More than 40 men came to try out for San Diego Opera last night. It didn’t matter if they could sing.
Some found out about the auditions from martial arts class newsletters or rock-climbing clubs. Most are used to climbing things, like the high-voltage electrician who scales poles. Others are used to the life aquatic, like the fisherman who spent 40 years hauling fish in Alaska. Stage acrobatics are second nature for many, like brothers from the performing Platt family who were semifinalists on the “America’s Got Talent” television show.
All were hoping to land spots as climbers, fighters, acrobats on the whaling ship Pequod for San Diego Opera’s upcoming production of “Moby-Dick,” a new opera.
The opera uses creative lighting and video projections to convert the stage from an upright ship to a birds-eye view of smaller boats. The cast will dangle from heights up to 40 feet, cling to rungs on a curved wall much like a skateboarding half-pipe, and crash and slide in heaps down the wall when storms come.
Not exactly feats fit for someone needing to sing a song at the same time. Some acrobats and stuntsmen selected will be paid; other guys will be “supernumeraries,” a fancy opera word for volunteer extras who don’t sing but have specific roles to play.
Last night, one by one, the men illuminated their climbing and acrobatic experiences and demonstrated their tumbling prowess for assistant director Keturah Stickann and her team of fight and climbing coordinators. The group of 15 men will climb, carry and deal with tasks like boiling the blubber of the whale.
“All of the sort of down-and-dirty work that people can’t do while they’re singing, we give to these 15 gentlemen,” Stickann said.
When they walked through the door, each posed for a headshot. Here’s Fred Ter Veer.
While they watched the other candidates, many stretched and warmed up, in case they were asked to demonstrate tumbling or some physical feat.
Brandon Hinojosa stretched before he was called to audition.
Scott Andrew Amotte, who works as a climber on the ships at the Maritime Museum, watched others audition.
While each man told stories about his fearlessness of heights, his speed clambering up ladders, his precision in hand-to-hand combat, assistant director Keturah Stickann took notes and conferred with her team of climbing, fighting and costume staff.
Several men demonstrated cartwheels and somersaults, some wincing as they first tested how hard the floor was underneath. Cy Platt took off his jacket before flipping backward.
When he was called, Hinojosa brought a sword up with him.
Fernando Huerto boasted: “I’m comfortable with falls. It’s my bread and butter.” He demonstrated a few moves, one called the “front suicide,” another that looked as if he was being clothes-lined by a rope.
After making a first round of cuts, the directors told the group of potential shipmen to form a line so they could size them up.
They also needed to see how the men could fight. Those left after the first cut paired off and ran through a simple fight routine. Al Sorkin, who said he’s been performing and climbing the masts on the Star of India since 1992, and Travis Spackman formed a pair.
Beyond finding acrobats and the climbers, Stickann said she needed to find a mixed crew.
“The other really important thing that we’re looking for is just to create a crew that doesn’t all look alike, that doesn’t all come from the same ethnicity, from the same background, from the same anything,” she said. “We want a rough-and-tumble, motley-looking crew that would actually be on a whaling ship during that time.”
Which men will join the motley “Moby-Dick” crew for rehearsals in January and February? They’ll be finding out in the next few days.
Also: Watch NBC 7 San Diego on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. for a video peek at last night’s auditions.
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