Ask BWW: Understudies vs. Swings. vs. Standbys
You asked, and we've answered! We asked BroadwayWorld readers to give us their most burning questions about theatre's inner workings, and we received a question about the difference between understudies, swings, and standbys. So we've put together a guide to understand the differences and to give you a peek into what it's like filling these roles on stage. Check it all out below!
Understudies are cast members who go on for the show's principal roles when the actors who normally play the roles are unable to be in the performance, whether they have sick, injured, or taking a personal day. Understudies tend to be members of the show's ensemble, meaning that they are still on stage for every performance even when they are not playing one of the principal roles.
Understudies have to be ready to go on at a moment's notice. While they are sometimes given advanced notice when the principal actors are taking a planned leave or vacation, they could be told that they are going on hours before the show, minutes before the show, or even during the middle of the show.
Is she trying to spell "orandge"? Is she making sure her "k" necklace is on the right way? Is she trying to cure sex cancer? Who knows?! ??a??i?? I'll be playing this lovable dumb blonde this week from tonight until Friday! See you there!! ???? #mynameiskaren #meangirlsbway
A post shared by Devon Hadsell (@devonhadsell) on Sep 3, 2019 at 10:53am PDT
Devon Hadsell - Understudy for Karen and Gretchen in Mean Girls
A post shared by Anthony Sagaria (@anthony_sagaria) on Nov 3, 2017 at 4:14pm PDT
Anthony Sagaria - Former Understudy for Fiyero in the Wicked National Tour
Swings differ from understudies in a few key ways. The main difference is that swings cover a show's ensemble tracks rather than principal roles. Swings need to know a very large number of ensemble members and be ready to go on for any of them at a moment's notice. Depending on the size of the show's ensemble, a swing could cover anywhere from five to fifteen tracks.
The other key distinction between swings and understudies is that swings do not appear in the show every night. While the swings still always go to their theatre every night just like every other cast member, they only appear on stage if they are going on for an ensemble member. They still need to be in the building even when they are not on just in case there is an emergency where an ensemble member is unable to finish the show.
Amber Ardolino - Swing in Moulin Rouge
A post shared by Kathryn Boswell (@kathryn_boswell) on Sep 29, 2018 at 6:40pm PDT
Kathryn Boswell - Former Swing in Anastasia
Standbys are hired to cover principal tracks, but similarly to swings, standbys do not appear in the show every night. They still come to the theatre every night with the rest of the cast and stay there throughout the show in case of any kind of emergency where they would have to go on during the middle of the show.
Not every show has standbys, but there are a few key reasons why a show would include them in their cast. Sometimes standbys are included because the show does not have an ensemble and, therefore, doesn't have any understudies to be able to cover the principal roles. Dear Evan Hansen is a current example of this use of standbys on Broadway. The other times that standbys are hired tend to be when the principal roles are very strenuous on the actors who play the roles eight times a week, such as Elphaba and Glinda in Wicked.
?? ????? ????? ??? ?? ????????. wow. it's taken me almost a week to just process it all. thursday was a blur but I'm crying now thinking back on it. those closest to me know what a journey this has been. it's been hard. last week I was pushed to do something I have dreamt about since I was a kid. ive realized that regardless of the roadblocks, speed bumps and hurdles you face, sometimes the biggest thing standing in your way is yourself. thank you to everyone who pushed me and held me up the last few years, who laughed/cried with me and the ones who believed in me more than i believed in myself. dreams can be made reality. thanks @aarontveit for being the best partner and leader up there as we navigated this epic show for the first time together and to the incredible company of @moulinrougebway who had my back and made me feel so loved and supported for my debut, for Queen @karenolivo76 who breathes such life into Satine and sets the bar so high and to the creatives for giving me the chance to do something so special - for trusting me with their baby. (Also wouldn't have survived without @adreeen & @outspoken_panda_ ) ??? ?? ???? ?? ??? ??? ???? ? ???'? ???????? ????????, ?? ?? ? ?????? ?? ???? ???? ? ???? ?????, ???? ??????. ?
A post shared by Ashley Loren (@ashleyloren) on Sep 11, 2019 at 5:45pm PDT
Ashley Loren - Standby for Satine in Moulin Rouge
This was likely my last show as Cady. So. See ya later my sweet girl. You've been a part of my life for five years and I feel like I'm saying goodbye to a piece of my heart. You've challenged me in ways I didn't know I needed to be challenged. Not just vocally, but as a person. In ways most people will never know. But I'm not scared of the next chapter of my life because "My name is Cady Heron and I am not afraid".
A post shared by Tee Boyich (@teeboyich) on Feb 28, 2019 at 7:30pm PST
Tee Boyich - Former Standby for Cady, Janis, Gretchen and the Adult Women in Mean Girls
A BACKSTAGE LOOK AT SWINGS, STANDBYS, AND UNDERSTUDIES
Get a peek behind the scenes at what it takes to be an understudy, swing, or standby by checking out the videos below featuring cast members from Dear Evan Hansen, Wicked, Miss Saigon, and more!
American Theatre Wing's Working in the Theatre Series
Colby Dezelick - Understudy for Chris in Miss Saigon
Loren Lott - Understudy for Ti Moune in Once on This Island
Viveca Chow - Swing in Miss Saigon