BWW Blog: Sebastian Trevino - Swing Life
Mexican musical theatre, unlike the US', hasn't been around all that long. It's not just another theatre genre for you guys; it has actually helped shape and influence your pop culture! I mean, you guys blasted Age of Aquarius on your 1969 Ford Mustang radios when it was peaking five consecutive weeks on the US billboard charts even if you weren't a musical junkie. Fred Astaire was one of your biggest movie stars and heartthrobs. A leading man tap dancer on all the biggest tabloid magazines? That would've been unthinkable in machista Mexico. Fortunately though, American pop culture is so powerful, that it permeates the rest of the World's. So yeah, we've had a glimpse of all that musical theatre flare in our lives in someway or another, but since it's still a pretty undeveloped industry (compared to yours) in the southern neighboring country, it's not surprising my mom's reaction to me getting the male swing part in Rent Mx 2016 went something like this: "Oh my god Sebastian, that's amazing! I'm so proud." (Long pause) "Swing. That's an interesting name for a character"... FML.
So this is BroadwayWorld.Com, I'm sure a lot of you know what being a swing means, or at least heard the term before? Just in case, let's review, what exactly is a swing's job in a musical? A swing often learns several ensemble roles to fill in for the original company members. This might happen in emergencies when someone's sick or injured, or if one of the ensemble members is a main character's understudy then the swing will fill in when the ensemble covers for the lead. Needless to say, swinging's no walk in the park.
When I first got the call from the show's producers letting me know they wanted to see me in their office after I'd already done five callbacks, I was pretty confident that meant they were going to offer me a role. I mean, or so I hoped. They wouldn't make me go all the way to them to tell me I didn't get in, would they? So I got there promptly on a rainy Mexico City afternoon mid May and waited patiently in their lobby. Rainy day: foreshadowing a gloomy outcome perhaps? Okay, maybe I'm being a wee bit dramatic, but in my defense, I am an actor. Anyway, once I sat down with the producers and found out they wanted me to be the show's male swing... I'm not going to lie; I was disappointed and sad.
Why was I disappointed and sad? Now that I look back on that day, it's actually pretty simple and stupid: My big fat ego got in the way and was playing a dirty mind trick on me. I felt that by being a swing I was going to be left out and wouldn't feel like I was part of the company. I thought I was going to get bored once the show was up and running, sitting backstage, and that I was never going to go on. And let's be honest, we love the applause! So in case any of you are going through something similar or relating to this type of fear, let me stop you right there. I couldn't have been MORE wrong with what being a swing entailed and what an enriching experience it has been.
As I stated before, Mexican musical theatre has a long way to go, so the swing concept isn't as established. For example, in this production of Rent, we have one male swing (me) and one female swing (María Elisa Gallegos) when typically, for this show, there'd be at least three and three. We met Anthony Rapp a few weeks into the rehearsal process (Jaw-dropping-moment, I know. I died a little. I'll talk about this more extensively some other time) and he was pretty astonished with the fact that only two of us were swinging. He told us we would have a handful, and he was absolutely right. So like I said, I was worried about several things:
Boredom: Wrong. I have five different tracks to learn (Three ensemble roles, Angel and Mark), how was I ever going to be bored? I will say this though: a swings rehearsal process is very different from the rest of the company's. Being a swing you have to be organized, or learn to be if you're not. This means doing notes, recording, or drawing even, whatever works best for you. There's also a lot of individual work. Most of your studying and reviewing will be done at home, because during rehearsals you'll be sitting down jotting notes and paying attention to all the changes the director might make. Yeah... changes...lots of them. You'll need plenty of erasers.
Loneliness: Wrong again. Granted, every company has a different dynamic but life is what you make of it and theatre is no exception. Like I said, rehearsals will be hard. As a swing you don't get to be on stage all that much during the rehearsal process, so you must make the best of the opportunities that you get. You're playing so many characters, and each character has a different relationship with the rest of the cast, so you'll get to work with everyone eventually! You will feel like a part of the family and be an important one at that.
Finally, the applause (or lack of). This, I realized fairly quickly, I shouldn't have ever worried about. Being the only male swing, I've been on every single week since opening night and we're only on Friday through Sunday. Imagine musicals that do seven shows a week. People will get tired, sick, injured, have family emergencies or go on vacation. Swings will be on stage constantly and every time one does, the applause will be so rewarding and fulfilling.
Looking back on that meeting mid-May in rainy Mexico City with my producers, I'm glad I took a deep breath, thought things through and didn't let that dangerous actor's ego get in the way. After the storm comes a calm, and this one's more gratifying than I could've ever dreamed of.