THE OTHER PLACE: The Life of an Understudy

written by Acting Apprentice Jake Simonds

As part of my experience as a Portland Playhouse Acting Apprentice this year, it is my job to understudy one of the roles in THE OTHER PLACE by Sharr White (opening this week!). 

One interesting thing about being an understudy is the reactions you get when you tell people you are, right now, understudying a role. Because even though everyone's heard of the understudy, very few non-Theatre professionals have encountered one in the living flesh. As an understudy, I am a myth and a cliche. The over-eager, under-experienced kid silently mouthing lines to himself in the back row during rehearsals, secretly hoping the lead falls ill with some mysterious yet ultimately harmless disease (kidding!).

Sometimes I tell people I'm an understudy, and if they have any first-hand experience with the practice, they look at me like I told them a relative just passed away. "I'm so sorry!," they say, "Let me know if you need anything." In these cases, I find myself frantically trying to explain that it's OK, it's a cool opportunity being an understudy. Yes, it's boring at times. Most of the time, even. But what you get is the opportunity to come to a rehearsal room without all the worry and pressure that comes with knowing you have to perform a role.

As an actor, when I come to a rehearsal room, I carry a lot of extra crap with me. I'm thinking about whether I know my lines well enough, my costume, what the director's thinking, what my scene partner is thinking... I'm thinking about the scene we rehearsed yesterday, and all the choices I could make to improve on it today. And, I'm thinking about the scene we'll do tomorrow, and how it's going to be its own unique challenge.

When you're an understudy, a lot of that stuff goes away. Not all of it, and not all the time, but a good chunk of it just sort of vanishes. And then it's just you, in a rehearsal room, watching people work. The story and the performances of others open up in ways you might not notice if you were in the middle of all of it. You resolve that the next time you're the featured actor you'll pack a little lighter, and bring a little less baggage. You will try to remember to act like an understudy.
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Jake Simonds is understudying Jean-Luc Boucherot (The Man) in THE OTHER PLACE by Sharr White, opening March 21! Get your tickets by clicking here. 

Want to see the show for only $20? Check out our previews, this week, Wednesday-Friday at 7:30pm. Or get in our rush line at any of our performances for $20 cash at the door!