Forget Spider-Man – swings, covers, alternates and understudies are the real superheroes
Many have kept performances going these last few weeks
This is an exceptional, un-imaginable time for the arts – while stage shows can go on, creatives have been brought low by a fresh surge in Covid cases.
To keep the lights on, across the nation, swings, covers, understudies and alternates have stepped up and led the charge – papering over gaps and showing a pragmatism that is truly something special.
These unsung heroes exemplify an unwavering commitment to performance, entertainment and the magic of theatre – and whenever a show is in need, the answer has almost always been "how do we make it work", rather than "we can't do the show".
Though no one in the arts should ever feel pressured by powers that be to do something they aren't comfortable with, for many, going on involves having three hours to prepare for a new part, or even memorise the script of a leading role. There have been incredible stories of reblocking and fine-tuning different tracks while back-stage teams have to bend over backwards to make sure the show goes on.
If you don't want to take my word for it – here's Hugh Jackman making the exact same point after some incredible work being done over in New York at The Music Man – where Kathy Voykto filled in for Sutton Foster during the show's fourth preview:
Hugh Jackman, Ryan Worsing, Branch Woodman, @KathyVoytko, Maria Briggs, Daniel Patrick Russell, & the cast of @MusicManBway getting the well-deserved applause for covers, swings, & understudies. Bravo to all who made this happen, & remember to always think about the minuet in G. pic.twitter.com/5fId43oay1— from his garage, it's Totally Kyle (@kmac789) December 24, 2021
When a cancellation does come, you can rest assured it's only after every possible avenue has been explored – these decisions aren't made lightly. As Bectu has pointed out – the mental and physical health of all involved has to also be an important factor – the exploitation of staff is simply never justifiable.
Major kudos must go to the WestEndCovers Twitter feed, which has done tireless work placing a spotlight on all these incredible performers.
So if you attend a show this Christmas with an understudy – be sure to give them an extra loud cheer!