A night in the life of a.., p.1
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       A Night in the Life of an Extra, p.1

           Maxine Sarr
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A Night in the Life of an Extra


  The Making of a Star?

  A Night in the Life of an Extra by Maxine Sarr

  Copyright ? 2016 by Maxine Sarr

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations or in book reviews.


  "Oh my god, I will die of boredom." Aware she sounded like a broken record Kelly was unable to stop herself. It happens the same time every day; lunch over (uninspiring shop bought chicken salad) and the afternoon lay before her with only a coffee break to interrupt the monotony.

  Jackie, bored with listening about Kelly's boredom, glanced at her and turned away. She knew how pointless it would be to say a word to get Kelly out of the lunchtime funk. Jackie returned to her lunch, the foul smelling but tasty Bombay Bad Boy noodles had become her guilty pleasure.

  Kelly, disappointed Jackie had not fed her a line, enabling her to continue her 'woe is me' rant, turned to a copy of the Manchester Evening News. Kelly flicked through hoping to find something to fuel her inner pity party. And there it was, advertising itself in bright lights, loud klaxons, streamers and balloons. Local extras needed to take part as slaves in the forthcoming production of Verdi's Aida at the Opera House.

  "Jackie, look, have you seen this?"

  Kelly waved the newspaper in front of Jackie's face. Jackie took the paper looked at Kelly, looked at the advert, back at Kelly. "Yeah. Why not?"

  Jackie's attention returned to more important matters; what colour to paint her nails today.

  It crossed Kelly's mind that Jackie was one reason for her negativity. She resolved to get a new best work friend and the advert may be the answer to her prayers.

  "This is it Jackie. Can you imagine? I get discovered as an extra and I'm catapulted into a lead role with?"

  Kelly's imagination was interrupted by Jackie laughing her evil dictator laugh; as Kelly termed it. Pausing she said: "Don't tell me. Let me guess."

  Jackie leant back in her chair and gazed out over the spouting fountains in Piccadilly Gardens. Now at ease with her new role as psychic, Jackie tapped her nail file on her lower lip and, with fake heartfelt consideration, said:

  "Er, Oliver Stone is in Manchester, hanging out, like he does. He takes in a trip to the theatre because why go to La Scala in Milan when you have Manchester Opera House. Right? He spots you in a line of what? A hundred slaves say, picks you out to star opposite? Boris Kodjoe? Or who's the rave of the month this month Kelly, I forget."

  Kelly waited for Jackie to wipe away her tears of laughter and, disgruntled, replied, in a low tone, "I thought Jason Bateman, actually."

  Jackie, returning to her nail filing, snorted. She picked up a candyfloss pink glitter nail polish from her top drawer and felt happy with her choice. Kelly decided Jackie would not be attending any red carpet events with her.

  Kelly retrieved the newspaper and looked again at the advert. Her thoughts captured, embellished and played out a movie scene in This is Kelly Ferguson. Plucked from her humdrum life and launched into stardom. Yes, Kelly thought, the role of an actor would be perfect; how hard must it be? Read lines, repeat and smile, she could do that standing on her head. Kelly sipped on her sparkling water, the bubbles tasted of Veuve Clicquot. Her destiny beckoned.

  She rang the number and left her details on the voicemail. Kelly spent the rest of the afternoon daydreaming about her autobiography and movie. Who would play her? The paparazzi she would try to avoid, gowns she would wear, yes, Kelly's life was about to take off. She practised her walk to the podium to accept her Best Actress Academy Award as she made coffee.


  Two weeks and the glitter and stardust had fallen off Kelly's dreams and she and Jackie were no longer on speaking terms. Every chance Jackie got she asked, with a sarcastic tone, "No calls from Stone?"

  Kelly resigned herself to living without her true artistic potential being discovered. Then, as if sensing her despondency she received a phone call from the production company asking if she was still interested in the extra work. In her own mind, Kelly inserted the words leading part and squealed in true Oscar-winning fashion.

  "Of course, yes, of course. Do I have to come along for fittings and rehearsals?"

