Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Poisoning the Soup: Theatre Thursday

I've understudied roles several times... a few times knowing I would get to perform, and twice with the assumption that I would never go on. Unless something terrible happened to the actress I was understudying.

The first understudying gig I had was for a fabulous professional production of The Cherry Orchard. I understudied Varya, a role I'd love to play for real. I played a servant in the show otherwise. It was my first experience wearing a real corset, and let me tell you, now I truly understand why those ladies were passing out all the time. You cannot breathe when you are bound up in one of those horrible things!
Here I am with the very nice actress who got to play the part. And the dog. And Keir Dullea, of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, who played Lopakhin. I cut it out of this picture, but on the table in front of us was a box of donuts, which reminded me that our cast rule was that if you were late for a calltime, the next day you had to bring the whole cast donuts (one time the gal playing Dunyasha was so late for a call time - her flight was delayed- that we thought her understudy might have to go on. The next day she brought donuts for everyone and wine for her understudy.)

It's a hard and thankless job, understudying. I take the responsibility very seriously, and work hard to know all the lines and all the blocking (stage movement) should I ever get the opportunity to go on. But I don't get the benefit of rehearsing. I have to be ready to do mybest replica of someone else's character, without discovering any of it for myself. Still, I certainly don't ever want to be in the position of saying "oh, I'm not ready."

Beedle dee, dee dee dee...
two ladies

When I understudied the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret there were two times I thought I might have to go on. After the first weekend of performances the director called me and told me the actress might not be able to finish the run of the show. We scheduled a tentative rehearsal for me and the actor playing Cliff, and I started feverishly going over the lines (again. Honestly, I did know them, but nothing like a little nerves to make you work some more!) He called back and told me not to worry. But then the following weekend she was very late for a call, which was highly unusual, and the stage manager came in and asked if I could go on if necessary. "Of course," I said. She stopped dead in her tracks. "Really?" "Yes, that's my job. I'll probably fake half the choreography and Cliff might have to cover up a few of my line flubs, but I know the show." She gaped at me for a minute. "OK then. Great." The real Sally showed up shortly after, and I went on as Frenchie, as usual.

I've never been in the position to go on without notice (for a part I was understudying... I did get thrown into a role with no warning once... I'll have to cover that in another post!). And frankly I hope from here on out I'm doing roles, not understudying them.

But let me just say that if I do understudy again, the actress had better take a cue from these lovely ladies and be nice to me. Because I'm not entirely sure that I'm above poisoning soup.

14 comments:

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

What wonderful roles to understudy for! Cherry Orchard drives me crazy, in a variety of ways, but I think Varya is one of the most fascinating roles out there. We had the best discussions surrounding her when we covered that this past semester. OTOH, I would think Renevskaya would be more fun to play!

Louise said...

This is a fun post. And I'm surprised they've all been nice. I'm so happy about that. I don't know WHY I'm surprised; I've never acted in anything any have ho idea how people are, but we always hear of the prima donas, and I'm glad you didn't get treated badly by any of them.

wheelsonthebus said...

i adore your theater posts!

Magpie said...

These posts about your theater life are great - it's the pulling back of the curtain.

kaye said...

All that work being the understudy--is it hard to do that and not get to perform?

Bon said...

i would definitely poison the soup.

luckily i am not at risk of being cast as the understudy of anything but fifth tree from the left in a Christmas pageant, so...my criminal tendencies will likely go untested.

very fun photos. i too love these posts and glimpses into a world that fascinates me.

creative-type dad said...

I wouldn't poison the soup, that's too obvious.

I'd try an apple or a chicken McNugget.

alejna said...

I don't think actual poison would be necessary. Maybe just a good well-timed dose of castor oil.

I loved this post, too. It's so fun to get these snippets of your professional life, which is so vastly different from my own.

Woman in a Window said...

Really? No rehersal? That seems kinda hostile toward understudies. I think understudies must be braver than the leads themselves.

de said...

Kudos for taking the responsibility seriously. Based on the stage manager's response, that's perhaps not true of every understudy.

When I saw the title, I imagined you had taken matters into your own hands.

flutter said...

This post was so much fun!

imbeingheldhostage said...

This was such an enjoyable post-- I guess we all know there are understudies, but never give much thought to how much work they put into a role that may never be played. Here's to no need for poisoning in the future :-)

You look fab in that black dress, btw!

Laski said...

I had no idea! No idea at all . . . now I'm enlightened and have a new found respect.

jen said...

jeepers you are gorgeous...

it reminds me of getting all dressed up and getting a flat tire or something..even if you know it might/can/will happen...it's still a gigantic downer.