So you got the call to play extra with a professional orchestra and you have the music ready to go! What next?
The first step is don’t under dress. You are a visitor into a new world. Don’t show up in shorts and a random T-shirt the first time. Don’t be overly dressy either, but be aware people are sizing you up based on how you look and you are not in school now.
Don’t drink before the service. It seems obvious, but for some it really won’t be obvious. This is one of the ways that is among the easiest ways to ultimately be fired for just cause. If you are an extra and have alcohol on your breath, they really can find someone else to do the job that can manage to show up completely sober.
Get to the hall early. Starting off rushing around to park or whatever is not a good way to start your professional career. I like to aim for 30 minutes before a service. Cut it closer if you wish at a later date, when you are sure of the logistics.
Once you get there you will find a backstage world to navigate before the service. Topics to consider in that world include the following.
Figure out where to warm-up. It actually can be a problem as there is a routine to backstage life and you are interrupting it for the regular players. Try to find a neutral location.
Decide how to warm-up. I like to warm-up at the hall. You will find that some pros do very odd warm-ups that don’t on first impression make much sense (do they warm-up at home?) and others do a very methodical routine before every service. I am one of those people that has the methodical routine. Whatever you do, make an effort to play a generic warm-up, not too flashy. You don’t want to come across as a show off.
For a concrete example of what not to do, don’t warm up up on the Long Call!! The only reason to warm up on the Long Call is if you are playing the Long Call on that rehearsal or series. As an extra there is no reason to ever warm-down on the Long Call.
Don’t expect to chat. Before the service is not a great time to chat. Personally, I am trying to get in my zone and get my chops where they need to be.
Don’t be too friendly. Related to the chatting topic, for the regulars, it is just a job, one rehearsal among many. Depending on the rep they may be fairly relaxed or may need some space to get in their own personal zone. Some members will be friendlier than others but each is an individual that needs to get ready their own way. And you are new; for some of them you will certainly need to earn a reason as a player for them to want to be nice to you. Breaks are a better time to start talking to people a bit.
Stowe your electronics before the service. A lot of orchestra contracts do not allow electronic devices on the stage. Even if they do I would suggest that you make a better first impression as an extra if you focus on the playing job at hand and only check the phone on break offstage, as the electronics are at the least a distraction and probably a pet peeve for some people on the stage. I have a bit more on the topic here.
Don’t practice anything other than light review of works on that service. Seems like another no brainer, but actually it is not, people make this mistake all the time. I have a bit more on this here.
Finally, for sure be in your chair five minutes before the service! Contracts specify when you need to be in your chair before a service and in any event you do not want to be the last one ready to play.
Now you are ready to actually play the service! More on that topic in part III of this series on extra playing.