Mo Brady, a former Broadway understudy who covered the role of Lucas Beineke in The Addams Family, penned an open letter that asks for “respect and gratitude” for the understudies of the theatre community.
As previously reported, Cameron Mackintosh, the producing force behind megahit Broadway musicals such as Cats, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon and The Phantom of the Opera, issued a memo asking understudy and standby performers in all his U.K. and touring shows to stop posting their upcoming schedules on social media.
Brady believes that, in doing so, company morale will decrease and more understudies will be inclined to quit.
“The larger issue,” says Brady, “is about treating understudies with respect and gratitude.
“Yes, understudies are employees, but they are also artists who bring their unique talents and skills to the roles they cover. By asking them not to announce their performances, understudies are told that they aren’t as worthy of performing the role as the actor they cover. However, understudies are often hired not because they are less qualified for a role, but because they possess additional skills that make them even more valuable to a production in an ensemble or swing track.
“Allowing understudies to share their performance dates is also an issue of company morale. While it’s true that producers are responsible for the financial viability of a show, and monitoring a production’s expenses is part of the job, company morale is also important to that financial viability. Not every show can spend money to subsidize their show’s Broadway Softball League jerseys, throw annual Holiday parties (please, SOMEONE invite me to that Book of Mormon Holiday party - the photo booth pictures are amazing), or keep everyone in swag. It’s expensive.
“But you know what else is expensive? Auditioning replacement actors. Renting space, hiring accompanists, and making sure the dance captains are available to rehearse them. Keeping enough swings in the building to cover those dance captains running rehearsals. Building costumes. Paying crew members to run automation at a put-in. And what isn’t expensive for a producer? Showing appreciation. Making actors feel valuable and supported. Conveying to actors that they are good at their jobs, and that their appearances are worthy of announcement. This doesn’t cost a dime, but it can make company morale infinitely better.”
He worries that Mackintosh’s rules will make their way to Broadway, forcing understudies in the States to keep silent when they are going on for a lead role.
His sentiment is also shared with fans, who—upon reading the news—spoke up on social media.