It has been over a year since I was a supernumerary (silent actor) for Opera Philadelphia. I performed in about 5 operas, I even blogged about my experience for the Fringe Arts blog. Last week I received my second email asking me to perform in Oscar, the next opera for Opera Philadelphia and the thought of agreeing was very exhausting. I almost said yes because they were asking again, but I couldn’t and as I get out of bed at 8am I’m writing half baked (as in not completely mulled over) ideas as to why that is.
I would like to note that I understand that supers do not play the most important role in the opera.
I understand performing isn’t always about the money, I understand that. I feel that. In the past three years, the least I have been paid for a play that ran 2 weekends was $100, that is not a lot of money when you consider the fact that you rehearse for a month before the play opens, but our love of the theater keeps us in in, right? love don’t cost a thing, isn’t that what J.Lo said? A true artist that J.Lo (no shade…. some shade… funny shade?). I stopped working with that theater company. Opera Philadelphia pays its supers $10 per call… that’s right. For one, 3 hour rehearsal, you get paid $10. That’s about $3.33/hour and when you consider that you will be potentially called 4 days a week, is it worth it? There are so many things I could be doing with that time that may not pay off right away, but accumulate for a later pay day. Also, Opera Philadelphia… $10?
I have met some amazing people at Opera Philadelphia, Michelle Johnson Major is one of the most talented, down to earth people I have ever met in a performance setting, it was a treat to have met her. The assistant stage managers; none compare to them, they are… the best. Some of the chorus members are delightful! But, some of these performers are reallllly about themselves and they talk to you any kind of way, and are occasionally very bossy. I remember rehearsal for one opera, I was given direction by the director and then we reset to start the scene again, when I stepped off stage, the star told me not to listen to him and to do what she said, finishing her statement with, “got it?” Who wants to be in situations like this? Why would you want to put someone else in a situation like this, don’t these people know I’m only getting paid $10? These people’s heads are stuck in a cloud of self importance and the fact that they think you are beneath them is made evident. Supers are at the bottom of the opera class system, yes, there is a class system in the opera. The director, maestro, the principals; they are 1st class, high class, the best. The chorus and stage managers; they are respected for their talents and appreciated, middle class. Supers; they get in the way, why are they even here? Again, I am not saying that everyone is rude, I’m saying when they are rude, they are RUDE and it is surprising.
I’m not saying any of this to be rude, but being a super is very much like how you imagine peasants to be in a movie; when royalty walks in you kiss their ass (or you don’t) and they kind of notice you… almost, sometimes they talk to you like you are a child, and you enter situations with the mindset that you are not important. Class is psychological.
I also hate how much ass everyone kisses. I just don’t like seeing it.
The other supers are great. This is the main reason one would super, to meet some interesting people and have a good time when you’re not on stage. I have met some very cool people this way.
I love performing and the opportunity to perform at the Academy of Music in a large production is fascinating. Being a super is like being a glorified extra and you have to understand that going into the experience. You have to understand that the people there might not care that you are an actor and that they can talk to you as such, they just want you “walk over there.” You have to understand that you may have questions, but not everyone makes the time to answer them because you are “just a super”. I understand all of this, and ego aside, I appreciate the fact that I have had the opportunity to perform as a supernumerary with Opera Philadelphia before, but I’m more interested in creating, in being in an environment where I am respected as an equal. Being a super also feels like you should be thankful to be helping these people who don’t really respect you, make a great production, so they can continue to be admired and you can go back to being poor. There are people who are fine with this role, who like meeting the singers and asking for a picture who don’t even notice when people are being rude to them. I am too aware and maybe too sensitive. I understand being a super is like being a temp, with the veil of performance. I understand its not for me. And that’s okay!