Life as a College Understudy

Fortunately enough with the comeback of live theater, I was lucky to be a part of my school’s mainstage production of On the Twentieth Century. For those who do not know, On the Twentieth Century is a musical comedy which captures a Hollywood starlet and her hilarious journey on a train. She is caught in the throws of love as the shenanigans of 1930s Hollywood try to halt everyone’s plans.

I was delighted to be cast as the understudy for Lily Garland as well as a dancer in the ensemble. As a student, I applaud Wagner for giving students opportunities to learn their tracks whether they be a swing or understudy to get hands-on experience before entering the professional world along with adhering to Equity guidelines. Being an understudy and swing at Wagner College gave me organization skills, management skills as well as adaptability. Personally, learning to cover multiple tracks in a show has been an incredible learning experience for my process as an actress.

Beginning the rehearsal process, I wanted to have an understanding to establish my standings and rules concerning rehearsals as a cover. Being an understudy, one is present at all rehearsals, visually learning rather than performing alongside the principals as well as singing and reciting lines quietly in my seat. As we began to learn our beast of a show, I furiously took notes to write down general blocking as well as the nuance of the character and their actions propelling dialogue. Fortunately, I was accompanied by our other understudy for the big time producer, Oscar Jaffee during rehearsals to practice our blocking and specifically our waltz. Having another actor whom I could work with illuminated my process. I learned specific interactions and the pace to which I could gauge my reactions.

Outside of rehearsals, we worked diligently to solidify our scenes and songs that our characters interacted in. On my own, I constantly tortured my roomate by learning lines everyday to keep up with the pace of our quick process. Additionally from my previous experience as a swing covering seven tracks; I created a track list for my ensemble role along with Lily Garland. This color coded list consisted of entrances, exits, props, costumes, quick changes and some bare bones blocking. These tracks were imperative to keeping each scene straight between both roles. As simple as it sounds, just checking in with the actor who I was understudying instructed the director’s wishes and intentions that I did not hear while in rehearsal.

After a wonderful rehearsal process and tech, we were ecstatic to open our energy filled and whimsey musical from March 10th through March 19th to captivated audiences who were laughing in their seats. As an understudy, even through full runs during the show weekends – you are on high alert. I was constantly listening to my track backstage and making sure I was always ready to jump in on a moment’s notice.

I applaud all covers in this business as they are the backbone of the show and the true manifestations of the saying “the show must go on”. Learning how to cover multiple tracks was such a daunting and valuable experience that anyone who is lucky enough to be cast will completely grow as a performer.

Photo Credit- Micah Hale @micahhalephotography

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