Tips and tricks

When it comes to theatre, it’s important to know exactly what’s happening onstage. Although it may seem as though everybody has a similar job, there are probably more stage roles than you thought. Here’s a sample:


  • Principal – A leading role in a production.


  • Ensemble – The body of the cast who don’t have principal roles. Individuals often play several smaller roles, as well as taking part in group scenes, songs and/or dances.


  • Understudy/Cover – These performers have a relatively ‘small’ role in a production, often in the ensemble, and have learned everything necessary to play a more prominent part if the performer becomes ill or is otherwise unable to perform. Some understudies for lead roles have an understudy themselves, who may also have an understudy!


  • Standby – Unlike a cover/understudy, a standby will have rehearsed a part to cover but will not typically be otherwise involved in a show. They’ll be obliged to wait in the theatre or within a set (short) distance from it until dismissed by the Stage Manager. A good example of the role of a standby is when actress Idina Menzel, in the principal role of ‘Elphaba’, fractured a rib during one of the final scenes of Wicked, and had to be replaced mid-show by Shoshana Bean.


  • Alternates – Much like a standby but regularly scheduled to take a certain amount of performances in physically and/or vocally demanding roles such as, for example, Evita.


  • Swing – A member of the company who’s able to cover several dance or ensemble roles – or ‘tracks’ – including those normally occupied by an understudy, and is able to step into whichever is needed.


  • Dance Captain – They look after the show’s choreography and musical blocking on a day-to-day basis, often auditioning new cast members, taking rehearsals and being responsible for knowing how to cover absences in any onstage activity they’re responsible for. They often also have an ensemble role, sometimes as a swing.


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