Los Angeles, Wild Card

The Life of a Seatfiller

Ever see that episode of Seinfeld, in which Kramer goes to the Tony Awards show as a seatfiller? In a wave of excitement, he gets whisked up to the stage by a group of Tony winners moving through his row. Suddenly, he’s not only surrounded by celebrities, but he becomes one when he receives his very own Tony!

Now, Seinfeld tends to take thing past any reasonable level. However, there’s always that grain of truth somewhere at the start. In this case, it happens to be the reality of seatfilling. Why would a fancy-schmancy awards show need a random person to sit in some of the foremost rows? Well, there are several reasons.

Case #1: At big shows like the Oscars and the Grammys, many people are getting up to go present an award or perform. They leave an empty seat behind. The camera guys, trying to catch glimpses of glamour and grandeur, don’t want a single empty seat to mar their shot. So, a seatfiller is called in to slip into an opening—but just until that person returns! When they do, the seatfiller gets up and moves to their next assigned spot. It’s like an adult version of musical chairs.

Case #2: Then, there are the times where the awards show is not quite so grandiose. It’s a more casual function, for which the public can actually buy tickets. Still, if it is going to be televised, the cameras must have an audience to pan across! In these instances, seatfillers are brought in by the truckload, filling out all the empty space in the house.

Last night, I attended my first gig as a seatfiller. I simply signed up online, got an email saying I was accepted, and showed up at the time indicated. Several hundred people were already in line before me, down in a lower level of the Nokia Theater’s parking garage. We were given long, complicated instructions (“Sit where we tell you to sit”) before we headed inside.

The show was called Teacher’s Rock. It was sponsored by Walmart and recognized outstanding teachers in America. It was possibly one of the worst advertisted shows, as well. Hardly half of the large auditorium was filled, and the production was scheduled to start in just fifteen minutes. Initially, we were all lined up along the walls. As more guests trickled in, the staff began to pull off parts of our line, sending twenty right down to the front to sit. Then, another ten to fill in the gaps just behind them.

“If we seat you somewhere and a guests arrives to claim that seat,” they instructed us, “you must immediately move out and come to us for another seating assignment.”

I was placed in a row near the middle of the theater, about fifteen rows from the front. Next to me, sat a group of women who had come together for a seatfiller girl’s night out (definitely doing this in the future!). We’d talked in line all night, so I had heard all about their other seatfilling and live audience experiences.

Suddenly, a family came, claiming four seats from our row. One of the girls in the GNO group was sitting in one of their seats. I jumped up from my seat on the end, told the others to move down one so they wouldn’t have to be split up, and went to find the nearest handler.

“I need a new seat!” I said, as the lights flickered, indicating the show was about to start. The woman, listening to some message coming through her headset, led me absently up the center aisle. She pointed me to a seat and I quickly inserted myself in the row. Now I was precisely in the middle of the auditorium, about twenty rows back. I couldn’t have picked a better seat in the house! Immediately behind me was a large teleprompter and a group of cameramen. During the entire show, I was able to watch the camera guys perfectly choreograph their movements to get the shots they wanted. And, it didn’t hurt that all of the presenters were staring directly at us (i.e. the teleprompter) the entire night!

From then on, I was able to sit back and enjoy the show. Actually, “show” is a loose word for the situation. It was clear from the very first moment that this production was entirely for the television audience. Yes, we were going to see it all live, but we also were privy to the fact that the MC’s made mistakes. A number of them. Lou, the production manager, would talk over a loud speaker (very “voice of God”) when a sequence needed to be redone or shot from a different angle. When Pauley Perrette, of NCIS fame, flubbed a line, she had to reshoot it. Twice.

But, the thing was, it totally endeared her to the audience! We saw her make a mistake and suddenly she was human, not a movie star. She also kept her composure so well in front of thousands of people. That’s tough stuff!

The biggest act of the night was sent out first, probably to get the audience in the right mood. The singer? Garth Brooks!! We were all on our feet, singing and clapping along. The side screens showed the shots that the cameras were taking of the audience. You would have thought it was the Grammys, it was so packed and alive!

Other performers included Dierks Bentley, Fun., and Carrie Underwood (Unfortunately, she wasn’t there. Her segment was taped in advance). Some of the celebrity presenters were Josh Hutcherson (Peeta in the Hunger Games) and Viola Davis (from The Help). Miranda Cosgrove (teen star of iCarly) was absolutely adorable, and very much beloved by the twelve-year-olds sitting a few rows behind us. My ears are still ringing from their high-pitched squeals of delight.

Josh Groban closed out the show with one of my favorites, “February Song”. And suddenly, without further ado, the lights came on and the show was over! It was so odd and abrupt. I had to picture in my head the credits rolling over Josh Groban’s band.

Teacher’s Rock will air this Friday on CBS. If you have a chance to watch it, look for people with blue bracelets on their right hand. Those are all seatfillers! You probably won’t be able to spot me this time. But, I will certainly be attending another event soon.

Hope you enjoyed this peak behind the Hollywood curtain!


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