Thursday, April 5, 2012

Don Pasquale Seen From Onstage

Today's post is by Victor Steeb, who wears multiple hats as Seattle Opera's Production/Administration Intern, Ticket Agent, and, currently, supernumerary in Don Pasquale.

I have been interning with Seattle Opera for almost a year now. One of the duties I have had has been working with the supernumerary (super) performers of the opera. These actors are unpaid and volunteer their time to bring these magnificent performances to life. I am a trained actor and happened to mention to my boss, Seattle Opera Production Manager Paula Podemski, that I would like to try my hand at being a super. She replied that she had the perfect role for me in Seattle Opera’s Young Artist Program (YAP) of Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale.

Victor Steeb as Don Pasquale's non-singing servant, "Caesar."
Elise Bakketun, photo

I got to work with Peter Kazaras, the director, earlier this year with the other YAP program, Jules Massenet’s Werther. This past relationship made my experience of being a super all the better. Supers are often used to fill the stage with bodies during big scenes, or used to move sets and furniture. In Don Pasquale, I have gotten to do that and more. Along with my fellow supers, David Hsieh and Tyler Johnson, we make up the serving staff of the aging and befuddled Don. Since Don Pasquale is a comedic opera, plenty of humor and mayhem is in store.

Victor Steeb, David Hsieh, and Tyler Johnson as the servants gaze approvingly on Lindsay Russell (Norina)'s plans to clean up Don Pasquale's mansion, to the amusement of Jason Slayden (Ernesto)
Elise Bakketun, photo

The most challenging part of this show is at the end of Act II. The three supers must -- in time with the music -- clear the entire stage of ten chairs, a pedestal and a chaise lounge! All of this after sitting and nodding our heads at specific parts of the music. (This was made easier with the help of the stage manager, Yasmine Kiss, flipping on and off lights in the orchestra pit, to ensure uniform movements.) By the time we move all set dressing from the stage, we are completely out of breath. But there is no time to rest, since we have only the fifteen-minute intermission to change costumes, and have our hair and makeup reapplied.

Michael Uloth (Don Pasquale) is aghast as David Hsieh, sporting the new servants' costume in Act Three, brings home Norina's shopping
Elise Bakketun, photo

One thing I was not prepared for is the amount of transformation undergone in the makeup chair. A friend who saw the show said he had to grab his opera glasses to make sure that was really me prancing across the stage at the top of Act III.

One of the most fun aspects of being of super is the amount of freedom you have with your character. Since these are silent roles, all of the personality comes from the performer. I have made up different conversations that my character has had with his employer, Don Pasquale. On top of that, I got to give him a name…Caesar.

--Victor Steeb

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