Understudy – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Acting Glossary Terms

What is an understudy?

An understudy is a performer who learns and rehearses a role in a play, musical, or other performance, with the understanding that they may need to step in and perform the role if the original actor is unable to do so. Understudies are typically hired for each major role in a production to ensure that the show can go on even if the lead actor is unavailable.

How does an actor become an understudy?

Actors can become understudies through auditions or casting calls specifically for understudy roles. Sometimes, actors who are already part of the production may be asked to also serve as understudies for certain roles. Understudies are usually chosen based on their ability to learn quickly, adapt to different styles of performance, and seamlessly step into a role at a moment’s notice.

What are the responsibilities of an understudy?

The primary responsibility of an understudy is to be prepared to perform the role they are understudying at any time. This means attending all rehearsals for the production, studying the script and blocking, and observing the lead actor’s performances to ensure they can accurately replicate the role if needed. Understudies must also be ready to step in on short notice and be able to seamlessly integrate into the production without disrupting the flow of the show.

What is the difference between an understudy and a standby?

While understudies are performers who learn and rehearse a specific role in a production, standbys are actors who are ready to step in for multiple roles in a production. Standbys are typically assigned to cover several roles in a show, whereas understudies are usually assigned to one specific role. Standbys are often used in productions with multiple lead roles or in situations where multiple actors may be unavailable at the same time.

How does an understudy prepare for a performance?

Understudies prepare for performances by attending all rehearsals for the production, studying the script and blocking, and observing the lead actor’s performances. They may also participate in understudy rehearsals where they run through scenes with other understudies and receive feedback from the director or stage manager. Understudies must be ready to step into the role at a moment’s notice, so they must always be prepared and stay focused during performances.

What happens if the understudy needs to go on for the lead role?

If the lead actor is unable to perform and the understudy needs to step in, the production team will typically make an announcement to the audience before the show begins. The understudy will then have a brief moment to mentally prepare before taking the stage. In some cases, the understudy may have a standby of their own to cover their original role if needed. The understudy must then give their best performance and seamlessly integrate into the production to ensure a successful show.