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Making It to the Stage as an Opera Extra

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Making It to the Stage as an Opera Extra

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Making It to the Stage as an Opera Extra

Making It to the Stage as an Opera Extra

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Writer Shannon Dunn had no experience singing or acting. But one day, she decided she wanted to be in the Baltimore Opera's production of La Boheme. She found the perfect opportunity when she volunteered as a supernumerary, or an opera extra.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

Writer Shannon Dunn has never been a singer or an actress or a soldier. But one day she found herself in uniform parading across the stage in the Baltimore Opera's production of La Boheme. Here's her story.

SHANNON DUNN: One day in my parking garage this woman told me I had star quality. I was just standing around waiting for someone to bring up my car, which was this awful 20-year-old Volvo with 300,000 miles on it. And this woman says to me, you have star quality, you should go to Hollywood or some place like that. And I guess I am kind of a diva because I didn't really question it, I just worked on accepting it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUNN: Unidentified Woman: Thank you for calling the Baltimore Opera...

DUNN: And they said yes, that there was this part called the supernumerary, which is the super for short, and that you were just kind of a walk on part, like an extra, that moves the plot along. And I could do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUNN: And when I asked what they were doing, they said they were doing La Boheme, and all I could think of was some day when I die someone will read my obituary and, huh, did you know Shannon Dunn was in La Boheme? But I didn't think I had to audition, that was a problem. Because I thought that I would just have this part. They would just come and tell me you are flower girl number seven. But that wasn't what they did.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUNN: So the third night I went back and they told me that the bugle player, who was also a super, was sick. So the director says - offers the part to me. And she says it's a mans part but I think you can do it. And you know, you need to learn to march, and then she looked at me and said, well - and don't wear the red lipstick anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUNN: Unidentified Woman #2: We're probably going to wait like five, ten minutes.

DUNN: I'm in my costume and running around trying to keep - practicing my marching and trying to be so on time and good. And I'm so nervous about this thing. I don't want to mess it up. So we get up - we have to run up these huge flight of stairs to get to the back of the theater where we march through. I get to the top of the stairs and I realize at the door that I'd forgotten my hat. And basically this is, you know, you have to have the hat to be a soldier. I forgot my hat and I had to run back. So I have to run back down, all the way down, way down to the basement. But I made it, I jumped into line, got in formation and Musetta's Waltz is just ending and there's all these people on stage and they're townspeople and they're clapping and they're waving and they're calling us and they're calling us, and they're pointing to us and waving and smiling, and so we go marching. And then we march across the stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUNN: The music is so intense. I always cry at the opera. I was bawling through this whole thing. And I'm marching across the stage, trumpet soldier, crying. And I am part of the opera, not - with no talent and I am now part of the opera.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DUNN: My friend Sarah sent me this quote which I keep on a sticky taped in my bathroom. And it says, you must remember this. At any moment you must be prepared to give up who you are today for who you could become tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ELLIOTT: Freelance writer Shannon Dunn lives in Baltimore. That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. From NPR News I'm Debbie Elliott.

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