Written by Brady
Reasons it’s the most awesome job ever.
If you like a challenge than being a standby is the job for you. I think there is greater actor challenge than trying to do good work as a cover. Yes, you don’t get any credit. Yes, the groans and general disappointment are always constant, unfair and mortifying. But getting to act on a Broadway stage is the absolute best thing ever. And getting the opportunity to turn an audience around and convince them you are not only good but great is an indescribable feeling. Then there is the crew. If you can get just one crew guy to say, “Yo Brady, you don’t suck,” it’s like winning the lottery! As an actor, there is nothing, and I mean nothing, better.
Another reason it is a great job is that you play parts you may not normally get to do.
When I was in NEWSIES I was the understudy for the incredible John Dossett who played Joseph Pulitzer. Now, this is a role I would, in most circumstances, NEVER get cast as. But because they needed more than one cover I got the opportunity to play the role many times. Now I am nothing like John Dossett; physically or in performance. But the “Powers-that-Be,” knowing I couldn’t possibly do it like him, let me do my own interpretation of the role. It was terrifying and exhilarating, and ultimately, incredibly satisfying. And, while I am no John Dossett, it was an actor’s dream and I think (by the crew’s reaction at least) I did a pretty good job. Like I said; it can be an awesome job.
Lastly, and I think some actors don’t fully appreciate this; it is not digging ditches.
There are a lot of terrible jobs out there and being a standby is not one of them. Having a job on Broadway, in whatever capacity, is an incredible honor. The pay is fabulous and, other than the problems I already discussed, it’s a pretty sweet deal.
Swings have the hardest job on Broadway and get no recognition or respect.
There is one more thing I have to talk about and that’s how hard it is to be a Swing.
A swing covers several ensemble tracks and, like a standby, waits offstage until they are needed. But here’s the thing; they are ALWAYS needed.
In NEWSIES we had three offstage swings. Each swing had to learn every single dancer track. There are THIRTEEN dancer tracks in the show. Each of the three swings had to learn, every movement, every line, every set change, every costume change, every single everything for all thirteen individual tracks. And, they had to know it without hesitation. When boys are flying around leaping and flipping onstage, one person in the wrong place can spell disaster. That is crazy. And you have to understand that even though the choreography may be similar, some characters turn left on certain counts while others turn right, some dancers start on their right foot, while others start on their left. Again, it is an impossible job.
So, the next time you are watching a Broadway show and you don’t notice anybody running into each other, or into the set, or stepping on the wrong foot, you are watching the ultimate professional at the top of his/her game. If you don’t know there is a swing on; those are the people who deserve the loudest applause.
And the next time you hear that fateful announcement, “At today’s performance the part usually played by…” don’t groan or roll your eyes. Get ready to see the bravest, most talented, most under-appreciated, performers Broadway has to offer. You’re about to see a “cover” and what they do is impossible. It is magic.