Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Theatre 101: Do We Have Any Understudies?

Back once more with a behind-the-scenes look at a play production. Next week is SHOW WEEK (we open on Thursday night) so this week it's down to the nitty-gritty. There is SO MUCH that needs to be done still. Unfortunately, about half of the cast is down with that nasty flu/cold bug that is going around right now. We had all kinds of "extras" standing in and reading parts for absent actors at last night's rehearsal. The mother of one of the kids in the cast even got roped into reading a part. (We may have scarred her for life. Next time I'm pretty sure she's making her husband bring the daughter to rehearsal.) A couple even had to sub-in for two different characters so they had to try and change their voices. One of the kids in the cast acted as a "stand-in", basically standing in the spot where the real actor would be just so we weren't all talking to thin air. 

Most stage productions have something called "Understudies". These are actors who can come in and take over a part if the lead actor is sick or injured. In the real world of the theatre understudies have to go to every rehearsal and memorize all the lines of the actor they *might* suddenly have to replace one night. If you've ever been to a Broadway show or seen a traveling show in your town you might have noticed that the many of the cast members will be listed for a small role, but they also act as understudies for one of the larger roles. Some are even understudies for more than one part. Sometimes actors will *share* roles and they trade off different nights. There might even be more than one actor listed as understudy for certain lead parts. Since the traveling shows are on the road for so long it makes sense that there are multiple backups. Sometimes, you'll notice there are "backups for the backups". If Actor A is out, and Actor B takes his place, then Actor C takes over for Actor B. 

Understudies are the unsung heroes of the stage world. Sometimes, they can go a entire show run and never even get on stage. Understudies are also often depicted as the "bad guys" looking to sabotage the lead actor so they can take his/her place. 

There are some very famous actors who were understudies, but through fate (and an unfortunately sprained ankle or laryngitis or the lead exiting the show) took over the lead role and went on to become famous. 

Actors who started as Understudies and took over lead roles include:
Shirley McClaine - Took over the lead role in Pajama Game from Carol Haney 
Anthony Hopkins - Took over the lead role in The Dance of Death from Sir Laurence Olivier
Matthew Morrison (Glee) - Took over the role of Link Larkin in Hairspray.
Sutton Foster - Took over the lead in Thoroughly Modern Millie. She went on to win a Tony Award for the role.

BTW...please says prayers and think good thought for our cast members. We need everyone WELL very soon!!!