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SanFran Opera seeks unpaid extras

July 16, 2017 by norman lebrecht

24 comments.


San Francisco Opera is holding an audition on July 31 for adult extras to appear in Elektra, Manon and the new John Adams opera next season. Auditions start at 6 p.m. at the War Memorial Opera House.

No previous experience required, it says, and you don’t get asked to sing.

The catch? You don’t get paid, either.

Email [email protected] for more info.


Could this be you?


Comments (24)

  1. herrera says:

    Reminds me of the incident of the Met extra who “fell” (or did he jump?) and in any case made quite a spectacular exit worthy of a full article in the NYT

    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/20/arts/an-extra-s-unscripted-tumble-from-the-stage-is-roiling-the-met.html

    I’d love to appear on an opera stage, paid or unpaid!

    Of course, being unpaid would give me every incentive to, um, make my own spectacular entrance and exit!

    It’s not like they’ll hire you twice anyway, so why not make a splash.

  2. Ungeheuer says:

    The nerve to ask for volunteers and no pay! And in such a prohibitively expensive city like SF no less. To any volunteers reading this: Do not fall for it. It constitutes use and abuse. Demand decent pay for your participation, whatever form that may take. The American culture of and cultural pressure for volunteerism is a massive scam of opportunism for free labor. Think about it.

    1. Rebecca Crysdale says:

      It unpaid works is a volunteer? Am I missing something.

  3. Dan P. says:

    Actually, I see nothing wrong with asking for volunteers in this way. It sounds like a great experience if you’re an opera lover and always wondered what it would be like on stage in the midst of Elektra. People can either participate or not of their own free will and if they do they’ll have a handful of fun nights on stage in the midst of an opera and stories to tell afterwards. It’s not as if they are being asked to provide any professional services – either as singers or actors in any material way. It’s hardly any different than sitting in a stage seat during an orchestral concert. Except this would be much more fun. If I ived in SF, I’d sign up right away. And I’m a professional musician.

    1. Skidegodt says:

      With the greatest of respect Dan, I too am a professional musician, who realises that there are people in the world who make a living doing this kind of work and far from it being “hardly any different than sitting in a stage seat during an orchestral concert” it is a job which can demand a great deal of discipline and attention to detail depending on the staging. For every one of those people who is having “a handful of fun nights on stage in the midst of an opera and stories to tell afterwards” a professional somewhere is having their livelihood removed and their work undervalued both metaphorically and in real financial terms. This is a cynical and flawed attempt on the part of the company concerned, in my opinion, to address a world wide problem with regards to Arts funding – this is not the solution.

      1. Dan P. says:

        I’m not sure how simply being a body with a costume on a stage is a profession and the position demands anything other than standing where one is told to for a period of time and being aware of what’s going on around him/her. I’m also not sure whose job is being taken away or what profession is being impinged upon. If one were being asked to sing, dance, or act or being asked to contribute something more than just being scenery I would agree with you. But I think some of us are making much more of this than it deserves. And, if one IS volunteering, I’m pretty sure that one could assign a value to this and deduct that amount from one’s taxable income. Fair enough?

        1. bratschegirl says:

          At least in the US, per IRS rules, the value of volunteering one’s time cannot be deducted from one’s taxable income.

          1. Dan P. says:

            Can’t one donate services “in kind” to a charitable organization if your frame the services in the right way? Companies do that all the time. One would then not characterized it as volunteer work, but a donation of services. I’m not a tax attorney, but it would be well worth exploring, no?

    2. Ungeheuer says:

      Regardless, volunteerism is exploitative of gullible people particularly in an era of immense income disparity and growing worse. It is a practice that preys on people’s good will. You want to hire people for their time and effort, skilled or not? Pay them. Can’t afford it? Close down the show then.

      1. rita says:

        quite agree: volunteerism is a cancer in any profession.

        1. Peggy H says:

          When I was a teenager, I answered a similar add from the SF Opera. It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever experienced. I was already smitten with opera and hoped to be a singer. To be able to be on the stage with likes of Beverly Sills, Leontyne Price, Jussi Bjoerling, etc, etc, was amazing. I think back then we were paid $1.00 a performance. It didn’t take any great talent to be in a crowd for Boris or Turandot or Mephistopheles, so we weren’t taking any work away from professionals. Did I become a singer? Not full time, but some professional chorus work and other singing over the years. So, I think the chance to super is great for bringing grand, grand opera into a life. It may never leave. I still listen to opera most of my waking hours.

      2. Alexander says:

        +10 😉

  4. Cubs Fan says:

    Not a problem. I’ve done this with my local opera and symphony and look at it this way: I’m not rich and can’t give either large monetary donations, but if my time and talent help, then I’m glad to it.

    1. Dan P. says:

      Exactly. And for those who have time and care to contribute their labors, it can be a great once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Is contributing to a charitable organization with one’s own efforts any different that writing out a check to that organization? I don’t see how. I know a lot of people who visit this site like to lay down the law – I’m sure it feels good – but to describe volunteerism as a scam brings cynicism to a whole new – and very sad – level. To volunteer for a good cause is among the best of the human spirit can offer. Maybe its different in Ungeheuer-land, but over here to contribute to a charitable effort with one’s own efforts is considered admirable and greatly appreciated. And, to say that volunteerism is a cancer in any profession clearly has never had cancer.

    2. V.Lind says:

      There’s a difference between local companies (amateur to semi-professional) and big ope like SF Opera. All the major opera companies on Canada pay, as do ballet companies, when they (rarely) add supernumeraries. I have worked as a super for pay — and the director of one opera referred to the supers as actors and actresses, and they have plenty direction to take; they were far from furniture. A dancer friend got a paid super part in Swan Lake — filling up the ballroom, I suppose; they prefer trained dancers — and was paid, but when ABT came to town and wanted extras they did not.

      I can see that volunteering for this sort of thing is not without appeal, but as the profession, at least in countries outside the US, have traditionally paid, to stop would be exploitation. I don’t know what SF Opera usually does, but I would have thought it could well afford to pay for its onstage talent. I hope this practice is not too widespread in the US. But I suspect it is.

      1. Donald Hansen says:

        I may be wrong but I think the SF Opera has always asked for unpaid volunteers for non-singing roles, and gets them too. What’s wrong with that? The thrill of being on stage is pay enough.

  5. Myrtar says:

    If they want unpaid volunteers, why not donate all income from those performances to some good cause? If the SF Opera is making a buck, I’m sure they can share the profits with the volunteers.

    1. Rebecca Crysdale says:

      http://www.perfectprice.com/blog/opera-pricing-strategy-problems

      Please review the amount of money the opera companies get.

    2. Stephen Owades says:

      No opera company “makes a buck” presenting an opera performance. They all rely on wealthy donors, small contributors, and governments to cover the gap between ticket income and expenses.

  6. John Rice says:

    As a graduate student at Berkeley in the early 1980s I got to sing in a(n unpaid) supplemental chorus in SF Opera productions of Aida (with Pavarotti and Margaret Price) and Die Meistersinger. (I was a Nubian slave in blackface in the former and a baker throwing pretzels in the latter.) Unforgettable!

  7. trolley80 says:

    The SF Opera pays its musicians, including its chorus, extraordinarily well. Asking for volunteer supernumeraries does not take a single job away from anyone else. The Opera is not going to pay people to stand around just because they want a crowd scene. There is certainly some kind of “demand” for this kind of interactive experience with opera on behalf of donors, attendees, and the general public, and the SF Opera is satisfying it. They could probably ask the supers to pay THEM for the opportunity and they would find 20-30 people who would do it.

    So, okay, SF Opera isn’t allowed to have crowd scenes. Nobody wins, except people who enjoy scenarios in which nobody wins.

    1. Peggy H says:

      I agree completely. It is a great, special opportunity for opera nuts to be a small part of something wonderful and to see the backstage workings that are required to get the performances on stage. Many years after my supering days, I worked at SFO in fund raising and used to give backstage tours. It was a perfect place to point out why contributions are always needed.

  8. Una says:

    From Bruce Duffie on Extras in opera in Chicago in the ’80s!

    http://www.bruceduffie.com/recup.html

    One thing doing fundraising and working for an amateur opera company, but this is San Francisco Opera. And not getting paid? No way! There are very strict rules about that in England and minimum rates set down by the British Actors Equity. They’d be hard pushed to get away with even asking.

    1. Donald Hansen says:

      Well, the SFO is not in England. Is it so hard to understand that there are people willing and able and thrilled to be part of the show without expecting to be paid? The almighty dollar (or pound) is the least of their concerns. Both my wife and I volunteer our time whenever we can. In fact both my wife and son worked in the SFO office for nothing and have survived quite nicely. So let’s give it a rest.


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