Month: July 2014

The Understudy

It’s been a long time since my last post , as I have been so busy lately, but I’m back!

Anyway, one of the things I’ve been busy with was a production of Grease. I auditioned last year, but as I was doing another show (so I couldn’t commit to all the rehearsals), I was in the chorus. But then my other show finished, and Grease was pushed back a few months because it wasn’t finished. I was a cheerleader and it was a lot of fun, but I was given the job of being an understudy to all the female roles in the production. I was thrilled, but at the same time I knew no one would drop out so I didn’t think anymore of it.

Then the day before the show’s first matinee, one of the cast members sustained an injury. I was asked to step in at the last minute, so I learned the show in a few hours, and I got to play Frenchy.

I was really excited and nervous about the opportunity, but all I could think about was the poor girl who hurt herself.

On the night of the second show, we were having our microphones fitted, when the girl I took over from walked in. I took one look at her, and burst into tears and ran off.

I didn’t think I would react like that, because I hadn’t done anything wrong. I think I felt bad because she had worked so hard on the show, and she was probably really looking forward to it.

She was really nice about the whole thing, and I really appreciated that. She watched the show that night, and I just couldn’t look at her. I felt awful, and there was nothing I could do.

It got me thinking how tough it must be for understudies professionally. I mean, they probably feel like the second best option, and that’s not a nice feeling. Also they must feel bad for whoever they’re taking over from.

As well as this, they may hardly ever get to play the role at all, when they have spent just as much time learning the show as the actual cast member. So either way, it can make you feel upset.

Or you could look at it as a positive, as you still have a job, and you’re helping out when the show is in need. Also the cast member is probably relieved to know they have a reliable understudy, so really it must be an odd situation to be in.

This is all what I have assumed from the experience I had, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

After this I think understudies do not get enough credit for what they do, and that is a great shame. Every time I go to the theatre and it is announced an understudy is performing I think how incredible they are, and how I would never have noticed they weren’t the actual cast member themselves!

Jeffrey Tambor:
“My part had three lines. I said, ‘You look wonderful, sir,’ three times. All my friends said, ‘Do not take that role – and do not understudy. You’ll regret it the rest of your life.’ I did both of those things, and I’ve never regretted it once.”

Jon Cryer:
“I’ve been mistaken for a lot of people. Often for Matthew Broderick. I tell people not to feel bad. One of my first jobs was to be Matthew Broderick’s understudy. I was paid to look like him.”

In my opinion, understudies are heroes. Heroes waiting in the wings, to save the day.

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