Last Saturday the cast and crew of Glee shot their final number and wrapped production on the series, capping a run of 121 episodes in six seasons (and a movie, technically). I would have mentioned this on my blog last week but I chose to, instead, keep things timely given the price hikes and I wanted to wait until the show had officially concluded back on the West Coast. You may wonder what a Fox television show (both produced by and airing on the network) has anything to do with Disney. The truth is absolutely nothing aside from a handful of six-degrees-of-separation-type games I could lay on you. However, this blog is also about my life and Glee has been a major part of it.
Glee (or the stylized ‘glee’ if you prefer) premiered in 2009 and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Not only did it bring back the concept of a television musical, but also spoke to a number of kids who weren’t used to seeing representations of themselves on screen.
I was not one of these people.
Without so much as watching an episode, I had totally written the show off. By the time I actually did get dragged into watching, I hated the series even more and resented its success. That all changed in 2011 when I began making a living by doing what is known to some as background work and to others as being an extra.
After getting the hook-up to do background on the J.J. Abrams film Super 8, thanks to having a friend that was a production assistant on it, I decided that extra work was an easy enough gig for me and looked in to doing it full time — or as full time as anyone can do such a job. After signing up with a couple of casting agencies and paying someone to make the booking calls for me, I landed my first “official” extra gig on what was my favorite show on the air at that time: Community. Imagine for a moment that you were invited to visit the set of your favorite television show. Now pretend you got paid to do so. That’s what I was facing.
On top of the excitement of getting to enter the world of Greendale, I also got to visit what I had always thought of as the quintessential Hollywood studio lot (seeing as it’s the only major studio actually in Hollywood proper), Paramount. Any fan of Community knows that the show has taken quite a few shots at Glee including doing an entire parody episode of the series. This fact is made even more interesting when you learn that Glee filmed mere yards away on the same studio lot.
Before concluding my day at Paramount, I got a call with my booking for the following day. As you can probably guess by now, I was booked on Glee. However, it wasn’t going to be shooting on Paramount like they mostly did, but down in Long Beach instead. Plus they were going to be shooting overnight in the winter… so, overall, tons of fun.
The episode we were shooting was going to be airing after the Super Bowl and the PA who gave us our introductory speech (to the crowd of 400 or so people) promised us a great performance. As we spent the night cheering on the marching band and cast while they danced to a mash-up of “Thriller” and “Heads Will Roll” it was fun spotting the paparazzi that hid around the field in order to get shots of the production. When we wrapped at nearly 7 a.m., I assumed that would be just about the only time I was on the show.
To my surprise, I got called a couple of weeks later to be on again; this time as a student and at Paramount. That day the call times (when you are to report to set) were split, and I had the later of the two. At the time I was still living in the Inland Empire, so I left with plenty of time which usually meant I arrived insanely early. Having never been to their set, I didn’t quite know where to go to check in and the recording only said to go to Stage 14.
When I got to the stage, I was trepidatious about just entering lest I be chased away by producers or guards. My next thought was to ask someone coming out of the stage door whether that’s where extra holding was or not. The only problem with this plan being that, having not watched the show for more than a few minutes, I didn’t know what the main cast looked like. In my mind, the possibility that I bothered one of the stars of show to ask where the background people go was not only horrifying but fireable.
Eventually I figured it out and made my way to wardrobe to be approved. I brought plenty of options so as not to receive the wrath of the costumer, but I made one crucial mistake. The line requested heavy coats, but since I lived in Southern California, I owned none… nor was I going to go purchase a coat that would most likely cost more than what I’d make that day. The costumer cut me a break and loaned me one but warned me that if I was going to work on the show again I would need a coat. In my head I thought, “well hopefully I won’t be working this show again.”
