Working In The Theatre: Swings, Standbys, Understudies


[opening music] [Lindsay K. Northern] I play one part in
the ensemble every show and I am the understudy for Glinda. An understudy goes on for a principal role if they can’t do it for whatever reason. Like they’re sick or on vacation or injured. Here at Wicked, it’s a little different because Glinda and Elphaba, the two leading ladies, have a standby. So the standby also needs to be out for me to be Glinda. I was out of the show for nine months
having this baby. This is Georgia. She is 6 months old now. But I was out of the show for six months and I tried to run the show right before I came back in my apartment just with the recording. Sort of thinking about what I did next
and I couldn’t remember anything. I was terrified and I came back and I said “I’m not gonna remember anything,” but
then I physically did the show in the rehearsal space and on the stage and my body remembered what it was supposed to do really quickly. It was kind
of amazing. I play a lot a little parts, the ensemble, like a citizen of Oz, as a Shiz University student, a super fancy ballroom guest, a citizen of Munchkin Land, and things like that. It’s not difficult knowing so many little parts, we call it
a track, and that’s just sort of my part. I sort
of look at as one part and Glinda as another part. The swing job is I think the hardest job on Broadway. They have to know like seven or eight different tracks and go on for them all
the time. Like, could be a two-show day and they play one track in the first show and another track in the second show. And the dancer swings often go on in the middle of a show: they’ll be on one track and they have to switch! and I think that takes a special sort of person to be able to switch gears like that and
remember all that information. But, two parts, I can do. [music] [Brian Munn] I am a swing
and an understudy at Wicked. I guess I’m considered the singer
swing. There are, I think, 12 men ensemble on the show, and I cover basically all them except the real dancer-dancers. There’s up to eight guys that I go on for them, plus I understudy The Wizard and Doctor Dillamond, and so there’s there’s 10 tracks total that I’ve been on for or could be on for at any notice. I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist my whole life and I think that sort of lends itself well to being a swing, though it sometimes can be 18 months between times I go on for a certain track, so that can be a little nerve-wracking, but you know, thats part of the gig! [vocal warmups] [warmups continue] I’ve been with the show in various forms, always as a swing, since 2007. I started in the original LA company and I first came to Broadway in 2008. So, my first six months with the show and in LA in particular were very stressful. My heart would go into my throat pretty much whenever the phone would ring about an hour before, half hour, because that was usually, “Oh, you’re on for something!” and I just didn’t have it in my head yet. But, now that I’ve been with the show for a long time and been thrown into lots of situations, it’s calmer now, so I have a much stronger sense now of knowing what needs to happen in order to make the show work in whatever slot
that I’m in. [Tiffany Haas] I love being a standby! It’s kind of the best of both worlds. Sometimes, I have the opportunity to
watch the show, and sometimes, I have the opportunity to be in the show. My job is to come to the theater and be ready at the drop of a hat to go on to go on for the role of Glinda. Sometimes, I’ll know if there’s a
vacation that the Glinda is taking, and I’ll know that I have the time, I mean, a
week of shows and sometimes I don’t know at all! It could be in the middle of the
show, which has happened before, or it could not be for three weeks. I get asked that question a lot: “how,
often do you get to perform?” And there really is no standard typical answer. It’s different anytime. Last week, I was on as Glinda. It was a blast! It’s always fun riding in the bubble. It’s the best mode of transportation. [laughter] I was sitting in this dressing room, it
was a few weeks ago, we had just gotten the call for intermission, my cell phone rang and an
announcement happened at the same time, “Tiffany, please come to the
Glinda dressing room immediately,” and I ended up being on in the middle of the show! I think she became ill, and that happens, you know? It’s real life. I ran downstairs, and the
wig department had my wig ready and we were ready for action very quickly. I’d say I think that happens easily in
six to seven minutes. [background] [Northern] It’s a little difficult
keeping up with Glinda’s material because I do it so rarely. We have rehearsal here, but that is one big part of my job, is to maintain that by myself. So, I sort of have to take the initiative to make sure I know the lines, and lyrics, and the music, and the blocking, and the choreography, so that when I don’t need to go on, I’m not, you know, a mess. Yes, I have this notebook that has my understudy notes because Wicked changes a little bit all the time. They love to keep it fresh and they open new companies and they are just always changing
