Open Forum

understudy vs double casting

  • 1.  understudy vs double casting

    Posted 12 days ago
    As many of you may remember, I am new to high school theater though I've been directing professionally for around 15 years. So I still come across things that I'm like, huh! Never thought about that before.

    This time it's understudy roles vs. double casting. I am directing Big Fish this spring and have cast two wonderful actors/singers as Edward and Sandra. However, there are two other almost-as-good singers who are really passionate about the roles and who have done an enormous amount of work to prepare. I'd like to double cast the roles and do 4 performances for the #1s, and 3 for the second cast, with the clear expectation that these two will work with vocal coaches (our music teachers) to develop their voices to where they should be for the roles.

    Fine, I thought. Turns out, though, the two I had cast as my #1 choices feel that this is taking away from their big performances - they had passionately wanted to have 7 performances and feel really good about graduating from the school with a giant bang. They feel super bummed to have fewer performances. They'd rather that I call the other two "understudies" and have one understudy performance during our full dress one for the regular performances, and let them have 5 performances.

    I actually understand what they're feeling and I don't think they're being divas. But I'm also looking at this from an educational standpoint - my job to help the others reach higher and bigger, and really improve and develop their skills. ​Plus the second cast members are also darling and I want them to have these roles, too, and really grow.

    What are your thoughts? Understudy + two understudy performances, or double cast? How do I think through this, or communicate with the actors?

    Thank you for your wisdom and experience! This is a new one for me!

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    Arden Thomas
    Sequoyah High School
    Pasadena CA
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  • 2.  RE: understudy vs double casting

    Posted 10 days ago
    I'm confused. Did you already double cast the roles? It sounds like it was unclear to the students that the roles were double cast. Expectations need to be set from the start. If double casting then it should be outlined from the beginning which cast will perform on which nights. You need to stick with whatever your initial casting choices were.

    I rarely double cast. I have in the past under certain circumstances, but it's not the norm for my program. I always inform the students which nights they will be performing, and the rehearsal time is split between the actors.

    I always have understudies. The understudies do not get equal rehearsal time. They shadow their lead at rehearsals, and get a run through of each scene once it's blocked. They also stand in for their leads if they have to miss a rehearsal for any reason. They get one dress rehearsal and definitely one performance. Our understudy performance is always the 7 p.m. on our first Saturday of shows.

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    Kristi Jacobs-Stanley
    New Orleans LA
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