The Importance of Understudies and Swings

Because yesterday’s post talked about the ensemble, I think today is a good time to talk about the understudies and swings. They are the people who step up to play another character when the main person is on vacation, off for the day, or even sick. The understudies and swings have to work harder than anybody else. Whenever I hear I have an understudy, there is always a sense of worry, but I usually regret it right away.

I have been having this long history of understudies lately. In 2014, I had an understudy playing Christine when the main person was off for the day. In 2015, I had understudies for Pippin, Leading Player and Jean Valjean. In 2016. I had understudies for Elphaba and Katherine Plumber. I was the least worried when it came to Pippin, Leading Player, and Katherine Plumber because it was my first time exploring those characters. But with Elphaba and Jean Valjean, I was the most nervous because these were characters I already know.

When I saw Pippin for the first time, I remember being so intrigued by the performance of the leading player. She was an understudy and played the role fantastic. She was very crafty and quite playful at times and even had a sense of evil in her portrayal. I was more fascinated with her portrayal then the portrayal  of Pippin. I am not a big fan of antagonists, but they still can impress you. In Magic to Do, she played the part very playfully with a small hint of evil. But in Glory, she played the role in a much darker way. But whenever she was around Pippin, she didn’t play the role quite as dark in order to manipulate Pippin to make him make several wrong choices.

But in July of that same year, I saw Les Mis in the West End. When I heard I had an understudy for Valjean, I was thinking I hope he doesn’t mess it up. After all, I was seeing Les Mis in the West End and I already knew Valjean thanks to seeing the movie, 25th anniversary concert, and the stage show three times. This was my first time seeing the musical professionally and it was my dream of seeing Les Mis in the West End.

But I was blown away the moment he opened his mouth. Adam Bayjou has become my favorite Valjean. I could easily see Valjean’s transformation and could feel several emotions coming from him. I could feel his agony of being in prison and up until the bishop scene, I could feel his feeling of hatred and anger. In What Have I done for instance, I felt his anger he once felt and could feel the compassion he received from the bishop. Everything about his portrayal was brilliant. Below is a picture of me with Adam Bayjou.

IMG_0449Last year, I had an understudy play Elphaba. The thing with Elphaba is that she is my favorite musical character. So when I found out I had an understudy, I was a bit more nervous compared to when I found out I had an understudy for Valjean. I saw a different side of Elphaba I had never seen before. This was my 4th time seeing Wicked and I felt the most vulnerable this time around. I knew that would happen because I was coming in viewing “I’m Not That Girl” as heartbreaking song and not as the sad song I once viewed it as. I realized it was heartbreaking sometime after seeing the show a 3rd time. Her portrayal made me finally appreciate “No Good Deed”. For the longest time ever, I always hated that song. I never could pick up on its emotion and always disliked the melody.

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But this time around, I finally found something in that song. I picked up on its emotions of anger and frustration. Due to that, I felt more vulnerable in Wicked than I intended this time around. I originally thought I was going to be feel more vulnerable mainly because of “I’m Not That Girl”. I don’t know if I finally got something out of song if I never saw the right portrayal of that song until that moment or if I never understood the importance of that song. There is a serious side of Wicked that I honestly keep on overlooking. I am always looking at the friendship first then the love triangle and after that, keep on overlooking things. This time around, I was paying closer attention to the love triangle thanks to me finally knowing “I’m Not That Girl” was heartbreaking and I spent more time getting to know Fiyero than I ever did. I started to question him this around and I came to the conclusion that Fiyero had a crush on Elphaba in the first act without even realizing it.

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She was so brilliant in that role that even “For Good” made me tear up. Out of all musical characters, i have the most most personal relationship with Elphaba. When it comes to Christine, Pippin, and Katherine Plumber, I don’t fully remember how impressed I was with their protrayls. But it was Jean Valjean, Elphaba, and Leading Player that I was fascinated with so much when it comes to portrayals.  Whenever an understudy is in a show, you always have to have swings.

The reason why understudies and swings have to work harder than everybody else is because they have to memorize even more. They to memorize not only the lines they usually have, but they also have the memorize the lines they have when they are an understudy. Look at the swings: they have to memorize even more lines because they have to memorize everyone’s lines literally because even though they cover understudies regular tracks, they still have to memorize lead characters as well. They don’t always get to play those characters, which is why I am always a bit worried when I hear I have one.

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Author: mphadventuregirl

I am a strong spiritual person who is a big fan of musicals. This blog deals with spirituality and musicals. I am finding that by writing about these, I am realizing I know more about each of them then I think I do. I hope you find my blog inspiring!

25 thoughts on “The Importance of Understudies and Swings”

  1. Swings and understudies are super awesome! In a lot of ways, they are the backbone of shows! If it weren’t for them, a lot of individual show days could completely fall apart! So much respect for understudies and swings!

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    1. Without them, many shows would be canceled. There is less worry when I have an understudy for a show I have never seen before compared to getting an understudy in a show that I already have seen

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      1. I know and look at an understudy for one of the Newsies. That musical has mind-blowing dance. I don’t think I could ever even be in a musical. I do feel in a way that I become a character in the musical as an audience member

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      2. People keep on saying to me, if you love musicals so much, how come you never want to be in one? Well, the truth is I can’t sing well. And I feel like an audience member becomes someone in the actual show itself. Its like you know the characters and your someone who is feeling for the characters. An emotional connection shows that you care about what a character is going through and shows that you want to feel their emotions in the first place

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      3. I agree! I’d definitely prefer sitting in the audience! I sing in choir but I don’t like singing solos–I’ve only done it once or twice. And I get really bad stage fright. The experience of sitting in the audience is so thrilling that I’d definitely rather sit in the audience!

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      4. I love to sing to be honest. I sometimes burst out into song and my sister always tells be that I am terrible singer, but I do it anyways. Even the orchestra becomes like a character in a musical as well

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      5. The orchestra is a big reason why all musicals are joyful. All it took was one note hearing the orchestra at Les Mis in the West End to know that show was going to be more than expected. The orchestra is key to making all musicals emotions worth it.

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      6. From someone who once called all musicals happy, I changed it to all musicals being joyful. I am directly referring to joyful when it comes to the experience. It is in a way more difficult to explain why the negative emotions are worth feeling compared to the positive emotions

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      7. One way to explain that is by looking at a show’s positive side and not its negative side. Les Mis’ positive side of instance is its underlying spiritual aspect. The story of hope, compassion, love, humanity, sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption. Then there’s Rent and its message of living in the moment and measuring your life in love.

        I feel like there are two natures of musical emotions. You have the character’s emotions that you are feeling and that is a sense of sympathy and empathy. But what about your own?

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      8. That definitely is a pretty good way of explaining it! I think there’s a lot of excitement that always comes along with whenever I go to the theatre, even if I know I’m going to be seeing a more serious show. And I always have an enjoyable, fun time, even if I’m in tears by the end!

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      9. Even when the negative emotions strike no matter what show, there is still joy in the fact that you are still enjoying a show. the moment you feel an emotional connection, it makes you appreciate everything you are feeling

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      10. What gets even more confusing is if there is heartbreaking scene where you actually feel happiness for a character, but you only can see that if you actually understand the character: bittersweet moments have that kind of feeling

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      11. You sometimes aren’t even aware of your own emotions. I can pick up on them during the overture, at intermission. But during dance and spectacle numbers, aware of my emotions as well. It is more easy to be aware of character’s emotions and not your own. Sometimes I still struggle with picking up on emotions from characters but so much easier

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