At This Performance… A look at standbys, understudies, swings, and everyone in between!

January 22, 2021

At This Performance…  A look at standbys, understudies, swings, and everyone in between!

I’m sure all avid theatre goers have opened their playbill to see the little white sheet of paper that reads At the performance the role of blank will be played by blank. Or looked at the call board entering the theatre and saw that the headliner name will not be in the performance that evening. Although this can be upsetting don’t fret your performance won’t be any less amazing. With this article I hope to give you an insight into understudies, swings, standbys, and dance captains. 

I would first like to make it clear that these amazing actors provide just as impressive performance as the full time cast members. They would not be in the role they were in if directors did not feel they were right for the role. Many times these performers can go on for several different roles at a moment’s notice. Impressive right? 

An understudy is a member of the cast that is in the show every night. They typically are in an ensemble track or a featured role.( A track refers to the role of a particular person). The understudies will be called upon when a principal calls out of the show. They will perform the show as the lead for that evening. Typically an understudy covers one or two principal roles as well as their regular ensemble track. 

I’m sure you’re wondering what happens to the hole in the ensemble when an understudy is called up to the principal role. That is where the swings come in. These are members of a cast who do not perform every night. Even though they do not take the stage every night,  many people consider this one of the hardest jobs in theatre. These actors cover anywhere from 4 to 8 or 9 ensemble tracks in the show. WOW! These cast members will perform when an understudy is called up from the ensemble for a principal role or if an ensemble member calls out for the performance. These actors can be called out onto stage in a moment’s notice for any one of the tracks they cover. They can even do split tracks where they do one person’s role for half the show or certain numbers and switch in the same performance to other cast members’ tracks. Talk about organization! 

A standby is similar to a swing. Standbys also do not take the stage every night. They  are reserved for the more demanding roles in theatre. Typically a standby will cover 1 to 2 principal tracks only. Also like swings they could have to go on in a moment’s notice. Not every show has standbys; they are reserved for the most demanding roles in theatre. 

Dance Captains
Do you ever see a show and say wow that dance number was amazing. Many times this is thanks to the dance captain. They are typically swings in the show. They have the task of running brush up rehearsals or even teaching replacements the choreography for the show. They have a large role in keeping the show looking clean months and even years after it has left the rehearsal room. Have you seen a show with a big fight? There’s a person for that too! In shows with fight scenes there is a fight captain that leads the actors through a fight call before each performance so everyone is safe. Some shows even have a lift call before curtain if there are demanding lifts in the choreography. 

Now that you know all about the actors who cover your favorite roles in theatre support them! Don’t fret when you see their name on that little piece of paper get excited! They work so hard and are about to give you everything they have so you can have an amazing night of theatre!         


Abigail Morgan
Broadway Utica Youth Ambassador 

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