The World of Supernumeraries

It’s Toronto’s chance to get on stage with the Canadian Opera Company with an open casting call for supernumeraries

I’m happy to say that I attended my first opera not too long ago when I saw Tristan & Isolde on opening night at the Four Seasons Centre. As much as I loved it, I still felt like I had so many questions about the opera and the mechanics of creating such an intense production. For a show that was as minimalist in terms of set, costume and sheer number of bodies on stage as Tristan was, I wondered how even bigger productions function.

Enter the leaflet for the open casting call for supernumeraries at the Canadian Opera Company. I saw it at nearly the same time that my editor asked me if I would be interested in developing a story about the supernumeraries, or “supers”, of the opera world.

Supers are to the opera what extras are to the film industry. They might not be what immediately come to mind when you think about a stage production, but when you do stop to think about it, you realize that they play a crucial role in the production. Every time you see people present on stage who aren’t singing that’s a super, and their every movement has been just as carefully choreographed as any of the lead characters.

I spoke with Jim Lucas, a veteran super who has appeared in over 60 shows since he began in 1991. He had nothing but positive things to say about the experience and it was clear that he thoroughly enjoys his role in each of the productions he’s been in. I was shocked to hear that he once played the part of a dead body who was moved around the stage, rolled up in a carpet, and eventually shoved in the back of a trunk (don’t worry, the trunk had a back door so he didn’t have to stay in there the whole time)! This was in Gianni Schicchi, an Italian opera where he was the only super in the show. Although very modest, Jim did admit to me that he is a highly sought after super, and different productions have often fought over which show he would take part in as they frequently run simultaneously.

Jim said that one of the best parts about being a super is the entire atmosphere and environment of live theatre. He told me that the thing he loves most is working with all the different people and the sense of family that develops during a production. The way he described being on stage for the opening night, with the lights, costumes and actors is simply amazing and said that it really fills one with a sense of awe.

Since the COC has put out an open casting call for supers on February 16, I was curious how one would be chosen for a super and what the real deciding factors would be, whether it is age, gender or appearance. I was surprised to find out that a lot of who is chosen to be in a specific production is based on costume sizes and whether or not the super will fit in to the costume with minimal tailoring. I discovered that at the casting call the theatre will likely take down your information and measurements and for the most part, whether or not you will get called will be based on that information. Jim told me that you never really know when you will be called to be in a production and that it can range anywhere from a week to a month’s notice.

What can you expect if you’re a super? According to Jim, lots of sitting and waiting. So bring a book for the down times. You will also get paid, but don’t get your hopes up too high; it’s a small honorarium which shows that most people aren’t doing it for the money but rather for the pure enjoyment of the role. He offered this advice to new supers: keep your eyes open and sit back and take it all in. If you love music and theatre, then you will thoroughly enjoy playing the part of a super, regardless of which production you are in. Although it is a big time commitment, it sounds like a massively rewarding experience to me.

Photo of Michael Schade as Oedipus in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Oedipus Rex with Symphony of Psalms. Photo by Michael Cooper.

Details:

  • The COC is looking for 72 men and 45 women between the ages of 18 and 65, and ranging in height from five-foot-three to six-feet tall
  • No singing or acting experience is required to be a super, but those selected must have flexible schedules in order to meet the rehearsal and performance demands of the production they are asked to join
  • Casting call takes place 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre (227 Front St. E., Toronto)
  • For any questions, e-mail supers@coc.ca

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *