Wardrobe has me put my hair down, then slaps several leather bracelets and a tweed trilby on me. “You stick close to the band,” the costumer tells me. “What instrument do you play?”
“No, I mean what do you want to play? What prop do you want?”
I say banjo to be silly, but she immediately radios to the set. “Props, put a banjo by the street band setup.”
When I get to permanent holding, the only stool I can find is one next to a striking South Indian woman. She’s beautiful to the point that I have trouble believing she’s real.
I’ve only ever seen women like her on TV, I think, then I remember where I am.
“What instrument do you play?” she asks me with a deep accent. She fingers a charm on one of wardrobe’s bracelets.
“Not a damn one,” I tell her.
She laughs. “The poor musicians,” she says, nodding to the people who brought actual instruments. “They’ll be playing to an audience that will only hear a soundboard.” She takes the hat from my head and puts it on. “How do I look?”
“A damn sight better than I ever do,” I tell her.
She laughs, and then the PA comes and ushers half the room outside for a crowd scene. My seatmate gives me back my hat. “Here I go!” she tells me.
I watch the crowd pour out into the brightening morning, then notice a woman looking me in the eye. She’s smiling, and luckily I smile back. I say luckily because my general instinct when a woman smiles at me is to look away in a stricken panic, and then spend the next eighteen hours cursing my inability to recognize basic flirting. Her smile widens when I respond, her red lips framing impossibly white teeth. She has blonde hair, the edges turning pale in the rising sun. Smoky eyeliner contrasts sharply with her creamy skin. The same PA comes back in.
“I need everyone on these two rows to come with me!” And Smiling Woman goes with them. I’m beginning to wonder if this PA is enforcing some obscure No Hookup rule I wasn’t aware of.
Three hours pass before the PA calls for the band. “Time to work for your money!” she tells us.
“Right,” I say to the cute acoustic guitarist, “because it’s not like we’re grownups playing make believe.”
She responds by looking at me like I just waved Mardi Gras beads in her face.
While I pretend to play banjo, a guy in his mid-fifties practices his pacing. He’s the wipe for the shot, an extra specifically designated to cross the entire frame. He works full time, with union benefits and a pension. Before today I had no idea that was possible for an extra. I seem to be alone in my ignorance.
For the final scene that day they sit me on a bench beside a woman whose neckline I’ve been making a serious effort to avoid examining. We pantomime drunken conversation while two women playing vampires run their lines in front of us, and between each take she tells me about her voice over work and her English boyfriend.
Everyone here takes this so seriously, and I’m treating it like a field trip. Whenever the horses for the scene clop by I gawk like a ten year old at the circus. I’m an extra among extras. Everyone here is so professional, but when I see the main actors I want to shout “ARE THOSE THE VAMPIRES?”
I find out later they’re actually playing werewolves.
The PA calls a wrap for all but twenty of us. While everyone else files out to validate their vouchers, I’m brought back outside for a pickup shot. The sun has set, and the French Quarter set is now aglow in strings of incandescent light. I’m paired with the pale-haired woman from earlier. We’re made to hold hands and touch foreheads, and with each take we have to sway like we hear music.
“This feel awkward?” I whisper.
“Little bit,” she murmurs.
“Is it strange that that’s a relief?” I ask.
“Probably,” she smiles back.
When we finally wrap for good she and I talk while we sign out. We exchange numbers as we head to the shuttle that will take us to our cars. The doors behind us flap, spilling the other dreamers into the night. They make me think of eyelids fluttering awake at dawn.