Having said that, I of course got recalled the next day. That second day was a bit better than my first mainly because I got to play with sparklers. I was also started to get the hang of how the extras — many of whom worked the show multiple times per week — operated. During my first day I felt completely lost, like a literal new kid at school. In fact I spent the majority of the evening complaining to the “teacher” I was paired up with about my frustrations with the cliques and my hatred of the show… only to find out he was friends with the executive producer. Luckily he didn’t care.
Thanks to my baby face, I was quickly joining the ranks of those regulars, often spliting my time between Greendale Community College and William McKinley High School. Though my “role” at Glee has evolved slightly and I was now a nerd on the show. This meant my wardrobe would soon be filled with far more khakis and argyle than I could have predicted.
Eventually Glee became my main source of income. I’d work the show three to five times a week. Sometimes there’d just be five of us nerds booked; sometimes there’d be an auditorium of 500 people booked. But I was there for all of it.
Before I knew it, I had been working on the show for over three years . I spent almost as much time attending fake high school as I did real high school. In that time I made a lot of amazing friends. Not just the types of friends you have sign your yearbook, but the kind you end up living with (four of the people I shared an apartment with over those three years I met on Stage 14) and might one day be known as “aunt” or “uncle” to your children (we’ll see about that).
More than just a job, the set of Glee felt like home to me. On my birthdays I didn’t care about having a big party; I’d prefer just to go to work instead since all of my friends were there anyway.
As far as my appreciation of the show goes, I am the first to admit all of the ways it went wrong. Trust me, a lot of the people on set knew it too. But still I found myself getting more and more invested in the various plot lines I would walk in the background of. This culminated in my writing of a Glee spec script (essentially fan-fiction but written out to model a real, working teleplay) that I tilted “Last Nationals.” It never went anywhere (aside from my website) but I’m still proud of my attempt.
On top of making great friends, I got to work with some tremendous talents as well. Darren Criss has become one of my favorite singers, I’ve have plenty of hilarious conversations with Jane Lynch (a real dynamite gal), walked down the hall with Elsa herself (Idina Menzel, in case you didn’t know), became friends with the hysterical Josh Sussman, and met perhaps the sweetest actress working in Hollywood: Vanessa Lengies. And that’s just a fraction of the legendary names I got to share air with.
I graduated from the show last year both figuratively and literally as the focus switched from Lima, Ohio to New York City. Before that happened, I was able to bring my now-wife to set to work with me when she came to visit. The Glee family embraced her just like they did me, even presenting us with a slushy cup of cash as a wedding present. They also gave her a job working with me anytime she wanted until she could find a job in her chosen profession.
While part of me is sad I wasn’t there to witness their last wrap, the other part of me is relieved. Being an extra is not as glamorous as I may have made it sound. While the crew and cast were definitely nice to me, I still wasn’t one of them. Despite what extras would like to tell themselves about being important, the truth is we’re not. I had very little to do with the show and this is why I haven’t spoken much of my connection to it until now.
Still it feels weird not to have Glee around anymore. Granted, creatively it’s time for the show to retire, but it’s also strange to look at how the show went from being a powerhouse a mere three years ago to being burned off on Friday nights like it is now.
Regardless of all of that, Glee changed my life. It allowed me to enjoy a three year adventure living in Los Angeles and learning first hand about the entertainment industry. If I had to pick a favorite performance of the 741 they recorded, I’d have to go with a song that, to me, sums up my experience on the show: “Tongue Tied” by Grouplove. Like the series, the song is one I wasn’t a big fan of though I had barely ever heard it. But my experience with it — celebrating on film with a collection of some of my best friends — put it in a whole new context for me. Now listening to it remains an emotional three minutes for me.
So thank you, Glee, for everything. Without you I might not have the E-Ticket Life I do today.
Kyle is a writer living in Springfield, MO. His deep love of Disney and other pop culture finds its way into his stories, scripts, and tweets. His first book “The E-Ticket Life: Stories, Essays, and Lessons Learned from My Decidedly Disney Travels” is available in paperback and for Kindle. http://amzn.to/1CStAhV