Grow checks bucket-list item as ‘Little Women’ extraJanuary 20, 2020
By LEANN BURKE
JASPER — Jasper native Shalyn Grow marked an item off her acting bucket list last year.
The 2013 Jasper High School graduate scored a spot as an extra in Greta Gerwig’s film “Little Women,” which was released to theaters on Christmas. The film is based on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel of the same name and follows the lives of the March sisters as they forge their way in the world of Civil War America.
Although not a speaking roll, working as an extra on the film meant working under the direction of Gerwig, one of Grow’s director idols. That’s why when Grow found out the film was shooting in Concord, Massachusetts, near her Boston home, she knew she had to be on the set.
“I just kept emailing the casting director,” Grow said.
Her persistence paid off, and although Grow describes being an extra more like being part of the set than being an actor in the film, it was still a big win for her resume. And working with Gerwig did not disappoint.
“She was just so warm and excited to be there,” Grow said. “She loved what she was doing, and that trickled all the way down to the extras.”
Being an extra on the show meant being part of what gave the film the look of Civil War-era Boston. It also meant two long, crowded days on set, one for eight hours and the second for 15 hours. They were the two busiest days of filming, and by the end of the second day, Grow said, you could tell everyone was tired and ready for a break. Despite the tiring day, Grow said, Gerwig kept her spirits up and was one of the best directors Grow has worked with. At one point, Grow said, she and Gerwig almost walked into each other.
“I was walking past a door as she was walking through it,” Grow said. “We both jumped back and just looked at each other for a second, then she just walked away. If it had been any other director, I would’ve gotten yelled at and possibly fired.”
“Little Women” wasn’t Grow’s first experience being an extra. After graduating from Western Kentucky University in 2017 with a degree in musical theater, Grow moved to Irvine, California, to try her luck in Los Angeles. Her boyfriend, Jasper native Evan Vonderheide, had a job out there, so they moved out there together.
Although Grow got a few roles as an extra, living in California didn’t go as she’d hoped.
“I went out there and kind of got crushed,” she said. “Nine months was plenty of time.”
When Vonderheide got a promotion that took him to Vermont, Grow decided to move to the East Coast, too. She knew she wasn’t ready for the acting scene in New York City, but Boston had a good acting scene, too, so she moved there about a year ago. Since then, she’s been in plays around the Boston area and started studying film acting.
“I need to try to get good at as many things as possible and see what sticks,” Grow said.
For now, she’s not sure whether she’d like to focus her career on stage or film acting, but that also isn’t her focus. She’s been working on writing her own work and figuring out what kind of projects as a whole she wants to do and what kind of work she wants to create.
Acting as a whole has been more difficult than she thought it would be. She admitted that when she graduated college, she thought she’d be on Broadway by now. At the same time, though, she’s glad she’s not. The last few years of experience have taught her that she’s not ready for that yet.
“I’m glad I’m where I’m at,” she said. “I’m grateful for the struggle because it will make everything I get later feel richer because I’ll know I earned it.”
For now, she’s enjoying getting more experience in stage acting in Boston and branching out into film through her classes. In fact, the instructor for her current film acting class was a casting director for some of the minor rolls on “Little Women,” and one of the scenes they worked on was from the film.
“It’s funny,” she said. “It’s like ‘Little Women’ is with me wherever I go.”
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