The Merry Widow
Back in October, my theatrical agent at BMG asked if I would be interested in being a super for The Merry Widow at The Lyric Opera of Chicago. The term “super” is short for “supernumerary,” which is equivalent to an extra in a movie. This means I would not be speaking, dancing, or singing. Instead, I would be set in certain scenes as a bartender or footman. I would also be moving small set pieces around during transitions. All pretty simple stuff, but did I want to spend my nights at rehearsals and performances for a role like this?
Let’s look at the facts: The Lyric Opera of Chicago. Top-of-the-line opera singers and professional dancers. One of the most famous opera singers in the world, Renee Fleming. Five-Time Tony Award Winning Director and Choreographer, Susan Stroman.
It was a no brainer. I said yes, absolutely! And that was the right decision. This rehearsal process has been unlike anything I have ever experienced. In the middle of the first rehearsal, Miss Stroman approached a fellow super and I, shook our hands and said, “Hi, I’m Susan Stroman. It’s very nice to meet you.” (As if I hadn’t already stalked her online.)
So why is this worth noting? It’s important to know that the person with the highest status in the room went out of her way to connect with two people of the lowest status. To her, it was not about importance or power. It was about seeing us as individuals. And that matters.
Where did we get this notion that in order to climb the ladder, we must step on others to do so? To put it bluntly, why do some artists feel the need to be divas in order to gain success?
The communality that I see with these people who are so charismatic and so loved and who have the star power is when they look at you, they see you. They see you, and they hear you, and they give you time. And it is outward energy . . . but they’re not so self-involved that they’ve closed themselves off, so they’re truly interested in what’s going on. That’s what makes them fantastic actors.
My experiences at The Lyric reflect Steve’s thoughts beautifully. In fact, as I’m working on this post backstage during rehearsal, Renee Fleming sits next to me, takes a look at the dancers who are stretching and doing some abdominal workouts and says, “I don’t know how they do it.” Here I am, writing about the importance of seeing people no matter your status, and the legendary opera singer, Renee Fleming sits next to me and admires what the dancers are doing backstage. I tell her I have to remind myself that I am a footman onstage with her, not an audience member, so my outward gasp during the silence after her beautiful solo the first time I heard it was probably not appropriate. She smiled and graciously accepted the compliment. She then asks me where I’m from. We continue talking about the city of Chicago, her experiences traveling around the world, and her daughter who is a college student here in Chicago. Because like Susan Stroman, Renee Fleming sees people. Her status does not hinder her from being a human being and connecting with other human beings. That’s awesome.
Our integrity starts today. It really can’t wait. There’s no “If _______ then _______” equation that works with treating people with respect. When I was a teacher in the suburbs, a student’s full-time aid told me I was her favorite teacher because, as she put it, “You see students and talk to them like human beings.” That was the best compliment I ever got as a teacher.
In the same interview, Steve Rohr asks some challenging questions:
When are you going to decide to show your character? When you become a series regular, is that when you’re going to show your character? When you star in a film, is that when you’re going to show your character? When you get several guest starring roles, is that when you’re going to show up to the set and show your true character? You are a star wherever you are.
Star power is not awarded to those who live in the future, always looking for the next best thing. It lives inside those who are present and treat others with dignity and respect. I haven’t found a better place to experience this notion than here at The Lyric Opera of Chicago.
We had our first performance of The Merry Widow on November 14, but there are still nine more chances to check us out throughout the rest of November and December. Click HERE for more information!
Director & Choreographer Susan Stroman with The Merry Widow Supers.