A few clouds

Winnipeg, MB

7°c A few clouds

Full Forecast

The Arts

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Super man

Toronto actor finally speaks as he recounts his silent career as opera extra

Posted: 07/21/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Advertisement

  • Print

The word supernumerary originates from the Latin supernumerarous, which in opera parlance refers to "a person no one cares about and is often overlooked," or more simply, "a silent actor."

Briane Nasimok has been quiet long enough, having served as a super in 287 performances for the Canadian Opera Company in the 1970s. The Torontonian is making his Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival debut with his monologue Confessions of an Operatic Mute at Son of Warehouse.

"I hope the show gives voice for the silent," says Nasimok. "It lets people know those onstage in the background have something to say."

Supers, as they are known, are like movie extras -- non-singing volunteers who provide the dramatic background for the soloists and choir. They don't need to know an arpeggio from an aria. The appeal is being onstage with world-class sopranos and tenors, not unlike football fans getting to be on the field with the Bombers during a game.

Confessions of an Operatic Mute, which debuted at the Toronto Soulo Festival in 2013 and last year at the Toronto Fringe Festival, is a modest payback for all that opera has done for the 64-year-old Nasimok.

"I am who I am because of it," says Nasimok. "I want to say, 'This is what opera did for me.'"

His stage career was purely accidental, triggered by being taken to see the touring musical Oliver! at Toronto's O'Keefe Centre. He was only eight years old but immediately became bewitched with show business, and resolute about some day finding his way onto the O'Keefe stage.

"I was dreaming of being up there some day and that performing was going to be the Mount Everest of my life," he says.

Nasimok thought he was on his way as part of a college revue, which, crushingly, was cancelled after its dress rehearsal. The only upside was a friend of the music director was there looking for extras for the COC. Opera had never registered on his radar; his only knowledge of it was thanks to Bugs Bunny and his Looney Toons pals. The main selling point for becoming a super was that the COC worked out of the O'Keefe Centre.

His supernumerary debut was a 1972 production of Lucia di Lammermoor, in which he was cast as the elegant gentleman on the right. He remembers that during the orchestra dress rehearsal, the miked director was seated in the audience, ordering adjustments to sound and light levels. In the wedding scene, Nasimok made his entrance and walked to his spot, accompanied by the grand Donizetti music performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

"Suddenly, the director yells over the microphone, 'You, the one on the right. Yes you. You walk like a penguin. Don't,'" recalls the University of Toronto graduate with a chuckle.

He didn't, and built a sideline playing pirates, soldiers, waiters, servants and an array of people in the crowd.

"I was good at playing low-status dolts," says the performer, who will be staying in Winnipeg with old pal Stan Lesk, who is producing Confessions of an Operatic Mute. "I played a great henchman in Tosca, which I think is my favourite opera."

Nasimok made three tours of North America, never opening his mouth. On some two-show days, he would be an Italian in the afternoon and a German in the evening. He liked to joke that he became an accomplished extra because he could mute in six different languages.

"I think 85 per cent of the extras are doing it for the love of opera," he says. "You get great costumes, fabulous wigs and put on makeup. So I was able to live out my fantasy of being on that stage."

He kept coming back not for the money -- $1.50 per rehearsal and $2 a show -- but the priceless camaraderie of being part of a real company family and contributing to the appreciation of opera. Nasimok established an annual award for extra of the year at an event that evolved into him entertaining a good-sized crowd.

"I was fairly content to stay in the background because I had been there all my life," says Nasimok, whose last COC show was Aida at Toronto's SkyDome. "But then I turned into a standup comedian."

He became a comic to prove to himself that he was funny and was the second featured act at the first Yuk Yuk's in Toronto. He evolved into writing for TV, contributing to Fred Penner's Place, Genie and Gemini award shows and a Grey Cup event.

"My goal for Confessions of an Operatic Mute is that hopefully it will lead to a book," he says.

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 21, 2014 C5

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.