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Ask BWW: Understudies vs. Swings. vs. Standbys

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Lot666
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BWW just posted this piece and I'm curious as to whether anyone disagrees with their definitions, particularly that of swings. The article states:

"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"

I know several swings who are in the ensemble and therefore appear in every performance, but they're also available to play other roles as needed.

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Call_me_jorge
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I believe Wicked has something called an “onstage swing,” They’re job is just for immediate coverage for when an injury happens. This way the offstage swings can get time to get dressed and ready to replace whoever is out.
Other than that, that seems to be the accurate definition of a swing.

I’m a bit more curious about the difference between understudies/standbys when it comes to a show like Dear Evan Hansen. For example, the Larry Murphy cover is noted as a standby. While everyone else who covers a role are understudies. At first I thought it was due to the amount of roles they covered. The Larry Murphy cover just covers the one, while the others cover multiple roles. I believe it has more to do with contracts, though. If I’m not mistaken standbys are on principle contracts, understudies are on chorus contracts.
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Call_me_jorge said: "I believe Wicked has something called an “onstage swing,” They’re job is just for immediate coverage for when an injury happens. This way the offstage swings can get time to get dressed and ready to replace whoever is out."

Are you saying that these swings don't actually have regular roles in the ensemble?

 

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52889j
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I also know of a couple cases where swings have been "promoted" to an on-stage ensemble role, but are still frequently utilized to swing into other tracks simply because they have the knowledge necessary to do so.

I also know of "swings" who don't have an onstage track, but "understudy" principle roles in addition to the ensemble tracks they cover. 

I think the point is, companies use the definitions loosely based on their needs.

Updated On: 9/19/19 at 02:25 PM
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Call_me_jorge
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Lot666 said: "Call_me_jorge said: "I believe Wicked has something called an “onstage swing,” They’re job is just for immediate coverage for when an injury happens. This way the offstage swings can get time to get dressed and ready to replace whoever is out."

Are you saying that these swings don't actually have regular roles in the ensemble?


"

If I remember correctly, the onstage swings are maybe in one or two ensemble numbers, like the opening and one short day and then they bow. The regular swings are just sitting backstage in case someone gets injured or unwell during the show. They are basically the standbys for ensemble chorus roles.

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Lot666
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52889j said: "companies use the definitions loosely based on their needs."

Very loosely. Several of the swings in Phantom have a regular role in the ensemble, are listed in the Playbill as understudies for principals, and also swing into other ensemble tracks as needed.

 

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freewilma
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This is a terrific documentary that explains a bit more; especially Standby.  The Standbys

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LizzieCurry
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Also, nearly any episodes of The Ensemblist podcast that feature swings and standbys.
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I think the point is, companies use the definitions loosely based on their needs.

This is not true.  There are specifc Equity definitions and rules which apply here.  Not to mention different pay scales.  (ie. swings make more than ensemble)

Onstage swings are not common.  As discussed, Wicked is an exception.  You can watch HERE for exactly what an onstage swing in Wicked means.

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Cursed Child doesn’t release official cast member titles, but every paid cast member is on stage every night, even if just in a few scenes to build the crowds. Those cast members also usually act as typical featured ensemble swings and understudies (Alex Wiseman is an example). Not sure how they’re classified in the union.
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Lot666 said: "52889j said: "companies use the definitions loosely based on their needs."

Very loosely. Several of the swings in Phantom have a regular role in the ensemble, arelisted in the Playbill as understudies for principals, and also swing into other ensemble tracks as needed.
"

If they have a regular role in the ensemble than they are technically not swings. But ensemble members covering other roles in the ensemble (the "biit" parts) is pretty common in musicals, particularly ones with large casts and a number of bit roles (like in Phantom). 

VotePeron said: "Cursed Child doesn’t release official cast member titles, but every paid cast member is on stage every night, even if just in a few scenes to build the crowds. Those cast members also usually act as typical featured ensemble swings and understudies (Alex Wiseman is an example). Not sure how they’re classified in the union."

I'm not familiar enough with actors contracts, but since Cursed Child is a play and not a musical, might the contracts be different?

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Onstage swings are rare and are an exception. However, there are instances where swings rotate in an pit singer situation, as was the case with the Chairs of Rock in Spring Awakening and the treehouse Storytellers in Once On This Island. Typically, the term “swing” does mean an offstage position that covers ensemble roles.
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52889j said: "



I also know of "swings" who don't have an onstage track, but "understudy" principle roles in addition to the ensemble tracks they cover.”  

Yes Waitress is an example of this. The are two male and two female swings that cover many varieties of ensemble tracks. They all are also listed as understudies for many principle and supporting roles. Each swing is listed as understudy for 1-3 main roles. 

But they are not onstage unless they are covering for someone. 
 

Updated On: 9/20/19 at 01:33 AM
Tennis Fan
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"Star replacement" goes onstage before an understudy.

(Just to expand the dialogue.)