Opinion: Understudy Life Is Tough, But Hearing Tourists Groan When They Hear My Name Makes Up For It
Updated: Jul 16
by Aidan Sears. @aidanjsears.
The life of a Broadway understudy is a hard one. The rehearsals, the late nights, the uncertainty that comes with never knowing exactly when you’ll be called in. But at the end of the day, I know that it’s all worth it when I hear my name announced over the PA system, followed by a smattering of groans from tourists in the audience.
I don’t blame them. I understand the disappointment - it’s their first Broadway show, and they’re here to see the best of the best. They don’t want to see any second stringers. It’s not their fault that they don’t know the primary actress is hungover and, if I’m being honest, usually mails in the Sunday matinee performance anyway. So even though I can feel their seething resentment from before I even step on stage, I’ll still do my part to make this the best ever performance of a show they learned existed only a week ago.
In fact, that seething resentment is what keeps me going. Being an actor means constant doubt. Doubt from your family, your peers, and yourself. If there’s one thing I can consistently rely on, it’s that gaggles of Iowans visiting their cousins for the weekend are going to be disappointed that they’re seeing me, and they’re going to let me know it.
That’s an experience you just don’t get doing local theatre. Local theatre audience members are either pleasant suburbanites who love everything, or jaded theatre community members who know to keep their constant overwhelming disappointment to themselves and be personable to your face. So when I first heard some mother-in-law scoff in full chest voice, “who?” at the announcement of my name, I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I was in the big leagues.
So while I won’t win a Tony, and I won’t be mentioned in the New York Times review, I know that my name will l be mentioned somewhere. I’ll be mentioned by tourists when they tell the story of their visit to New York and the time they saw “That show. But not with the main guy. Some other one.”