Working in America

So You've Been Cast as a Swing

So you’ve been cast as a Swing…

My name is J. Austin Eyer, and I am a Broadway Actor turned Professor at Penn State University. Of the six shows I have performed in on Broadway, I have been a Swing in half of them. “What is a Swing?” you may ask. A Swing is a cover or understudy for the ensemble in a Musical–they step in to play a role when an actor is out sick, injured, or on vacation. Any musical with an ensemble is required to have at least one male and one female Swing. Broadway isn’t the only place you will find Swings. There are Swings for National Tours, shows in Vegas, as well as overseas in the UK, Germany, and Australia.

Like most people, when I was cast as a Swing for the first time, I had no idea what to do. There were no courses or resources available to give me an idea of what the life of a Swing would be like. How would I keep up with learning ten different parts in four weeks? How would I deal with the emotional roller coaster of not performing every night …

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Last month I was in New York City for ten days working on the Broadway production of All the Way by Robert Schenkkan starring Bryan Cranston.  The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where I work for much of the year, premiered the play in 2012, and it was a huge hit.  It tells the story of the first year of Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency, focusing on the passing of the Civil Rights Bill and the 1964 election.  It’s an epic piece – in the current incarnation 20 actors play over 45 speaking roles who have over 20 accents between them.  The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts produced it last fall with the same director and most of the members of the original production team, and it’s that production, with a few additions and replacements, that is transferring to New York.

It’s been a great experience to revisit a production this way.  Both the original Oregon production and the Cambridge incarnation were terrific, but it …

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In Search of 21st Century Producers

As a longtime arts consultant and writer, the most urgent and incessantly asked question I receive from America's theatre leaders is:  “Do you know of any great [fill in the blank] Managing Directors, Marketing Directors, Development Directors, Media Directors, Company Managers or Audience Development Directors who are available or who might be persuaded to leave their jobs and work for my company?”

Board of trustee search committees and artistic directors throughout America seem to be in a state of perpetual angst in regards to the search and/or development of serious partners or employees with the experience, training, diligence, charm and willingness to fight and strategize for their institution’s long-term survival. Unfortunately, mirroring the fate of so many of the theatre’s heroic characters on stage, countless theatre leaders have succumbed to the pressures of leading a …

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Twinkle Twinkle TV Star

It’s tough being rejected for a theatre job at the best of times, but it seems that the regular employment of winners from TV competitions or reality shows into mainstream productions is getting many actors backs up. ‘I could have done it much better’ is a statement I hear regularly at masterclasses and press night parties.

That statement may be true of course, but with the huge financial risks producers must undertake in order to present a professional production, there is some assurance that in casting a recent TV winner will have positive benefits at the Box Office. Not all producers feel that way, with some preferring to make the production the ‘star’ without the need for celebrity casting. But it’s rare to see a production without a famous name or two leading the company.

Take a walk around any theatre at the interval and you are likely to see posters of past productions. I would guess that almost all of them will have one or two headliner …

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