Understudies weigh in on their importance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Broadway League President Charlotte St. Martin said that many shows are canceling performances because “...the newer shows maybe have understudies that aren’t as efficient in delivering the role as the lead is. Some of the older shows have more experienced understudies and more experienced swings."
Though she later apologized for her remarks, her words stirred up controversy within the Broadway community. However, the University Interscholastic League One Act Play company of “Lend Me a Tenor” are proving St. Martin wrong.
“Understudies are more important than leads because although the leads are important, if they get sick or hurt, we’re the ones to step in and perform,” junior Cloey Knudson, understudy for the role of Julia, said.
The 2021-2022 school year marks the first time that the theatre department has used understudies in a main stage show. With the UIL One Act play, for every role in the main cast, there’s a second cast learning the lines alongside them—attending every rehearsal and writing down every stage direction.
But the duty doesn’t come without pressure, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic raging on in the background.
“As a lead, you always know you’re going to go on,” Knudson said. “As an understudy, you have an idea [that you’re going to go on], but you never know until the last minute.”
If both the main actors and their understudies cannot perform, there is also a group of alternates who will take their places. In times like these, sometimes that mild reassurance is all people can hope for.
“There’s also the fear of the [actor playing the role] getting sick and having to step up no matter what,” Knudson said.
One Act is a highly competitive event, and, despite the tension, many of the members of the company still enjoy the process.
“I’m able to hang out, act, have fun, and just be a part of the theatre family that I incredibly love being around,” sophomore Roger Weber, understudy for the role of the Bellhop, said. “[Being in One Act] is an opportunity that I was given, and I’m appreciating every moment that I have.”