When I did theater in High School, I tended to get understudy roles.
Such is the curse of responsible students, and ones who won’t complain until you give them a part.
(and it probably didn’t help that I was insecure and didn’t speak up. How times have changed.)
Point is, I learned so many valuable lessons being the understudy, and here we are ten years later putting them to extreme use.
The understudy is one of the biggest responsibilities.
You have to learn the part you cover, plus be aware of all the other parts. You have to be capable of jumping in on a moments notice, possibly without ever actually doing the role any more than just on the sidelines or by yourself. And all this work could still lead to you not getting to do the role on stage. And you have to be okay with it.
That’s probably the hard part; working your tail off, showing up to every rehearsal, filling in and never getting the fulfillment of actually performing it on that stage.
But all is not lost.
Show up; early even. Be there.
Focus hard, learn every in and out of that part. Leave no stone unturned.
Remain aware. Ask questions if you need to. Keep yourself prepared. Keep the role familiar and fresh in your mind. Run it in your head. Mark it and think it through. Work hard.
Because even if you don’t get to dance the role on the stage during the performance, those couple minutes on that stage isn’t the tell all.
Today in rehearsal, three girls were out of the role I cover for auditions with their new High School. It worked out slick cause it was the girl I typically cover, and the other two that were missing were a pair, so the dance didn’t look awkward. I strapped on my character shoes and danced it like it were my last time to dance it because, chances are, it was.
I was hoping they would be gone and I would get to do it in costume the second run through, but they showed up.
I got complimented on the way I do the role, which makes me feel really good inside. Not because I think I’m better than anyone, because I know I’m really not. But because it means I’m doing my job.
Yeah, it sucks that I put in all this work–more than some of the cast roles in some cases–but that’s my part. I’m the cover; the understudy. I’m not entitled to the role. I’m just doing my job. Covering is my part.
For people to tell me that I do the role well, and that they enjoy watching me, really just puts my nerves at ease. I’m twice the age of some of these girls, ten years older than others, and I haven’t even been dancing half the amount of years they have. Yet I get to dance along side them. I get to be included.
To know that they like it means that I have succeeded, and at the beginning of this, I wasn’t so sure that I would. I was very nervous. But I rose. The impossible became possible.
My back started hurting after the second half, but it’s feeling better than is usual, especially for the amount of dancing we’re doing. What kicked me in the butt today was the IBS. Earlier this week I got really stressed out at work, and when that happens it effects my digestion. I’ll spare you the gory details, but lets just say it greatly effected how much I can use my core. Which is, ya know, important to ballet. There were times I felt like I was going to have to run to the bathroom, or throw up, or when costumes were on I was a bit concerned I might pass out. I couldn’t even finish my lunch, my stomach hurt so badly. The way I felt today is probably the most extreme side effects I’ve had since being diagnosed. Holding it all together proved difficult, but I just tried to breathe. Hyper focusing on something else helped take my mind off of it, which helped me plow through. The still moments were the most difficult.
When we got to the second run-through, Mrs. Julie told us the changes to how the school show was going to go since it mostly effected the Winkie Guards role. (any other it effected were just dropped, not changed.) We ran a bit of it just to mark and iron out before putting on our costumes and doing the whole thing. The moment is blurry now (my brain is mush) as to when Mrs. Julie actually came up to me, but she did, and she said, “Emerson had to leave. Do you know her solo?” to which I said, “yes” she said, “can you do it?” and I said, “yes” and then she said, “Okay, lets mark it.” and we did a couple times to make sure I had the arms and the positioning right. She threw in a “make it big” to get the expression how she wants it and I ran it a couple times then went to put on my costume.
I was nervous beyond all reason. The feet weren’t fluid to me, and I really didn’t want to mess it up. I had never actually ran it before, but this wasn’t the time to be nervous. This was the time to show that I can do this. That you can throw me into a role and I’ll be able to step up. This was the time to trust my training and just go for it.
When it came down to it, I had the timing off a little, which made me not have my feet right, but I had the direction right, and fixed it the first second I had a chance.
No one really noticed. They mostly commented on how well I did the character, which is what matters during shows like this that tell a story.
As soon as it was over and I went to grab my bow (our prop) and join in with the other girls, I knew my little flub would not be what was remembered. Since I was filling in for Emerson, the girls didn’t have anyone to watch for the timing of the part that we begin as soon as Emerson is finished and walking off into the wings before she joins us. It was a complete mess, and I just kind of laughed inside.
No one would remember my flub.
Sure enough, when it came time for corrections, that was what got the heat. They can’t rely on me so much, but have to know it for themselves. I don’t know what else they can say to get it through their heads, but they really need to take ownership and pay attention to know what’s going on instead of relying on me all the time. It’s really exhausting.
(now, this isn’t to say no one pays attention. There are those that do, and they are the ones that I know I can ask questions to if I’m a little unsure as to what’s next, or to come and get me from the other side of the stage if I’m not in the right place because I’m mixing up my scenes. Some of the girls have a great handle on things, but rely on the extra added security, because honestly, who wouldn’t? But they have to know how to function without it. I think it was a good eye opener. Those few girls are really good, and they got complimented today in ways that show their hard work. I was proud.)
Some of the more advanced girls complimented me on the solo. One even gave me a glance when the other guards got chewed. It made me feel good to know that my hard work is churning out results. Now I know that I’m not the best dancer out there. I know I have much to improve on. But all those compliments really mean so much to me. Not to fuel my ego, but to feel like I’ve finally come full circle.
Before, I would work so hard, and still be ignored. Like my best was never enough. This seems to be a reoccurring theme in my life and it is pretty draining. It can sap the life right out of you.
But to be here, and to know that I can work hard, and put forth all this effort, and do my best every day and that it isn’t unseen, it makes every bit of it so worth it.
Because really, every rehearsal is an audition. These directors and teachers glean things about you from it. They form up a running log of what you’re capable of, how you respond, if you’re responsible, how you handle pressure or malfunctions, how you communicate, you work ethic, and they put all these things into consideration in future shows.
I know some politics goes into roles occasionally, it’s inevitable, but I have a full heart knowing that I have done everything I can and that it’s enough. That if I don’t get a full role, it’s not because of anything I did. That they will utilize me where they see I fit and know that I am capable of good things. I know that they know they can put their trust in me, and breathe easy knowing I’ll do what I’m asked and what’s required of me.
Even though I don’t get to dance Crows for any of the shows, and even though Emerson will be back in her solo tomorrow (she rocks it, by the way.) this wasn’t all for nothing.
If anything, I really love being the cover. Being the one that can let the director breathe easier knowing I’m there in case anything happens. Especially on a show like this.
I have done my job.