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Written by Brady

Being a “Cover”

Principle understudies are most-often an after-thought in the casting process. More often than not you were in strong consideration for the actual part but someone else was chosen instead of you. Instead you are offered the “Cover.” (It’s a little like getting a consolation prize. You were almost good enough to get the part but instead you almost get to be in the show as the Standby.)

Sometimes a director or a casting person know you and love your work and, while they may not use your for the actual part, they are confident enough to know you will be great if you go on. (This happens a lot when celebrities, or more established actors, are in a show.)

Other times you are chosen because you are good at doing a lot of things. They choose you, maybe not because you are perfect for one part, but are able to reasonably, and truthfully, able to do a variety of parts.

(This is why I got to be an Off-stage Standby in Lion King. I Covered three very different types of characters; a very short smart, sassy, wise-cracking meerkat, a very large, somewhat dense, farting warthog and a high-class, erudite, prim and proper hornbill. The job entailed three different types of puppetry, and three very different types of performance. They needed someone who could successfully pull off all three. That was the job. It was a bit of compliment really.)

Why it is the worst job ever:

Unfortunately, there are more reasons why being a Cover sucks than there are it being awesome.

First of all, it is almost impossible to do good work.

When a show goes into rehearsal the cast becomes a sort of family. Everyone works closely together to create the show. They will talk in depth with the director and each other to develop scenes and characters, they work out the blocking, they get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They will form a bond in the rehearsal process that will be, uniquely, their show. The time spent with each other will give them the luxury of know exactly what the actors expect from each other to tell the story of the play. This is a luxury the Cover never gets; the Covers watch. (And that’s if they are lucky.)

If a Cover is very lucky they get to observe from the very first day. They watch, listen and learn, picking up as much information as they can. But they do it on their own. There is no director asking if they are getting any of it, no choreographer making sure they know all the steps, no musical director teaching them the songs, It is up to the individual Cover to learn everything by staying out of the way, taking notes, and watching. (Oh, you get to ask the occasional question, but if you ask too many you’re labeled that “that annoying Standby in the corner.