Hello tumblr. I am here to tell you a thing or five about understudies. Because I love understudies and they’re amazing.
Firstly, understudies work so damn hard, how can you not appreciate them? They have their own ensemble track to learn, plus the track/s of the role/s they’re covering. (Let’s not even get into swings who learn a kajillion ensemble tracks, and sometimes swings are covers for main roles as well). In one show they could be on in their own track, the next they could be covering one role, and the next could be a different role again. In extreme (but very possible) circumstances, they may need to switch roles halfway through a performance. Principals are in the same role every night with only one track to learn. Understudies (and swings) work a damn sight harder. Half the time they don’t even know they’ll be going on in one of their cover roles until they arrive at work.
Next point, and this is one that really bugs me when people don’t get it - UNDERSTUDIES DO NOT PLAY THE ROLE IN THE SAME WAY AS THE PRINCIPAL. The mechanics of it are the same, they will stand in the same place at the same time, they will say the same lines, but one person’s interpretation of a character will be different from someone else’s. (This also holds true when someone new takes over a role, but that’s a different matter). One example of this comes from my favourite show, The Commitments. Denis Grindel is the principal actor for the role of Jimmy, and he’s bloody fantastic. Thomas Snowdon is first cover for Jimmy, and he’s also bloody fantastic. But the two guys play that same role completely differently from each other, and y'know what? THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. In fact, it’s pretty damn great, because it allows you to see the character a different way, and if all actors played the character the same way, it’d get pretty boring. It’s nice to see a different take on it.
GIVE UNDERSTUDIES A CHANCE. Some understudies, particularly second/third covers very rarely get a chance to go on, so you could be watching their first performance, or it could’ve been a very long time since they last went on. Don’t start judging them from the second they walk onstage. Give yourself time to warm to them. Give them time to settle in. I can only imagine how terrifying it must be to go on in a role for the first time. They’re doing the best they can.
DO NOT JUDGE AN UNDERSTUDY BEFORE YOU’VE EVEN SEEN THEM PERFORM. I think people who do this are gross. Truly.
You’ve gone to see a show to see your favourite perform, and as it turns out, they’re ill. There’s nothing you can do about it. So what do you do? You immediately start bad-mouthing the understudy before the show has even started. You talk through all their parts during the show. You make fun of how they are interpreting the role. You say they can’t act. You continuously make comparisons to your favourite. You demand that they get off the stage and that your favourite should come back. You think they aren’t good enough to be in the show.
Is this the best way to handle it? Is this the mature thing to do? No. Let’s try again.
You’ve gone to see a show to see your favourite perform, and as it turns out, they’re ill. There’s nothing you can do about it. So what do you do? You perhaps make a small complaint that your favourite isn’t here. You perhaps feel a bit sad. Perhaps you tweet them, enquiring after their wellbeing, hoping that they are better soon. You then go into the auditorium, and you watch the understudy in your favourite’s place, understanding that this is a different person and they will play the role differently. You try and enjoy their performance. You may end up liking their interpretation more, who knows? If you’re the type to wait at the stagedoor, perhaps you will thank them for a great show as they leave. If you genuinely didn’t like it, you will keep your mouth shut and not mention it.
IF YOUR FAVOURITE IS OFF BECAUSE OF ILLNESS OR HOLIDAYS, THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO. JUST ENJOY THE SHOW. THE UNDERSTUDY IS WORKING THEIR BUTT OFF TO ENTERTAIN YOU FOR THE EVENING. APPRECIATE THEM.