During the last quarter of the 19th century, when touring companies presented Shakespeare or other historical dramas, they regularly engaged local amateurs as supernumeraries, often called supes, supers, or extras, to fill in the crowd scenes. Because they often swelled the ranks of an army for battle scenes, supers were sometimes pejoratively referred to as "spear-carriers." Locally hired extras were also known as "jobbers." Sometimes the gallery gods would call out "Supe! Supe!" when they recognized the awkwardness of the amateur amid professional actors. In professional eyes (according to the Kansas City Journal, 8 March 1927), supers were "lanky-limbed, raw-boned men with ill-fitting tights and no make-up." They were the ones who looked nervous in a calm scene and perfectly unconcerned during a battle, or who shouted "Aye, Aye!" several seconds after the regular actors had given the cry. In those days before stage unions, the supers were sometimes ordered to carry furniture on or off stage or perform other menial tasks, all for the lowly fee of 25 cents per performance, except for the first performance, when the money went, "through an unwritten law backstage," to the property man. As many as 200 supers might be hired for a spectacle like Richard Mansfield's production of Henry V, but 15 usually sufficed for melodramas of the period.

The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. .

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  • Supernumerary — is an additional member of an organization. A supernumerary is also non regular member of a staff, a member of the staff or an employee who works in a public office who is not part of the manpower complement. Thus, a supernumerary could be an… …   Wikipedia

  • Supernumerary — Su per*nu mer*a*ry, a. [L. supernumerarius: cf. OF. supernum[ e]raire, F. surnum[ e]raire. See {Super }, and {Numerary}, {Number}.] 1. Exceeding the number stated or prescribed; as, a supernumerary officer in a regiment. [1913 Webster] 2.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • supernumerary — ► ADJECTIVE 1) present in excess of the normal or required number. 2) not belonging to a regular staff but engaged for extra work. ► NOUN (pl. supernumeraries) ▪ a supernumerary person or thing. ORIGIN Latin supernumerarius soldier added to a… …   English terms dictionary

  • supernumerary — [so͞o΄pərno͞o′mə rer΄ē, so͞o΄pərnyo͞o′mə rer΄ē] adj. [LL supernumerarius < L super, above (see SUPER ) + numerus,NUMBER] 1. that exceeds or is beyond the regular or prescribed number; extra 2. that is beyond the number or quantity needed or… …   English World dictionary

  • Supernumerary — Su per*nu mer*a*ry, n.; pl. {Supernumeraries}. 1. A person or thing beyond the number stated. [1913 Webster] 2. A person or thing beyond what is necessary or usual; especially, a person employed not for regular service, but only to fill the place …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • supernumerary — index ancillary (auxiliary), copious, excess, excessive, expendable, needless, redundant, superfluous …   Law dictionary

  • supernumerary — c.1600, from L.L. supernumarius excessive in number (of soldiers added to a full legion), from L. super numerum beyond the number, from super beyond, over (see SUPER (Cf. super )) + numerum, accusative of numerus number (see NUMBER (Cf. number)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • supernumerary — *surplus, extra, spare, *superfluous …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • Supernumerary — Beyond the normal number. Anything supernumerary is extra. A supernumerary chromosome is an extra one beyond the usual number of 46. A supernumerary digit is an extra finger or toe. A supernumerary nipple is an extra nipple beyond the usual one… …   Medical dictionary

  • supernumerary — UK [ˌsuːpə(r)ˈnjuːmərərɪ] / US [ˌsupərˈnuməˌrerɪ] adjective formal additional to the number that you need Derived word: supernumerary UK / US noun countable Word forms supernumerary : singular supernumerary plural supernumeraries …   English dictionary

  • supernumerary — I. adjective Etymology: Late Latin supernumerarius, from Latin super + numerus number Date: 1605 1. a. exceeding the usual, stated, or prescribed number < a supernumerary tooth > b. not enumerated among the regular components of a group and… …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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