Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Girl Who Wasn't There

Back in 1985, in the movie "The Big Chill", starring Kevin Kline and Glenn Close, a background actor played the part of a body lying in a casket in the opening funeral scene.  Pretending to be dead in a casket would have seemed like an easy part to do with guaranteed exposure, right?  There were no speaking lines, and all the actor had to do was pretend he was sleeping, knowing that every audience member in the movie theater would see his face once the film hit the big screen.  However, when "The Big Chill" was finally released in theatres, the footage showing the actor's face in the casket was deleted. It was probably a bit of a blow for the then, unknown actor, Kevin Costner, to be taken out of a film that he thought might lead to his big break.  Fortunately, for him, as I don't have to tell you, his career recovered.  But for every Kevin Costner, there are thousands of unknown (and some known) actors who continue to end up on the cutting room floor.

In March of 1995, I stepped onto the set of my first television commerical.  It was for Nike and featured tennis players Andree Agassi and Pete Samprass who were at the top of their game at the time.  I was doing background work in a crowd of about 300 people who were watching a faux tennis match that took place in a busy intersection in downtown San Francisco.  When the 30 second commercial aired a couple of weeks later, my friend Kristen, who also worked on the commercial with me, called to let me know:

"I saw the Nike Commercial.  We are not in it."

Well, I wasn't in the 30 second version and thought that I better get used to not making the cut.  And then a funny thing happened about six months later.  I received a call from the ad agency who produced the commercial and they told me, "We expanded the spot to 60 seconds, and now you're in it.  This is your lucky day."

A contract was mailed to me and I became eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild.  Boom, just like that.  Some actors move to Los Angeles and struggle for years trying to get their SAG card, but me- I thought, "Shoot this is easy."

A very young Theresa in a purple sweatshirt at about 22 seconds in, runs up to Pete Samprass:


I received a modest amount of residual checks for a commercial that aired for only 13 weeks, but back then I thought it was big money.  But then something happened after my first big break--nothing happened, for years.  Or so it seemed.

What appeared to be a great start to a possible acting career and a quick answer to a prayer (Dear God, should I do theater or film?) was becoming more and more confusing. 

The doors didn't open much for me with acting jobs.  I'd finally get an agent, only to lose an agent, to getting another agent, to losing that agent.  I couldn't seem to build momentum.

It would only be the beginning of my long journey in the entertainment industry of let downs and being the girl who was "of it, but not in it."  From then on, I would work on lots of movies, television shows and commercials that I was not actually "in". Sure I worked four consecutive nights out in the freezing cold in a cable car scene in the Sandra Bullock feature film, "The Net".  But when you watch the movie, I, along with about a hundred other hopeful background players are not in the final cut.  All that footage down the drain. And then there was that one time when I worked on the Robin Williams' movie "Flubber" playing a high school cheerleader, whom you barely saw on screen even though the camera man gave our cheer squad ample camera time on the set while filming.  Then there was that other time where I worked 2 whole months of 12-hour days on the movie "Scream" as a stand-in for Neve Campbell, only you would never know about it, because I didn't receive a credit.  I'm not bitter (sarcasm).  There have been lots of movies and television shows where I haven't received credit.  This will test your motives, your reasons why you do the things you do.  I do it because I love it.  And sometimes I do it for a paycheck.

I have never made a consistent living while doing movie/commerical work and have always needed a day job.  And as of January 2012 I still had lingering credit card debt.  It was at this time that a new class at my church was being offered titled "Emerge: Shaping Dreams Into Destiny" - and the price of the course - $300.  My spirit was stirred within me, but where would I find the money?  So I prayed about provision and shortly after I got a last minute call to do some "hand model work" on a Chrysler commercial.  I simply had to put my hands on a steering wheel for an hour and it was the easiest $492.00 I ever made.  Now I would have enough money to take the class.  When the commerical finally aired during the Superbowl that year, my hands were nowhere in the commercial- (even my hands were left on the cutting room floor)  Cool spot though:

It's Halftime In America...


