Pittsburgh Opera seeking good-looking extras, no singing necessary

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Auditioning to be an extra in the Pittsburgh Opera's production of Verdi's "Aida" won't be particularly arduous. The casting call for male supernumeraries -- or "supers" -- will require walking to music and taking costume measurements.

But it wouldn't hurt if the potential supers looked, well, super.

"We need to see how buff they are," said Tara E. Kovach, stage manager.

The Pittsburgh Opera is holding a male-only casting call for roughly 60 non-singing parts in "Aida," which will open the company's 75th season in October. The audition will take place at 1 p.m. on Sept. 7, in the Egyptian Wing of the Carnegie Museum of National History in Oakland.

The supers will play soldiers and prisoners returning to ancient Thebes after the Egyptian army's victory over the Ethiopians, during the "Triumphal Scene" at the end of the first half. Some supers will take on additional roles.

"They don't have any singing part, but they are a very important part of the spectacle," said Jerry Sherk, director of production. The pay is a total of $100 for rehearsals and four productions.

Because the chorus is selected based on vocal ability rather than musculature, finding alpha males for extra roles is "the way we make the stage look more buff," Ms. Kovach said.

The costuming department will be on hand to make sure there is enough garb to go around.

"That's less of an issue in 'Aida' because the costumes are kind of abbreviated," she said.

In other words, many of the supers will bare their chests. Others will wear robes. But the Pittsburgh Opera is not merely being superficial. The company considers other factors, such as facial hair.

"A guy with a Colonel Sanders beard or an Uncle Sam beard probably isn't going to look very Egyptian," said Mr. Sherk, adding, "The perfect super casting is typecasting."

Visible tattoos may need to be covered by costuming or makeup.

The company uses supers for almost every opera, but it usually draws from a group of regulars. The abnormally large demands for "Aida" may reinforce that corps of skin-deep talent for future productions.

Adam Siler-Waruszewski is among that crew of stalwart supers. As a semi-professional actor, Mr. Siler-Waruszewski said being onstage with no speaking role is "one of the more challenging things I've done as an actor," since it requires an intense focus on body language.

Working as an extra over the past two seasons has given him a new appreciation for opera -- and some experience to draw on for "Aida."

For the 2011 production of Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers," he wore a loincloth that resembled a diaper. "Being bare chested, that's really not going to be a problem," he said.

And people who aren't macho, macho men shouldn't be discouraged from auditioning, he said.

"It's not like you have to be some massive body builder," he said, adding, "I don't have the bulging muscles or the six-pack or anything like that."

The setting in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History resembles the set for the production, Ms. Kovach said, and it allows the company to engage with the community in a new way.

In addition to local men, the company is working with the local organization Going Home Greyhounds to bring in retired racing greyhounds for performances. It plans to cast other animals, including horses, a large bird and maybe even a snake.

"If someone has a camel, we'll talk," Mr. Sherk said.

theater - opinion_letters

Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1750 or on Twitter @BloomPG.


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