You can only imagine the amount of hard work and dedication it takes to prepare for a role on Broadway. Now multiply that by, say, a dozen roles, and you get an idea of what it's like to be a swing.
Consider it an understudy of sorts. A swing's role is to fill in for a member of the ensemble when he or she is out of a show.
Brian Wanee and Lindsay Janisse know all too well what it's like to swing a show. Between the two, they cover more than 15 ensemble roles (also known as "tracks") in the hit Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked.
Wanee, who routinely performs a role in the ensemble, covers 12 tracks, while Janisse — also the dance captain — covers five. They have to be ready at a moment's notice to step in to any one of those tracks. "When you do several different roles in a week," says Janisse, "you get the 'swing-thing,' where you're on stage saying to yourself, 'Who am I?'"
"Covering 12 tracks, you're constantly trying to learn the show again — even after two and a half years," adds Wanee. "There are tracks that you don't do for six months or so. I try to watch the show every now and then and go over notes because something can happen where you go on for two people and if you don't know the tracks inside and out, the show won't look polished."
If you think swinging one show is hard, imagine doing it for various companies. Wicked has productions around the world and employs what is known as a universal swing — a role in which a performer covers the ensemble nationally.
"It's a massive undertaking," says Janisse. "There are little differences [a universal swing] has to know for every company they go to."
Janisse and Wanee enjoy the ever-changing role play and they agree — what they do eight times a week is essential for any big Broadway musical.
"Sometimes people forget swings are there. We get brushed aside because we don't get to do any of the fancy things like be in the cast photos," says Wanee. "But I have come to really love this job."
Janisse adds: "Really, if we didn't have swings — the show wouldn't go on."
Frank DiLella is the theatre producer for NY1.