The nurse and I are attempting to raise the head of my bed so I can watch the traffic in the aisles of the emergency room. She's unpracticed, so we wave over the doctor in the next bay and he figures out how to lift me for a better view.
We are not really nurse, patient, and doctor, but instead, "Extras," or they say in showbiz, "Background." The three of us, along with another 50 or so of our ilk: curious folks who signed on for a kick, partially employed people who do it for extra cash, and TV star wannabes who dream they will be plucked from our troupe for a speaking role.
No matter our motive, all are friendly; a majority know each other from background work on various other TV programs now being filmed in Chicago. We had all answered the call issued by Tail Sticks Casting for scenes in the popular Dick Wolf show, Chicago PD. But because this episode has a storyline that involves a wounded officer, it is a crossover with Chicago Med, hence the nurse, the doctor, and me, the patient in the bed.
I had submitted my name, photo, age, dimensions, and other data for a day that needed people of all ages (hand raised). I thought I'd have a shot because there'd unlikely be other 78-year-olds willing to be at the studio (Cinespace) by 6 a.m., schlep outfits to befit a patient, or waiting room sadsack, and be available for 12 hours or more.
When I got the email telling me I had been selected, I immediately forwarded it to my daughters, who are successful TV writers and directors. "How exciting!" they wrote back, with a flurry of exclamation points matching my own.
I knew my kids would be happy about my little showbiz fling because they were the ones who had set my brain to fame. Jill, who created the Amazon Prime streaming video, Transparent, and Faith, a member of her sister's writing team, invited me to appear in a cameo -- with lines! -- in an episode of the show's third season, which both daughters wrote.
There are photos of me outside a trailer with a poster of my name on its door. That's me in another trailer with makeup and hair artists prettying me up for the harsh lights of the set. Then, there was the actual scene where I played a member of a synagogue board with several of the show's stars.
Although I had memorized my lines, Jill the director, suggested we throw in some improvisation. So, the final words that appear in the scene are a mix of my daughters' and mine. I downloaded the new season as soon it was available, eagerly watched the first two episodes, and then zeroed in on the third with a scientist's focus: Do I look okay? Are my eyes open, or did my eye tick distract? Is my dialogue intelligible?
While I was satisfied I wasn't an embarrassment to my daughters, my first reaction was like a jealous diva: That's it? Why couldn't the camera linger a bit more on that interesting grey-haired woman? I wanted to hear more of her opinion; surely the audience felt the same.
Oy, I had been bitten by the showbiz bug, and that's how I wound up with a hospital gown tied over my white t-shirt and gym shorts, lying propped up on a bed in the emergency room of the fictional Gaffney Chicago Medical Center.
While lying there waiting for the director to shout "Action!" I pondered: If I were a real patient in an E.R., shouldn't I be alert and surprised at the tumult when the police and medical teams barrel through the aisles? But, if I sit up with a quizzical look on my face, would the director choose to scrap my image? I elected to remain in my upraised position.
The new season for Chicago PD just started, so my appearance (or lack of) won't show up for a couple of weeks. Unlike my cameo in Transparent, where ahead of time I continually gushed to friends on social media to keep an eye out for my close-up, for this latest role as a background patient, I'm keeping mum. It's likely in that rushed scene; the camera won't absorb the elderly woman propped up in bed, whose face hauntingly evokes fright and curiosity.
Showbiz can be such a bitch.