In the basement of Civic Theatre, junk food for the body and mind hinted at cravings past: A bag of M&Ms, a bowl of Milky Ways, and an In Touch magazine were spread out on various tables. No one was touching anything.
The final dress rehearsal for the San Diego Opera’s production of “Faust” was starting in 15 minutes, and everyone was focused on that. A string player rushed through a few last scales. A woman’s voice piped through speakers throughout the building announced the countdown — 15 minutes to show time. People paced with headphones and binders. And in a dressing room, a corpse from the opening scene — actually a man named Frederik Ter Veer — waited patiently to get dragged around on stage.
“I’m not rigor mortis, I’m very fresh,” Ter Veer told me and another corpse sitting next to him. These silent opera actors, known as supernumeraries, have had three weeks to practice their poses. They are volunteers, and one more mysterious ingredient in the world of opera. But I had no time to ask how they ended up in “Faust,” and how they spend their time outside opera?
The opera was about to begin.
Photographer Sam Hodgson and I have been following this production since the first rehearsals started earlier this month. I’ve watched crews assemble sets, I’ve brushed my hands against the costumes, I’ve peered into the rows of empty seats and wondered what the feeling is when they’re full. I have asked every person I could: How do you stand out in this world, and how do you work with everyone else?