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Performing Art
Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 6 years ago

Sarasota Opera gets pumped up for "Aida"

The opera company starts its search for weightlifting extras for its record-breaking size production of Giuseppe Verdi's "Aida."
by: Nick Reichert Arts & Entertainment Editor

It appeared like any other job interview. Stacks of paperwork were at the ready for applicants to fill out. The potential hires sat down at tables and wrote down their ages, backgrounds and availability. They went to the other corner of the room and learned the details of their duties, which includes heavy lifting while wearing a uniform in crowds of people.

One interview question confirmed this was no ordinary job: "Do you mind taking off your shirt?" Without missing a beat, in the middle of the opera house, the applicants obliged.

Peter Finch, 75, flexes his muscles for Sarasota Opera staff.

No, the Sarasota Opera isn’t adapting “Magic Mike” into a new opera — this surreal exchange was one of the first rounds of auditions as the opera looks for 40 supernumeraries (opera lingo for a non-speaking role) to take the stage during the opera’s largest production ever: Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” which runs Jan. 30 to March 19.

The cadre of bodybuilders will be shirtless and carrying pieces of furniture, props and other exotic items during the opera’s large procession of Egyptian slaves.

“What’s important is getting a variety of looks,” says Greg Trupiano, director of artistic administration at the opera. “I want to get people who, when the curtain goes up, everyone looks interesting. I don’t want anyone to blend into the background.”

Two very different potential hulking Egyptian extras sauntered into one of the opera’s rehearsal rooms to be measured and photographed for a spot onstage. Peter Finch, 75, is a casual fan of the Sarasota Opera. He began lifting weights late in life. In 2008, he was walking out of a jazz concert at First Church and came across a group of muscular gentleman and struck up a conversation. From then on, he was a devout convert to the ways of the gym.

James Jeffcoat, 18, is getting measure as a potential Egyptian slave strongman in "Aida" at the Sarasota Opera.

The Nantucket, Mass. transplant has visited the opera on occasion with some friends who are season subscribers, but this is his first time onstage.

“I came out to get some real exposure and hopefully get sponsored for future bodybuilder competitions,” says Finch. And though he might seem intimidating, with his muscles covered in tattoos, Finch spends his free time giving seminars on basket weaving and selling his trademark basket bracelets.

Also looking to make his mark on the Sarasota community is 18-year-old James Jeffcoat. A visible opposite to Finch, the young Jeffcoat is a clean-cut health-and-exercise student at State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota. The last time Jeffcoat says he was onstage was at church plays growing up as a kid. He’s new to bodybuilding, but he's already developed a strict regimen. 

He prepares and eats eight meals a day and visits the gym for at least two hours each day.

When he's not lifting weights or at the gym, Finch crafts and teaches classes on how to weave baskets and basket bracelets.

“I do it really to just reach my body’s full potential,” says Jeffcoat. “I came out to the opera tonight because I’ve learned from my friends and mentors not to turn down any opportunity, because you never know what will come of it.”

Both Finch and Jeffcoat say they recognize the similarities between weightlifting and opera. Both are performances of sorts and require an intense effort and concentration. Even though they won't be the star of the performance, they won't miss out on a chance to be in the spotlight.

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