Understudy Role

Hi, my name is Skye Anderson and I’m an aspiring Broadway actor. If I ever make it to the big time I’m going to change my name to Skye Mavignier, or Skye Powers, something strong and glamorous like that. Skye is a good name though, because that’s what I do, I reach for the sky. I have big, sky-high dreams and ambitions.

So far, I have made it as far as being an understudy in a big-name production on Broadway. The word understudy is a little misleading – it’s that first syllable, “under.” My colleagues and I all know that being an understudy is hard work, it’s not a job for an underachiever, someone who is underactive, or someone who under-eats. No nothing like that. Being an understudy on the Great White Way is a very demanding job. Oops, I nearly said undertaking … and yes, you do need a lively sense of humor.

Did you know that a true understudy, rather than a stand-In, must take a small role in the production in which they are understudying? That’s why it’s demanding, an understudy must learn two roles, their own and that of (usually) one of the leads.

I’m lucky enough to be a member of one of America’s theatre families, so all my life I’ve known about the mix of thrills and hard work that Broadway actors call Life. My Dad was a Musical Theatre pianist and my Mum was in so many chorus lines she could have written the show Chorus Line all by herself.

Now that I’m an understudy I understand my parents’ exhaustion and exhilaration so much more because that’s what it’s like. I know all the lines and the onstage and offstage blocking of my small role in the production really well, but that doesn’t mean I feel that the process is finished. Every night on the big Broadway stage I am an actor. That means I don’t just go through the motions, every night I push myself to feel my creativity surge, so that I can find something new, a different nuance, to give to the role.

And then, there’s the work of being an understudy. Of course, there are understudy rehearsals, too. We don’t just have to go on-stage stone cold, without any practice at all. Understudies really do study the role of the actor that they will replace. We watch and we take notes. We try to capture everything important about the big role and record it in our mind. Our goal as Understudies is to replicate the performance of the big star in the lead role, but we hope our own essence will shine through as well.

Taking on the job of being an understudy means that we are ensuring that the show will go on. We must perform the role to perfection, and give the performance of our lives if we do step out on stage after understudy-ing a major role. The rest of the cast will help us to hit all our marks and the backstage crew will help us too.

Will a new star be born when it is our turn to play the role? We wish sometimes that would happen, but we know that we have big shoes to fill. After all this is our FIRST time in the lead. It does happen occasionally though, as history has shown – that is the magic of Broadway.