  There was a slight pause and Liz, the production manager, spoke, as one would do to a child. "The curtains open tonight at 7.15. You need to be at the Stage Door of the Opera House at 5.30 p.m."

  Kelly, a little confused, pondered if they knew what they were doing, it all seemed rushed but assumed they must know what they were doing. "Do I need to bring anything?"

  Liz said: "No, we have your costumes and wigs. You change in your dressing room."

  Dressing room; they were two of the most beautiful sounding words to Kelly, and not just a dressing room but your dressing room. Her mind pulled back to reality when Liz said: "Don't wear nail varnish and let me check, you are over 18, yes?"

  With a loud fake actress-type laugh, Kelly said, "Only just."

  Liz smiled, Kelly was sure she detected a smile over the phone.

  Liz finished the call with, "You will be on stage for about 15 minutes at the end of Act two. And the work is unpaid."

  "Oh, that's okay?" The phone went dead.

  Kelly didn't care about the money; not really, she would get her fifteen minutes of fame, in an opera. She forgot she wasn't speaking to Jackie and with a loud high-pitched shriek waltzed to Jackie's desk. She pulled Jackie from her office chair and danced her around the office.

  "I'm going to be famous Jackie; I'm going to be famous."

  For the rest of the afternoon, Kelly dashed to and fro to the canteen and water machine every time a person entered or approached. Her work colleagues operated like ninjas attempting to avoid Kelly. The ones snared treated, in minute detail, to every second of the call that had changed Kelly's life; the call that had just put her on the launch pad to an acting career. By 4.00 p.m. everyone was sick to the back teeth of Kelly, her acting career and her Oscar acceptance speech.

  "Kelly, do you have a minute?"

  Alan Peters, Kelly's boss, stood at the doorway to his office.

  "Sure Alan." Kelly got up and realised he must be worried about how the firm would cope if she had to leave. She needed to reassure him.

  Alan returned to his desk and asked Kelly to sit down.

  "You've been disruptive this afternoon Kelly."

  "I'm so sorry Alan; it's just that I'm going to?"

  Alan shuddered "Please, I've heard it so many times, from my desk; I don't want to hear it anymore."

  "I'm sorry Alan, I guess I got a little excited, you know, because?"

  "Kelly. I said I didn't want to hear it again. Okay, I think two hours overtime this week will make up for the time you've lost preening yourself around the office. That's it. Oh, and Kelly, this is a warning."

  Kelly returned to her desk and in her mind drafted her resignation. She would shimmy into that killjoy's office and wave her acting contract in front of his face and leave without working her notice. This thought sustained her until 5.00 o'clock.

  When she left the office, it was to the delight of her colleagues; they were able to make coffee without fear of the have you heard, yes I have, oh, conversation.

  The walk along Peter Street gave Kelly the opportunity to practise paparazzi wide smiles to everyone. Parents pulled their children closer, disturbed by the deranged woman passing by. Outside Sainsbury's on Quay Street Kelly bought a Big Issue, she already had one, but she wanted this one to be special.

bsp; The young man with the misfortune to acknowledge Kelly outside the store asked, "Big Issue love?"

  She took one and, with mock laughter, said: "I should sign it and give it back to you."

  With a blank expression, the seller waited for Kelly to explain her cryptic comment. She did.

  "Oh, I have a part in the opera playing at The Opera House." Kelly pointed across the street, in case he was unaware of the big white building facing him.

  "Oh right, good for you love."

  "It's an opera."

  "Wow, really. Actually, now you say it, it has Opera House on the front of the building."

  Kelly smiled, happy to be an educator to this poor man.

  The Big Issue seller wondered if it was possible to ask for a move to Market Street. He always had better conversations with the purchasers on Market Street.

  Kelly glanced at her watch and dashed towards the Opera House. After tonight, if he's still there, Kelly would autograph a copy for him; he might sell it in a few years or even get interviewed on breakfast TV or some chat show; The day I met Kelly Ferguson.