little tiny things in Wicked. Even though it’s been open for 10 years now it’s a totally different show from one
day to the next to one month to the next We’ll have understudy rehearsal and we’ll take notes, so if I find I’m gonna be Glinda, the first thing I do is open this and see what changed and what kind of notes I got from last week’s rehearsal. The notes I get are from any number of people but mostly the dance captains,
the stage manager, or the associate director. Any of those people that are the boss of me. To tell you the truth, a lot of it is, “we told you this before and you’re still not doing it.” [laughter] Or, “you forgot,” or, “you’re not following directions,” but a lot of
reminders about the character and why she does the things she does
and choices that I make as Glinda. It’s cool though because I can
sort of play around with it. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s been a fun journey and is probably a hundred percent different when I go on Glinda now than it was when I started. It’s usually pretty spread out in between when I go on, I would say four or five times a year. I really like to play Glinda. It’s fun, but it’s also a little stressful because it’s a big responsibility. Everybody knows that character
is supposed to be funny, so they’re waiting to see how
funny you are, which is kinda [laughter] daunting. [music] [vocal warmups in the background] [Munn] Every swing sort of has their own system I have my little Bible here which has all my track sheets and so they’re their marked out
per person, they’re named at the top. Often, they’re named by someone
who isn’t actually still here because [laughter] there’s
a lot of turnover over the years and so I might have somebody
that their name is on the track, but they actually were in the show five years ago. I just haven’t updated it. But, we also have changes that happen
now and again where they’ll shift things, and so then I’ll have things crossed
out, rewritten in in my chicken scratch So I mean, there’s a little bit a constant vigilance, but I’ve been with the show long enough now
that things are pretty securely in my brain. [singing] [Northern] So, the shows gonna start in a few minutes and when the curtain comes up,
I’ll be in my place for “places!” [Haas] Sometimes, not being on stage
all the time of course can be frustrating because that’s the reason that I’m in
this business and chose this career. I love to be onstage. And so, of course you can get a little bit
anxious, but I am thrilled to be here, so I completely indulge and sit into
those moments when I actually do have the opportunity to be on stage I first toured as Glinda and then came here. As you can hear the show playing right now, I come to the theater, I have my own
dressing room where I kind of sit, have my own space, I can listen to the show, what’s going on, and I also watch the show either from the house or from the stage manager’s office. There’s a big TV screen there. It’s like regular upkeep. I have weekly
voice lessons and sometimes we rehearse during the show up in our rehearsal
room so that we’re always ready, myself, the other standby, understudies, swings that we’re all ready to go on
stage at the drop of a hat. The main thing that we’ll do together
is tune in with the show in the office, watch the monitor, because I could
be going on in three minutes. [music and humming] It’s so easy to play opposite
Kyle Dean Massey [laughter] He is gorgeous! [Munn] In the stage manager’s office
or the green room, we have monitors that I can see certain things that I
have a question about spacing or traffic patterns and who goes where in a number if something shifted, that kind of thing. [background dialogue] [Munn] We have three things: we hit 8, center, and 8, and I just wanted to make sure
that’s what was happening and that my brain was accurate. Which it was, thankfully! We’ve had a couple instances where
some things happen mid-show and you just kind of click into a way of your brain working: “Okay, what needs to happen? I need to cover this, you need to cover that, let’s go.” You sort of get instinctual. [background dialogue] [Alicia Albright speaking] [Haas] You mean, I’m not perfect? [laughter] [Albright] No one is perfect! [Munn] You need to have a thick skin. I think in knowing that sometimes you’re going to be not totally right and that someone is gonna
tell you that something needs to be different and that’s okay. That’s just how things are. As stressed as you get, you have to
maintain, or it helps to maintain a calm exterior because then your emotions can
get in the way if you’re too freaked out So, those are all important things to look for as far as a skill set and a temperament. [closing music]

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