The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Launching My Career as a Background Extra at U.Va.

A role above anyone who’s simply been casted as the main character in their school productions every year

<p>Last fall semester, I was on the South Lawn, scouting for my first opportunity. I had my headphones in, tangled into my unruly hair, and was wearing a hoodie and gym shorts. That’s when I saw him. CavMan.</p>

Last fall semester, I was on the South Lawn, scouting for my first opportunity. I had my headphones in, tangled into my unruly hair, and was wearing a hoodie and gym shorts. That’s when I saw him. CavMan.

Editor’s Note: This article is a humor article.

I’ve been passionate about theater and performance ever since I was young. In kindergarten, I played grass in “The Lion King” musical. In first grade, I got promoted to a tree. In middle school, I played a corpse. Then, in high school, the director of “Beauty and the Beast” casted his daughter as Belle. I was a spoon in the “Be Our Guest” sequence. And in my senior year, I had my full circle moment — I got to reprise my role as grass in our production of “Into the Woods.”

You may be wondering why I always played an almost invisible background character. But, you see, it turns out I had been training for a role I had set my eyes on for my whole life. For this esteemed role in question, there were a few requirements I had to meet, known only to the few who understand the importance of this role. 

First, I had to get into the University without having alumni parents. Through trials, tribulations and spending many hours perfecting the art of sitting so I could take the SAT, I managed to squeeze my way in, writing the most pick-me essay that almost made me sound like the main character of something. Bleh. 

Second, I had to look beyond hideous. I guess I was just born lucky — my middle school director said he’d casted me as a corpse because they could save on hiring a makeup artist since I already looked dead. 

Next, I also needed to be skilled in finding and carving out my own opportunities since a real actor needs no agents to find them roles. We make them for ourselves, just as Adam Smith intended. 

Lastly, to be fully prepared, I had to have an empty schedule. No homework. No CIO meetings. No frat parties. No office hours. No friends. No classes. No life.

And I, meeting every single one of the prerequisites, was soon graced with the opportunity to finally launch my career as a background extra in the spectacular performance that is the University.

Last fall semester, I was on the South Lawn, scouting for my first opportunity. I had my headphones in, tangled into my unruly hair, and was wearing a hoodie and gym shorts. That’s when I saw him. CavMan. A phone was recording him. He was saying something. I couldn’t hear. 

That was fine — a good actor needs no context. 

I slowly drifted behind CavMan, into the screen. I stuck my hands in my pockets and hunched forward, pretending I had zoned out. I was trying to hide my nervousness. Should I turn my unblinking eyes away from the camera or stare directly at it? Should I fidget with my hoodie string? This first performance was everything. I settled on giving it that extra “oomph” by pulling my hand out of my pocket to give a slight scratch under my ear.

That night, I found out that I had scored big. That video was posted on the official University instagram page, and it had me standing in the background. That ear-scratch was a genius move. It made me look completely irrelevant, unimportant and lost, the three most important things I had to be for this honorable role. 

And that was only the beginning. In the first month, I was in the background of seven of the University’s official posts, a few of Bad News Hoos’ Instagram reels and some of Dean J’s reels as well!

The next month, I extended my role from simply physical acting to voice acting as well. I found the secret recording room of The Cavalier Daily’s podcasts and stood outside the doorway, holding a sneeze and waiting for the perfect moment. 

“Why did you attend this university?” asked the interviewer.

Not yet. I contorted my face to hold in the sneeze longer as the interviewee responded.

“And how many children of yours attend the University?”

As the interviewee responded “All of them. Of course, getting in by their own skills and merit. Two of them took a single AP course in senior year and —”

Bingo. In the middle of the haughty response, I landed a perfect earth-shattering sneeze. And I’m glad nature always has my back, as I felt another one come on afterwards, interrupting his spiel about his two other kids. It was a killer debut into voice acting too, I could feel that I’d have wild success as a multifaceted multimedia artist!

But even all this wild success couldn’t have prepared me for the ultimate honor that I had in store.

The story goes like this. I went to a basketball game once. I’ll admit it, I was breaking character — I shouldn’t have filled my time with an activity. Once I was at JPJ, I was completely caught off guard by how many cameras and phones were filming. To think I thought I was doing something wrong! 

I had to improvise on the spot. Whenever the jumbotron shots jumped around, so did I, haphazardly, knocking cans out of hands and hitting my knees on frat boy heads. In each spot, I’d give a loud but not too loud cheer or boo. 

It was perfect — every time I was caught on camera you could see the nuance in my performance with all the cheering and booing and little bit of vacancy that lingered in my expression throughout the game. While I was trying to make all the jumbotron shots, I unfortunately wasn't allowed to take a shortcut through the court, so I ended up missing some. I guess that just goes to show that even the most spectacular performances have room for improvement. Even with this shortcoming, I still thought I’d managed to be captured in enough of them to unforgettably leave my mark.

And I did. I heard in passing that sightings of “Jim Ryan’s Unblinking and Teleporting Spy” were being rapidly reported on YikYak. It’s these fans that remind me that there are still people who appreciate raw and nuanced acting these days. It’s so special to see that kind of support for the performing arts. It’s the reason I continue to do what I do, even after the horribly demoralizing let downs of the recent Academy Award shows. They could recognize Ryan Gosling as Ken even as he glittered in pink and stood on stage, but what about the real Ken’s, the unblinking, teleporting, invisible folk? 

Do not fear. If there’s any lesson I learned, it’s that real art isn’t dead. I’ve started an anonymous instagram petition for the Academy to begin recognizing actually nuanced performances, and if the Wahoo teleporting spy gets no nominations next year, we will light the beacon and ride at dawn for the Oscars. 


Latest Podcast

From her love of Taylor Swift to a late-night Yik Yak post, Olivia Beam describes how Swifties at U.Va. was born. In this week's episode, Olivia details the thin line Swifties at U.Va. successfully walk to share their love of Taylor Swift while also fostering an inclusive and welcoming community.