THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Randolph Theatre - Spotlight on Swings
With the second week of rehearsals well underway, the cast and creative team of The Drowsy Chaperone have moved into our new rehearsal space and are taking advantage of the wall-to-wall mirrors and sprung floors to run through some of the show's biggest dance numbers.
Surrounded by such a large number of bodies moving onstage at once, exactly 33 in each cast, we quickly learned the importance of our positions and trajectories on the deck in relation to others (nothing like getting a three-inch heel to the shin). Luckily for everyone, three of our talented ensemble members have graciously taken on the additional role of swings and have been stepping in day after day to help fill the empty spaces and bring our director's choreographic vision to life. Needless to say, we've kept them on their toes.
Over our mid-afternoon break, I snuck into the studio and sat down with Emily Beach, Amanda Martin and Josie Cole to learn more about the ins and outs of being a swing in a musical production.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with a rehearsal process of this sort, can you talk me through the main responsibilities of being a swing?
Emily: A swing is someone who learns a number of different tracks in the show and is able to go on for 10 roles, more or less, at any given moment--whenever cast members need to take vacation days, if someone is sick or has to go on as an understudy, that's when we step in.
Amanda: For example, I'm taking on five lead and five ensemble roles in the show and I need to take note of everything they do whenever they're onstage: their choreography, where they move to, if they take a prop off-stage--I need to make sure I have all of that covered.
In your opinion, what is the most challenging part of being a swing?
Josie: Right now, the hardest part for me is standing in for someone who is sick or away while trying to keep track of the people I'm responsible for in my book. It's a challenge to learn the choreography, document our tracks and stand in for that person all at the same time.
Emily: I think the hardest part about being a swing is not knowing who you're going to cover until a few minutes before and not having much time to review. Rehearsals are very quick-paced and when I come in I'm expected to know my tracks by heart, so it takes a lot of extra hours to study people's tracks and memorize them.
Who do you look up to in the dance world?
Amanda: I really look up to Peggy Baker, a Canadian modern dance pioneer. I find her stuff really fresh and groundbreaking and it's great to see something new coming out of something that has a long history.
Emily: One of my big inspirations is Stacey Tookey. I'm fortunate enough to have trained at her mom's studio in Edmonton. She's always been an idol of mine--she danced in the first Céline Dion show in Las Vegas and is an amazing dancer/choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance". I really appreciate how hard she works and how much she cares about everything she does.
What is your favourite number in the show?
Amanda: As of right now, my favourite number is "Bride's Lament". We get to goof around as monkeys and it's been so much fun to work on.
Josie: My favourite number is "Toledo Surprise". I am a tapper and I really enjoy that kind of stuff. I also love "Fancy Dress" because it's typical musical theatre; it's all about the facial expressions.
You all come from extensive dance backgrounds--what do you think is the biggest difference between dancing in a musical versus dancing with a company or competitive team?
Josie: The main difference in my opinion has to do with the acting. Dancing in a musical is about telling the story first and foremost--not only with your body, but also your face. Sometimes that can be missed in the dance world.
Emily: Dancing in a musical is very centred on the ensemble; It's about the show as a whole rather than the individual. It's just as important to convey how your character is feeling as it is to perform perfect turns.
What is your favourite style of dance?
Amanda: I really love ballet. I'm one hundred percent a bunhead. Ballet is what led me to do musical theatre in the first place.
Josie: I've been tapping since I was one and a half; It was my mom and grandmother's style of choice. I love it because it fits all body types and it challenges stereotypes about dancers--I'm most comfortable when I'm tapping because it's where I feel most confident.
The Drowsy Chaperone runs August 3-5, 10-12 at 8 p.m. and August 5 and 12 at 2 p.m. at the Randolph Theatre.