There is a group of performers in the Metropolitan Opera that are often overlooked and underappreciated, and those people are the staff performers (also known as supernumeraries). Staff performers are the non-speaking characters in an opera, and their presence and participation is fundamental to the success of any production on the Met stage. (Think of the clowns in Pagliacci, the myriad soldiers in the Aida triumphal scene, the warriors and female druids in Norma, and the men hammering anvils in Il Trovatore, to name only a few of the countless roles supernumeraries play.) Anne Dyas, the ONLY female full-time member of the staff performers roster (and a 10-year veteran!) has seen her fair share of stage time. Here, she'll give you a taste of how crazy a day in the life of a staff performer can get!
I had only been back in NYC from The Midsummer in Oxford Shakespeare Program for a few months when I heard about auditions to be a full-time actor at the Met. This job came along at just the right time for me. I was young enough to make that kind of commitment, but old enough to know what such a commitment entailed. I have since been in over 81 productions and over 1,400 performances at the Met. When I was graduating with my BFA in Acting from Texas State University, I had never given a career in opera a single thought. After attending The Circle in The Square conservatory, and being trained by B.H. Barry in stage combat for two years, a role in Franco Zeffirelli’s Carmen opened up, and I got to “fight” my way into the company.
I usually get up around 7:30am, and I need about 15 minutes of pretending to be awake to function. I always get in the shower before my husband (Met Chorus tenor Jeremy Little), while he makes coffee for me (he’s so good to me). We typically need to be at the Met at the same time every morning (leave at 9:15, arrive by 10:00am), so we have a whole routine worked out combining a little relaxation with planning out a part of the day where we get to connect.
Morning dress rehearsals begin at 10:00am, while the show from the night before often ends around 11:30pm, so there's usually only a 10-11 hour break between the time I leave the stage to the time I return to the exact same place! I have about 30 minutes to pin-curl my hair, put on my wig, do a full face of makeup, and get into costume (with the help one of our fabulous dressers: corsets don’t lace themselves!). I’ve got it down to a science now, so I usually shovel in some breakfast and check emails simultaneously (a must since our schedules change quite frequently).
On any given day at the Met, there are rehearsals for different shows going on in different rooms throughout the building, and I can be called to all of them at the same time. I often fantasize that the directors fight behind closed doors to see who gets to have me that day! Rehearsals on the Main Stage take priority, but this means that as soon as I’m released from the Main Stage, I get out of costume and am running to the next thing.
A sample day in February saw me rehearsing Semiramide from 10:00am-2:30pm, (running downstairs for a concurrent Elektra rehearsal from 11:00am-1:30pm), and La Bohème from 2:30pm-5:30pm, followed by the evening performance of L’Elisir d’Amore from 7:00pm-10:15pm. A rehearsal in the 5th Floor Studio is 9 stories away from a rehearsal in one of the three C-Level studios. According to my fitness tracker app, on average I walk 3.5 miles a day just in the building!
Lunch is usually something that I grab from the Met Cafeteria. Broccoli cheddar soup day is my favorite! I also drink a ton of water with lemons. There are water coolers in essentially every room in the building, so it’s easy to stay hydrated.
I think it takes a lot of muscle memory to do this job. It also takes a lot of brainpower to switch gears between Rossini, Strauss, Puccini, and Donizetti in one day. I’m frequently counting bars at the beginning of a rehearsal process, and within a few days I intuitively know when to move.
Or, with a show like La Bohème, which I’ve been in for ten years, I can carry on a whole conversation with Colline and move him out of the path of a horse and carriage without blinking, all while drinking “vino da tavola” and wearing 4-inch heels.
Rehearsals last until 5:30pm, and after 7.5 hours of rehearsals I run down to Columbus Circle and take a Pure Barre class. I’ve found that with this job, carving out time for myself is essential. Discovering Pure Barre (especially since it’s close to Lincoln Center) has been a game changer for me. It keeps me in shape and limber for all the different roles and physical characters I play. Plus, my mind gets a dose of modern music for 50 minutes! After class, Jeremy and I grab a quick bite and a smooch before our dress call for the evening performance. I’m so glad we work together, or we’d probably never see each other!
At 7:00pm, I’m back in the 3rd Floor dressing room to begin the process of getting ready all over again: adding more makeup, curling my hair for an up-do, or getting into another wig. Plus, more corsets! Three in L’Elisir, to be exact. At 7:23pm, the call to stage comes, and moments later the show is underway. Two intermissions, an offstage quick-change, a coffee/snack, and three costumes later, the curtains close on another exciting performance!
I change back into my street clothes (as we call them) and meet Jeremy to catch the uptown 1 train, so we can go home, watch an episode of Seinfeld, and hit the hay before getting up and doing it all over again the next day!
Be sure to follow ALL the activities of the Met Opera Supers on Instagram @metoperasupers