  Kelly arrived at the stage door to find the doorway blocked by several burly men speaking in a foreign language. She smiled and gestured to the men, as though comedy slapping the face of a small person, they understood she wanted them to move from the door. As they parted, she wondered what building work the Opera House was having done.

  Kelly approached the reception desk. "Excuse me, I'm here for?"

  The security guard, without looking up from his paper, said, "Follow the green arrows for the auditorium." He looked up and said, "You're late."

  Kelly ran up a flight of stairs, down a flight of stairs, under a stage and then, there it was; the doorway to her future. Head held high, out of breath, Kelly pushed the door open and took a regal step into the dimly lit auditorium.

  She was two steps in before she scanned the people sitting in the theatre chairs. Kelly frowned and noted all the occupants in the chairs; they were all white. In between regaling her colleagues with her move into the limelight, she had googled Aida. Confused she walked forwards trying to understand why if the opera is set in Egypt and the slaves were from Ethiopia why was she the only black person there?

  Kelly approached the nearest person and whispered. "Is this the place for Aida?"

  The man, heavy foreign accent evident, said "Yes. You're late."

  The babble of conversation was loud and unintelligible to Kelly. Not one person spoke in English. She tried to remember if the production manager had said anything about Aida now being set in Eastern Europe. Then a memory loomed large in her mind, was it the ballet or the opera when the Chechen rebels took hostages?

  One of the stage door builders strode onto the stage and said "Extras." He pointed to the other side of the auditorium.

  Kelly picked up her coat and followed thirty other people to the other side of the auditorium. A young woman in a nice red coat stood next to Kelly.

  "Excuse me, who are all these people?" Kelly pointed to the people sitting, facing the stage.

  Nice red coat woman said, "oh, the ones sitting down are from the Company, they're watching the set being built."

  It answered only one of the many questions Kelly had and as nice red coat woman seemed knowledgeable Kelly continued to ask questions.

  "Why are they speaking in a foreign language?"

  Nice red coat woman explained "This is The Chisinau National Opera. Chisinau is in Russia."

  "Oh, thanks. So?" Before she could finish her question Kelly realised by finishing she would make herself look like an idiot who knew nothing. The penny dropped; the foreign builders were not builders but members of the opera company. Kelly grimaced at the snap judgement she had made but shook her self-castigation away.

  The beautiful, textured emerald green stage curtains were parted. Kelly looked up at the floodlights, a warm glow enveloped her and she relaxed. She felt at home.

  The man on the stage introduced himself. "I Nikolai. You walk on stage, stop halfway to stairs, kneel fifteen minutes then leave."

  Kelly looked around the other slaves comforted to see she wasn't the only one thinking, what?!

  Panic pushed to the fore; Kelly had seen a photo of the production and, had assumed she would have to stand on a plinth for 15 minutes; that would be it, end of. Just as she hyperventilated another man came on stage.

  "I Sacha," he said and turned to Nikolai and they began a conversation, in what Kelly assumed was Russian. Sacha turned to the slaves and said something; the words not understood but the gestures all too clear. He pointed at them, pointed to the stage, pointed at them and pointed to the stage. The slaves made their way up onto the stage.

  Kelly looked around her fellow slaves, at least half were over the age of 50, five or six were well-fed slaves and she was the only black person.

  Looking from the stage to the auditorium Kelly tried not to think of people sitting in the 1, 920 chairs. She looked up at the balconies and visualised her curtain call. The orchestra below were tuning up; sounds of musical scales from violins, cellos transported Kelly. The nice red coat woman nudged her.

  "Have you seen the fire juggler over there; he's cute."

  Kelly pulled her attention to the stage and noticed that it was a maelstrom of activity. Ballet dancers practising their steps, the cute fire juggler practising his moves (without fire), stagehands and others and huge props all in an area of a postage stamp.

  Sacha returned to the extras holding onto four large elephant tusks about three feet high and said: "Four women carry."

  Kelly tried to step backwards to the back of the group; Sacha grabbed the woman in front of her.

  "Tusk." Sacha thrust a tusk into the woman's hands.

  Kelly turned to run but was too late, she got tusked. Her relief when she realised the tusk was polystyrene was huge. The nice red coat girl also got tusked.

  Sacha chest out, right hand on hip, left arm aloft and index finger pointing directed his next words to the tusk slaves. "Men then you, you, you, you, follow men across stage."

  Kelly recognised the four men Sacha pointed to from the stage door. They stood with a crate of jewels at their feet and put two and two together - the tusk slaves were to follow the muscular men carrying jewels. Kelly revelled at how she had learnt the language of snapping and pointing but something about walk across the stage didn't quite register.

  In what Kelly thought to be a stage whisper, turned to her left and spoke to nice red coat girl. "I'm sorry, my name's Kelly, what's yours?"

  Nice red coat girl said "Louise."

  "Louise, is it me? I think he wants the tusk girls to walk across the stage."

  "Yeah, we have to follow the guys with the crate of jewels."

  "But walk across the stage?"

  Louise looked at Kelly as though for the first time. "Yes," she said, in a long drawn out way.

  Nikolai in his finger-snapping way told the slaves to put their bags and coats to one side. However, with everyone using the stage as a rehearsal space there wasn't one side. Kelly followed suit when others put their coats under the stage, under props, over people who had stood still for too long, anything, everywhere.

  Kelly stood staring at her possessions and wondered about their security. Sacha brought her back to the here and now by pulling her by the arm. He pivoted her to just behind the jewel-bearing muscular men.


  Kelly knew what he meant, it was all too clear. She turned to the tuskers behind her and back. Kelly told herself, you can do this, walk and kneel, or just walk? She held the tusk tight to her chest and Sacha stepped back to admire his handy work and noticed Kelly's tusk.

  "No, no, no." He grabbed the tusk, turned it around and thrust it back to Kelly the opposite way. Sacha cast his eyes downwards and noticed Kelly's feet.

  "Off, off, off." Sacha was pointing at Kelly's shoes. She flounced to
wards the half-stage where she had secreted her other possessions, took off her shoes and crawled under. It was at this point the other builders from the stage door thought they would amuse themselves by blocking Kelly's exit.

  She punched the back of the knees of one of them and his leg buckled.

  "What are you doing? I need to get out." Kelly hoped her tone sounded indignant enough.

  The men stood aside as Kelly crawled out, dusty. She glanced down at her laddered tights, up at them and hissed, "Oh, you think you're clever, do you? You're just a bunch of..."

  Kelly realised there was no point in berating them in English and stuck her chin in the air. As she stropped back to the tuskers, she heard one of them say, "Bitch."

  Kelly, with a surprised backwards glance, and a stumbled step, returned to the front of the tusk line. Sacha looked at her and shook his head; Kelly attempted a smile.

  "Walk across stage, go down stairs, under stage, come back, join monocle extras and back on stage."

  Kelly realised she would attract the wrath of Nikolai and Sacha but she felt something needed clarifying.

  "So we walk across the stage with our tusks, right?"

  The stage was silent, Kelly gulped and continued.

  "We're off the stage with the tusks, then we have to go under the stage come back here to go back on again, right?"

  Nikolai and Sacha exchanged a look and, in unison, said "yes."

  Her voice, a mere whisper, Kelly asked: "And what about the monocles?"

  Sacha's response was to walk away.

  Kelly figured the production must be like an off-Broadway show, an opera remix. It was now about white people wearing monocles and well-fed slaves.


  The time was now 6.30 p.m. and the show was due to start at 7.15 p.m. Kelly realised the majority of people did not understand what they were doing. This she pushed to one side; her main thoughts were of excitement at seeing her dressing room, wig and costume.

  Louise appeared to know what was happening. Kelly asked her about the monocles and where could she get them. She didn't make a pretence of ignoring Kelly; Louise glanced at her, looked through her and walked away. Kelly assumed she was hard of hearing or nervous.

  Sacha stomped over to the slaves and held up his right hand with a bunch of handcuffs, "Monocles," he said.

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