I have been involved with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in approximately 20 operas as an acting extra (Supernumerary) for 13 years now and have been on stage (sometimes with up to 150 principals, chorus, and fellow Supers) in front of 3,600 people each time, in costume and sometimes makeup.
With only: 1) the commitment of time, 2) being able to "take direction," 3) fitting the directors vision of me as one of the characters in the opera and 4) fitting into the costume; I have become part of the company at one of the world's premier opera houses. I have done this without having had to spend years studying voice, acting, or running off to NYC to become famous (which I admit is still a fantasy!)
The majority of people I have worked with at the Lyric have been nice, humble, down to earth people. The mystique of the DIVA, for the most part, I would put to rest based on my experience.
My friend Marla (who was an avid opera fan until her death in 2005) gave me a metal, enameled star that said "A Star is Born." I put it on a ribbon and when I arrive at the opera house for a performance, I place it over one of the makeup lights at my place in the dressing room.
At last night's performance of Carmen, I really did feel like one of the "STARS" of the opera. Let me tell you why.
One of the things I enjoy doing when in an opera is giving backstage tours to friends who will be in the audience that night. They come 30 minutes before my call time and I show them around backstage, talk about he behind the scenes business of opera, and share other anecdotes about my experiences as a Supernumerary.
Last night I gave a backstage tour for friends Cathy, Joe, Alex, and Lily. This was the first opera Alex (12) and Lily (10.) They arrived at the stage door with one of the most beautiful flower bouquets I have ever seen (see picture attached.) They were a wonderful audience as I led them around the backstage areas and told my stories. An e-mail received the next day thanked me for a "very special experience" which helped everyone enjoy Carmen even more than they expected. For a half hour, I was the star of the "Backstage at the Lyric" show.
Naturally my fellow Supers had to use the flowers as an excuse to tease me: "Did you send yourself flowers again?" "Just because you are in all four acts doesn't mean you should get flowers." "I suppose Carmen sent you those?"
Next, in Act 1 when Carmen (Katherine Goeldner) enters the stage through the backstage center arch (which is located right where my newsstand is stationed) she really flirted with me this time. She got close, whispered a few endearments, stroked my face, and as she began to continue her flirting as she moved towards the front of the stage, I reached out and caressed her arm. All in the day's work of an actor but since Katherine and I have become "opera friends" as we chatted during rehearsals, her attention meant a lot to me. Also, all this went on center stage in front of 3,600 people who wanted to watch Carmen and got to watch me as well! We were both stars.
While I was waiting back stage to escort Michela to the smuggler's hideout, 12 minutes into Act 3, I was sitting next to Don Jose (Carmen's jilted lover) sung by Younghoon Lee. He said, "Oh, I have a picture of you. Let me go back to my dressing room to get it." Usually people take pictures of the stars, but here was a friend of Don Jose's in the audience during dress rehearsal and he took a picture of me!
Finally, in the back stage lobby, as I was leaving after the performance, I commented to Escamillo, Kyle Kettelson, about how much I loved his performance and the strength of his voice. In response, he imitated my regal wave as I cross the stage, The Mayor of Seville, in the parade into the bull fight ring and replied, "And I you." I was impressed that he even noticed me.
Life really is meant to be sung. And sung BIG.