by Mandy Walsh
Being an understudy is a crazy ride, but I think it’s important for every actor to do it at least once during their career.
Being an understudy is a unique opportunity to learn about your own personal process since so much of the work must be done on your own. Plus you have the different perspective of creating a performance from the outside in. You get the starting point in the form of the script, and you get the ending point of what the actor you are understudying has created.
From these two things, you have to connect those dots in a way that allows you to step in for that actor, but you still need your work to be honest to who you are while staying within the context of the production. It can be tricky. I’ve had the amazing fortune to understudy Kirsten Fitzgerald, but she and I are very different types. With that in mind, I knew I had to really break down what she was doing. So instead of trying to match her amazing physical presence, for instance, I focused on the qualities she was bringing to the character, what those qualities meant for me, and how do those qualities manifest within me as an actor. (Speaking of Kirsten, being an understudy and watching an actor that closely can be like getting paid to take a Master Class in Acting. I seriously learned so much from watching her.)
If you do decide to accept an understudy offer, and I totally think you should, here are some tips I have learned during my various rides as an U/S (besides getting off book, like, yesterday):
You’re going to be amazing! #teamwonderstudy
Mandy Walsh is a member of The Factory Theater, where her acting credits include FIGHT CITY, HOTEL APHRODITE, and INCIDENT ON RUN #1217. Other favorite Chicago credits include TRAITOR (A Red Orchid Theatre); MISS HOLMES, MONSTROUS REGIMENT and WATERSHIP DOWN (Lifeline Theatre) and THE RING CYCLE (The Building Stage); and A NIGHT IN ALACHUA COUNTY (WildCLaw Theatre). She also has had the pleasure to work Strawdog Theatre, Akvavit Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Fine Print Theatre Co., Babes with Blades, and Hobo Junction. She’s also an amazing actor, a good friend and an occasional student of ASC.