What is a supernumerary? Any of the non-singing actors on the stage of the Met. They can be members of a crowd, waiters, acrobats, soldiers–take your pick.
Joe Barnes, Director of Supernumeraries, tells us more.
A scene from Act II of La Bohème
Do most of the people who become supers have acting or performing experience?
Almost everyone is some kind of performing professional or they have stage experience. Sometimes different types of direction are called for, for example in La Bohème you have two distinct groups of supers on the stage. Upstairs the crowd is milling about and shopping, whereas downstairs in the cafe the supers are really in the action: the waiters, the girls that Marcello flirts with to make Musetta jealous.
Are any of them singers?
We occasionally get people who are extra choristers and want to gain more stage experience at the Met. One of the regular choristers now actually started as a super…that doesn’t happen very often, but he was a developing singer. Some are actors and opera is really not their world, and then there are a few young singers who become supers to develop stage experience.
What is the largest show that we have here?
Well, War and Peace is the largest with about 262 cast members, but the largest show that we perform on a regular basis is Aida with 175. Coming up this year, we will have La Bohème with over 100 people, all the way down to Rigoletto with only 2 supers.
What is the oddest role you’ve ever had to cast?
The fire juggler in Maria Stuarda last year was odd. The casting process for The Nose was also quite intense. [Director] William Kentridge had a very specific vision of what he wanted from the cast, including native Russian speakers, and because he comes from the Lecoq School of acting [a French school of physical theater], he specifically wanted actors with that training in their background as well. There are also significant acting roles in Die Fledermaus this year, including some actors drawn from Broadway.
Fire juggler from Maria Stuarda
The season opens in just a few days. When did you begin rehearsals?
We started rehearsals for Onegin in August, but supers are also used as lighting stand-ins during technical rehearsals which can begin as early as the end of the previous season!