Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pick Me First!

Houston Grand Opera’s Chief Financial Officer Rauli Garcia is a supernumerary artist in Dead Man Walking this winter. Read on about his first night on the “other side of the curtain.”

It was the night of our first rehearsal and I was nervous going in. Walking into the rehearsal room area, I was surrounded lots of people wearing colored papers with their names in large print. Many of the faces I have seen numerous times on the stage in the chorus. It looked a little disorganized, until groups started to gravitate to their appropriate rehearsal rooms. I followed Brian Mitchell, HGO Archivist and often a Supernumerary, and about fifteen other guys into a room for the supers where we all lined up in a semi-circle. Director Leonard Foglia walked in and, with his team, began to sort us into groups with whom we would act throughout the production. Was I to be a prison guard? A basketball player? A court deputy? An inmate? A protester? I felt a little like a kid in gym class, waiting to be picked for a team. Where would I go? I did not want to be picked last!

The story ends happily—I was picked along with five others as a player in the prison basketball scene. Certainly an unexpected assignment. I did not expect to play basketball for my HGO debut!

Brian Byrnes, the Fight Director and movement coordinator, quickly organized us into two teams and began to choreograph the game. I wondered how this was going to work. How can a basketball game be planned in advance?


We stood in two lines across from each other, passing the ball back and forth. Then Byrnes threw in a second ball, so we were passing two balls back and forth at once. My colleagues were actors first, not athletes. In the beginning, balls were flying in several directions. Once Brian was comfortable that we could pass the balls without dropping them, we split into two teams. Separately, he asked each team to create two plays in which the ball started on one side of the stage, and ended up being scored on the other end of the stage. After several minutes of running back and forth, jostling and crashing into other supers, Brian was satisfied that each team had two plays they could run reasonably well. We were relieved. Getting to that point was a lot of work for a bunch of actors and this CFO.

After a short break, Byrnes put both teams on the floor and asked that they take turns running their plays against each other. While one team ran its play, Brian advised the other team on how to “play defense” without actually getting in the way. All of a sudden, in a remarkably short amount of time, we had a very real-looking fake basketball game. Next we had to check the scene against the timing of the opera score. It was close, a few more tweaks and the scene was set. Break time.

My doctor called during the break to tell me that I should not be running around and playing basketball as he was concerned that I might strain my back. Rats! Now I had to tell Brian and Lenny that I could not participate in the scene they had just spent two hours working out. What would they say? I had no idea. I only hoped that they would not banish me!!

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