“Do you have to wear your glasses? No? Then I want them off. And do you have high heels with you? Yes? Good. Go put them on. I want you wearing heels.”
These are some of the first words spoken to me by director Francesca Zambello as I enter my maiden rehearsal for Heart of a Soldier. Having just come from a day at work, I had changed into flats and put on my glasses--which I typically only wear for driving, movie watching, or making sure flying stage knives aren’t headed my way--so that I would be better prepared for what the night would hold. It was clear in that moment that my journey from mere civilian to Supernumerary (or ‘Super,’ for short) was underway.
But who or what is a Super, you ask? Supers are non-speaking, non-singing roles in an opera, and they help to achieve the director’s vision for a scene. And in this case, with my heels on, my glasses off, and the assistant director’s note to add a tad more ‘va-va-voom’ to my step, I am beginning to achieve the vision that they have for my character. [Right: Thomas Hampson and friends rehearse a scene from the wedding reception. Photo by Kristen Loken.]
To be clear, I am not an actress. The last time I acted on stage was as Chorus Girl #2 in the fourth grade production of Bugsy Malone. Which, now that I think about it, seems a very strange musical selection for a bunch of nine year-olds. But I digress. No, I am simply a lover of opera, and also an employee of SFO. I am a Gifts Officer in our Development department, and I work with the fantastic donors who invest in our Company and are the reason world-premiere operas like Heart of a Soldier are possible. I am also under-35, blondish, and fit the parameters of what the director was looking for for the ‘Super Bride,’ which is how I
was coerced agreed to take on my very first Super role. [Below: Kristen at her first costume fitting for her early1970's wedding dress.]
The Super Bride appears in the last scene of Act I, and she is the first wife of our hero, Rick Rescorla. It is their wedding day, which for many brides is the happiest day of their life. But as the scene progresses and Rick spends most of the wedding drinking with his buddies instead of being with his new bride, you get the sense that perhaps these two are not a perfect match for one another. It’s an unusual mix of emotions to play. I find myself sympathizing with this character, who is all but jilted on her wedding day, but I also see how they represent so many Vietnam-era marriages, when people got married because social norms told them it was ‘time’ and not because they were necessarily the best fit for each other.
“Are you my bride?” I hear a voice drawl out. I turn around to see Thomas Hampson sidling up beside me.
“Um, yes, yes, I am, Mr. Hampson.”
“Please, call me Tom.”
Gulp. So I’m now on a first name basis with one of the biggest stars in opera. I desperately hope my cheeks don’t get flushed and show how utterly nervous and terrified I am.
In a few short moments Tom has a rose in his teeth and I am wrapped his arms as we rehearse a brief dance scene. There are certainly worse ways to spend a Monday night. And as we continue to practice and I start to feel a tiny bit more at ease, I find myself thinking: Maybe I can do this. That is, if I can keep the va-va-voom in my step.