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Swings, understudies, standbys hailed heroes of theater industry amid pandemic

Don Tagala | TFC News New York

Posted at Jan 25 2022 08:08 PM

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The show must go on safely.

That's the assertion of live theater performers, including the nine Filipino American cast members of Aladdin on Broadway. Don Daryll Rivera, who originated the role of Iago in 2014 says, he and his fellow cast members have gotten used to living their lives in a pandemic.

"I never thought in a million years that part of my show track would be, at one point during the show, getting tested... I think we're so lucky that Disney is doing gold standard to keep us safe backstage protocols, cleaning, testing every day," Rivera says. "I wouldn't necessarily say it's a challenge. I think it's just now different."

However, the real heroes on Broadway are the swings, understudies, and standbys like Angelo Soriano. Cast members like him make it possible for plays and musicals to go on during these tough pandemic times.

To be a swing or an understudy means, Soriano should be able to perform any of the 14 roles he studied at a moment’s notice. "I cover 12 male ensemble roles and I also understudy two principal roles including Omar and Jago. So when this guy is [on] vacation, sick or just needs a day off, I jump in. I jump right in there and become the next sidekick," Soriano notes.

Rivera meanwhile shares "my daughter just turned six at the beginning of this month and I was able to be home and have a birthday cake with her and have a family dinner because Angelo supports me that way as an understudy... They allow us to live our lives."

With the pandemic, Soriano admits the pressure is now a bit heavier as theater productions need to make sure they are covered immediately when more than one cast member can’t make it due to Covid-19 come performance night.

"Swings, understudies, and standbys have been doing that since the before times - have been keeping that curtain up altogether before any pandemic. And I think it's important to also just pay respect to people who just keep a show going," Soriano says.

For Heather Makalani, who is a Princess Jasmine understudy, there is nothing more exciting than being told she is playing a Disney princess just a few hours before the show.

"We just have to do it at the drop of a hat, you know and, I feel like sometimes people underestimate the swings and understudies... But sometimes some of the most talented people I have ever met are the people who are off stage - a person who can record a song in his living room and then also understudy 12 tracks and then be flawless onstage," Makalani says.

On Broadway, swings, understudies, and standbys have been particularly called the superheroes of the theater industry during the surge in cases of the Delta and Omicron variants.