a "crowd scene" in the movies or
TV. Go figure...
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: pinkfreud-ga on 27 Apr 2006 14:08 PDT
I believe that in live theater, "extras" are called "supernumeraries."
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: cryptica-ga on 27 Apr 2006 17:43 PDT
Do you live in New York City, dho1115?  The Metropolitan Opera uses
lots of extras for certain big productions.   Some people have been
doing it for years, just for the sheer love of opera.

You have to apply.  The director of Supernumeraries at The Met is Bob
Diamond. Write to him at The Met, Lincoln Center, New york, NY 10023.

Here's a little blurb about what goes on from a piece in "Opera News."

"On a sultry August afternoon in one of the Metropolitan Opera's
subterranean rehearsal halls, a strong and striking young woman in
smart navy slacks and gray silk blouse greets an earnest platoon of
supernumeraries auditioning for spots in the Met's new Lucia di
Lammermoor. After learning their names, she asks them to perform an
exercise: in groups of six, on a count of twenty, they are slowly,
menacingly to slither toward and eventually surround the person at
center stage. "Think angular bodies," she coaches them. "Imagine
you're part of a rock, or wrapped around one. Imagine you're a sort of
perverse, demented police force." To a particularly baffled fellow
called Dmitri she tosses off, "Pretend you're in the KGB," in
serviceable Russian. As the men set about their task, Francesca
Zambello trains a rapt gaze upon them, ready to conjure the balance of
poetry and precision that has propelled her to the front ranks of
today's opera directors."
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: probonopublico-ga on 27 Apr 2006 20:21 PDT

I've fallen asleep in every opera that I've seen.

Me? I wouldn't even go if I were paid.

Well .... not unless it was really serious money.

Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: cryptica-ga on 28 Apr 2006 09:52 PDT
I'm not a big opera fan myself, although I occasionally like some of
the big spectacle ones.  P.S.  Here's the best story about a
Supernumerary-- it happened  4 years ago here in New York at the
premiere of "WAR & PEACE" at the Met.  This is how the New York Times
reported it:

". . .how did a French soldier retreating across frozen Russia in the
finale of the Metropolitan Opera's premiere performance of Prokofiev's
epic rendition of the Tolstoy novel wind up in the orchestra pit?

Was it a fall? Or more of a leap? Opera fans are gossiping and
performers, from the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko to the American
bass-baritone Samuel Ramey to extras to orchestra members are still
scratching their heads in this latest mystery at the Met, itself no
stranger to intrigues onstage and off.

The vanquished grenadier, Simon Deonarian, a 21-year-old actor hired
as a $30-a-day supernumerary, or extra, says he fell in "a freak

But Joseph Volpe, the Met's general manager, after discussions with
Mr. Deonarian and viewings of a videotape of the Thursday night
performance, says that he "jumped" after losing his way "because he
was overacting." Mr. Deonarian was unhurt but landed on the bow of the
assistant principal violinist, Sylvia Danburg, crushing it. He was
dismissed from the other nine performances, including Monday night's,
which passed uneventfully, to the relief of front-row patrons.

At the time the episode went unexplained, as Valery Gergiev,
co-producer of this "War and Peace" with his Mariinsky Theater of St.
Petersburg, stopped conducting and halted the retreat, and audience
members rose and craned to peer into the pit. Mr. Deonarian was able
to walk out of the pit. The performance picked up after about 10
minutes. Whatever happened, the unscripted plunge by one of the 227
"supers" in the Met's first staging of the opera prompted questions
about the safety of the set and threatened to eclipse one of the most
monumental productions in the company's history: an extravaganza sung
by 52 soloists and 120 choristers and including the 227 extras, a
horse, a goat and a dog on a revolving domed set.

Mr. Volpe, who appeared onstage with Mr. Deonarian after Thursday's
curtain to assure the audience that the actor was fine, later said
that the set, designed by George Tsypin, was safe but sought to
resassure the company by extending the net at the lip of the stage
from three feet to five. In a note to the company, he also ordered
that the supers be reinstructed "to simply follow the stage direction
and not attempt to `act' in any way differently from what they have
rehearsed." Still, the episode left a scar, he acknowledged: "I'm
saddened that the memories of opening night audience members will be
overshadowed by this event, rather than just the glory of a great
opera with wonderful actors in a superb production."

It also raised concerns about the unusual rounded stage, a larger
version of one that the Mariinsky used, without mishap, in its 2000
production in Russia, London and Milan. In a review on Saturday,
Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times cited the mishap and called
the rounded stage distracting to the audience and risky to performers
who, he wrote, "seem understandably leery as they move about the

Not surprisingly, perhaps, for artists reliant on the Met for their
careers, those who said they had no problem with the set spoke
willingly for the record, while one who differed spoke on condition of
anonymity. This singer said that while the Met was more adept than
perhaps any other company at preventing risks, cast members were
nervous about making a misstep.

