It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got a swing
Do you have a different definition? Have you BEEN a swing? Join the conversation!
A swing is a performer whose job is to play one or more roles in the acting ensemble of a show—usually a musical—when someone else is out. These dedicated professionals learn literally dozens of different parts or “tracks” (a series of minor characters played by a single chorus member in successive scenes). They stand ready at each performance to step in for whoever is unable to go on, whether due to illness or vacation, or for any other reason. Sometimes, the missing performer is an understudy who gets called upon to cover for an actor in a principal role, which in turn leaves an empty spot in the chorus line that a swing is on hand to fill.
Lots of well-known performers began their careers as swings before graduating to starring roles. Jonathan Groff, who received a Tony Award® nomination for creating the role of Melchiorin the musical Spring Awakening (and more recently played Jesse St. James in the TV series Glee) made his Broadway debut as a swing in the short-lived musical In My Life. Other Broadway regulars who first appeared on the Great White Way as swings are Karen Olivo (in Rent) and Brad Oscar (in Aspects of Love).
On the other hand, some performers make a career out of working as a swing in different shows, learning each track in the ensemble and being ready to play a different part each night. This job isn’t for everyone—after all, not every performer can master as much material as a typical swing has under his or her belt. Yet without them, the show could not go on.
Here’s an interesting article about several swings who work regularly on the professional London stage.
– Ben Pesner