One of the most difficult and unsung roles in theater is the understudy. Imagine having to learn all the lines, blocking, combat, and songs of several characters and then being responsible for performing them at a moments notice in front of a packed house when you might not have even been able to rehearse the scenes with the other actors. It is TERRIFYING. It is a bit like being dropped at the top of a mountain you’ve never seen before with rented skis and a blindfold. If you stop to think about it there are a million ways you can fail but you really don’t have any choice but to get to the bottom.
We have had three understudies go on so far in our run, including two in the opening weekend. They have all been magnificent. Which brings me to the wonderful part of understudying which is you get to be the pinch-hitter who drives in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. As an understudy you put in all this work for a performance that might never come. So when you get a chance to go on it is a thrilling honor to step up and join the team. And it is great because all the other actors are right there with you, making sure you’re in the right place, supporting you completely, and showering you in positive energy. It’s fun for the other actors too because they get to see scenes that they are accustomed to in a brand new light. It is so much fun to see the unique personalities that the understudies bring to their parts. The understudy’s job is to step into another actor’s role and follow it faithfully, but it is also to inhabit the character and be present, and that will always bring a bit of their own spark to the part.
A great quote that I heard in grad school was that “the role of an understudy is to make an emergency a non-event”. Dick Cheney said that. Yeah, I didn’t think I would be quoting Dick Cheney either but he should understand the understudy role at this point and it’s a good quote. That’s what your job is as an understudy, to make sure the show goes on. Not only have our understudies done that, they’ve also all brought some wonderful fresh moments to the show and done the rest of the team proud. Thanks, you guys!