But Ms. Netrebko, who made her Met debut Thursday as Natasha Rostova,
the love interest, said she had performed this version of "War and
Peace" on four different domed stages without incident. Cast members
wore low-heeled rubber-soled shoes for traction, she said, "and you
have to watch out when dancing, be more careful than usual." But she
added: "You have to be stupid to fall into the orchestra pit." Mr.
Ramey, who sings the role of Field Marshal Kutuzov, the heroic victor
over Napoleon, said "You're not going to be running, jumping or
leaping on a set like that." But, he added, "I never had an
uncomfortable feeling at all." He may have looked unsure of foot, he
said, because he was contracting his toes inside his boots to give
himself the walk of an old man.

Linnea Shin, a 10-year-old in the campfire scene, said she, too, felt
secure: she only had trouble when her shoelaces came untied. Her
father, Dongsok Shin, a harpsichordist, said he would not have allowed
his daughter to perform on an unsafe set.

So what happened to Mr. Deonarian?

"I was just doing my part and I drifted into the orchestra and fell -
not jumped, fell," he said in a telephone interview. "The thing is,
just because I didn't fall on my neck, for a strange reason that's
what everyone thinks. It was a freak accident. I did not plan it." Mr.
Deonarian, who stands 5 feet 6 inches and weighs 120 pounds, lists as
his credits three stage productions, six films and a television show
and mentions in-line skating as one of several athletic skills.

Mr. Volpe said that the Met usually videotapes the dress rehearsal but
in this instance taped the opening night instead. The tape shows a
blurry figure identified as Mr. Deonarian making his solidary way
stage left against a tide of retreating fellow soldiers and then
disappearing into the orchestra.

Larry Glazener, who plays double bass in the orchestra, said he saw "a
figure going over almost like a flying squirrel." He described it as
"not in any way a fall," adding, "I never saw the net move." He later
realized that Mr. Deonarian must have sprung over the net.

James Fama, another super who trained with Mr. Deonarian, described
him as "a bundle of nerves," so anxious that on opening night he spoke
of a nightmare of falling into the orchestra pit.

Mr. Deonarian denied the account and said that actually, "we were just
joking about it way before: imagine if somebody fell into the pit."

Mr. Volpe said that the Met's lawyer, Sharon E. Grubin, a former
federal magistrate, spoke to Mr. Deonarian on the phone several times
and then in person in a taped conversation at the Met on Monday. Based
on his account, Mr. Volpe said, he posted a notice to the company
discussing the incident and addressing concerns about the set.

The notice described Mr. Deonarian as "the super who walked downstage
and jumped into the orchestra pit," and said, "He blames no one but
himself," not the stage and not the set, for the mishap.

The account said Mr. Deonarian "went into the pit because he was
overacting." It went on: "In an attempt to illustrate that the troops
were snow-blown, tired and hungry, he decided to put his arm over his
face and act at stumbling backwards." He turned around just at the
edge of the stage "and jumped down into the pit."

Mr. Deonarian begged to differ. "Jump? Jump? No," he said.

Copyright 2002 New York Times Company
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: hammer-ga on 28 Apr 2006 10:08 PDT
The best opera supernumerary story I know was told to me by someone else.

He explained that, in opera, there is often very little rehearsal time
for extras. They receive limited instructions on what to do and are
kind of "props with legs". He then described a production of Tosca.
The instructions given to the extras were simply "Follow Tosca. Go
where she goes."

So, when Tosca went over the parapet...

- Hammer
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: dho1115-ga on 29 Apr 2006 09:31 PDT
To Cryptica-ga. Unfortunately, I live in Chicago, IL., but the
information you showed me does sound very interesting. I wonder if
there is anything similar in Chicago. Thanks for your help.
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: cryptica-ga on 29 Apr 2006 19:31 PDT
dho1115 --  I just typed "supernumeraries" and "Chicago" in the Google
search box and up came a whole bunch of links for Chicago opera
companies.  They are for productions past, but that indicates that is
some sort of program going on at Chicago Opera Theater and the Lyric
Opera of Chicago.  A phone call to the executive offices would get
your your answer and how to apply.  Promise us you won't jump into the
orchestra pit, though.
Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: probonopublico-ga on 02 May 2006 23:35 PDT
Having actually having been to Chicago and survived, I can write with
authority. (Do you know the Palmer House? Is it still there?)

Start off by going to the speak-easies (say Lefty sent you), get
'noticed' by the people who matter, then work your way up: hat-check
girl, dancer, singer and before you know it ...

The Leading Lady breaks a leg and you step in as her understudy but ...

You've got to come back a star!

All the Very Best in your Show Biz career.

Subject: Re: Being an "extra" in a live play or musical.
From: myoarin-ga on 03 May 2006 08:12 PDT
Yes, indeed, the Palmer House is still there, now part of the Hilton chain:

I too have stayed there, in 1948  - not alone, of course, with Mom and
my two older sisters:  saw and rode and ran the wrong way on my first
escalator; ran down the fire stairway (dirty), gaped at the ground
floor arcade of shops; and was told to appreciate the murals in the
coffee shop that gave a 360 impression of the view from the top

Which has nothing to do with supernumeraries, who were once also
called "spear-holders", probably from Aida, and probably from a time
when productions called for/allowed for people who couldn't sing in
the chorus, rare these days.

Cheers, Myo

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy