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Understudy: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In theater, an understudy is a performer who learns the lines and blocking/choreography of a leading actor or actress in a play. Should the lead actor or actress be unable to appear on stage because of illness or emergencies, the understudy takes over the part. Usually, when the understudy takes over, the theater manager will make the announcement prior to the start of the performance. According to "A standby is not in the show and has first priority when the lead is sick. The understudy is usually an ensemble member who performs if the standby is sick or on vacation."

In the opera world, the term used is cover or covering.

More recently, the term "understudy" has generally only been applied to performers who will cover a part, but still regularly perform in another role within the show; usually a minor, extra role.


Similar tasks

Performers who are only committed to covering a part and do not regularly appear in the show are often referred to as standbys. Standbys are normally required to sign-in and remain at the theater the same as other cast members, although sometimes they may call in, until they are released by the Production Stage Manager. If there is no doubt about the health of the actor being "covered," or there are no hazardous stunts to be performed, a standby may be released at the first intermission if not before. At times, standbys are required to stay within a certain area around the theater (10 blocks in New York City is a common standard). The standby must also have a cell phone so that at any time they can be called to the theater.

The term is also regularly applied in association football, most often to describe a second choice goalkeeper whose appearances are limited to when the regular first choice player is absent through injury or suspension. A notable example is Chris Woods as long term understudy to Peter Shilton for the England national football team.

In musical theater, the term swing is often used to refer to a member of the company who understudies several chorus and/or dancing roles[1]. If an understudy fills in for a lead role, a swinger will act the parts normally performed by the understudy. A super swing is a swing who may commute around the country as needed to act in various productions of a widespread show.

In contrast, a prompt cues an actor while not personally being on the stage or in the spotlight.

Multiple understudies

In some instances, a lead role will be covered by multiple understudies. The second understudy will only perform if both the principal actor and the first understudy are unable to perform.

Notable examples

Several actors made their name in show business by being the understudy of a leading actor and taking the role over for several performances: including Anthony Hopkins with Laurence Olivier, when Olivier became ill with cancer during the run of the National Theater's The Dance of Death, 1967; Ted Neeley with Jeff Fenholt during the 1971 Broadway run of Jesus Christ Superstar and more recently Edward Bennett for David Tennant as Hamlet in the RSC's 2008 production.


  1. ^ Behind the scenes: The Swing Of Things (Miriam Zendle, 2009)

Simple English

In theater, an understudy is an actor or singer who learns the part of one of the main actors or singers in case they are ill.

If there is an emergency and a main performer is unable to perform, the understudy will take their place. Very often the understudy is a member of the chorus who might have had a small part in the performance anyway. Sometimes an understudy is called a "standby". A standby is usually not a member of the chorus or ensemble. They may be required to be present in the theatre during the performance, or part of it, in case of an emergency.

Sometimes an understudy will become famous when they unexpectedly have to perform instead of the usual lead person.

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