Apparently this commercial caused a bit of controversy.

Then in February 2012, I drove up to the little town of Yountville in the wine country to do some background work for an American Express commercial featuring world famous chef Thomas Keller and his restaurant, THE FRENCH LAUNDRY.  All of us extras were portraying dining patrons and were seated inside the restaurant strategically.  Originally I was sitting at a centrally located table (that they called the "hero table") and thought for sure I would be seen on camera.  Then at the last minute, before the cameras started rolling, I was asked to switch places with someone else and ended up left of camera, and I assumed-- out of the shot.  Yet again, I had been placed in deep background, or so I thought.

But when the commerical aired during the Oscars, a friend of mine saw it and insisted I was in it.  I assured her that was not the case, but she was convinced.  Then a couple of weeks later I received a letter from the ad agency for American Express saying I had been upgraded from background to principal (meaning I am recognizable and will be getting paid for every time it airs on television)  Hey, what do you know, I am in it.

Membership has its privileges.  (don't blink, about 9 seconds in, I am sitting at a table left of camera with my hair up drinking a glass of water)


And though, I am almost invisible in this commerical too, when the residual checks started coming in, I no longer seemed to care whether or not anyone could see me in the commercial.  Funny how that works.

In March of 2012, the Emerge class officially began.  Our pastor had us close our eyes and envision the dream God had placed on our hearts.  As we went around the room declaring our visions, I announced that mine was to "do a one woman show and travel with it."  I saw myself on a stage in London.  I had never thought about London before and besides, how would I pay to get there?

In April 2012, I started receiving enough residual checks to finally pay off my credit card debt and build a savings.  It was at this time also that I attended a theatre show produced by a friend of mine, Tracy Held Potter, titled "Woman In Solodarity".  It was four women performing solo pieces of their own.  Each piece was about 20 minutes and I was inspired.  That's it- that's what I wanted to do.

I continued taking the Emerge classes at church every Saturday afternoon until the end of May 2012.  It was a committment, but time well spent.  Each week we were building trust with each other while sharing our dreams and articulating our goals.  It had kick started something in me.

In July 2012, while attended another one of Tracy's shows, this time a play being peformed inside a record store (independent theatre, gotta love it) - she told me if I wrote a solo piece for next Spring's Women in Solodarity show, I was in.  And the theme of the show- even better.  "Cat Ladies".  I took her up on her offer and a couple of months later, over Labor Day weekend at a family event, I came up with my working title- "One ExBoyfriend. Four Cats."

In the Fall of 2012 I enrolled in a creative writing class hoping to jump start the creative juices and churned out a few pieces over the course of the semester.  Now with a deadline for my cat themed solo piece coming up soon, I got get cracking!

2012 was a year of blessings and transition.  In a heart beat, God can change your circumstances- one minute you owe thousands of dollars on your credit card and the next minute, you are debt free, with a savings and the impending birth of a new dream. 

Here's to 2013 and to no longer being the girl who wasn't there.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations on a very pivotal 2012 - knowing how many years you've loved doing "extra" work, I'm so thrilled to hear it literally paid off! I admire you so much for always having a dream in sight and never giving it up - and I can't wait to read/see/hear more about this solo piece. You better share! HAPPY 2013!!!

theresa said...

Thanks Woman! I want to read more of your writing!

Robert said...

I loved it!!! Touched my heart. Although a benefit of being an extra is saying, "We are going to a movie and hang at the club. Sorry Elvis you can't go it would be chaotic with the Paparazzi and fans in our face AGAIN!"

Anonymous said...

i am SO there when you have a show...#1 fan!! ~ChristineB

Elaine said...


Christina Halstead said...

Great! Inspiring reading.

theresa said...


Anonymous said...

Good luck pursuing your dreams! It'll come together some day. I love your spirit! :)