Is being a swing the worst job?
— Peggy Breckin 🇸🇾 (@bickypeg) September 17, 2019
I would never dream of putting the word ‘swing’ and ‘worst’ into the same sentence. Having the talent to be a swing makes you one of the most impressive and important people in the industry. It not only requires you to stand in the right place and move at the right time, it also requires you to learn all the relevant lines, harmonies and jazz-hand placements of many different characters from the same show.
There are many excellent actors out there who can play one role brilliantly, but ask them to play multiple ones and they simply break down into a gibbering mess downstage right. A swing has to be able to cover multiple characters, learning not only an actor’s onstage track, but also what they’re doing offstage – quick changes, placement of props, which side to enter and which actor to flirt with.
Swings have a huge responsibility to blend in effortlessly, making it almost impossible to tell that they’re playing someone else’s role. As I always say, you can tell a swing is doing a good job when you don’t even realise that they’re actually doing their job.
West End shows particularly rely on swings, who are in the theatre for every performance in case of an emergency, and will step into another actor’s show pants at a moment’s notice. Without them, there would be cancelled shows, wounded performers, and a cast of four in Les Misérables. To the industry, they are the fourth emergency service.
It’s interesting that you ask whether it’s the “worst” job. I suppose you mean: “Is it the hardest job?” In a way it is.
Not only do swings have to remember many roles, they often have to do much of the learning themselves: watching show runs, making notes, learning different harmonies and remembering the exact width an actor opens their mouth during high notes. The fact is, it takes a lot of technical skill and quick learning capabilities to be a swing.
I always find it sad that many members of the public don’t really understand what a swing does, and never really appreciate the huge talent involved.
Perhaps we should celebrate a ‘swing appreciation day’ when swings make themselves known, and post videos and blogs detailing their show routine.
I suppose in a different industry, a swing would be an employee who goes to the office every day and is able to do the job of the PR team, admin, management, reception, accounts, window cleaner and chief executive – all of them, and at any time (and sometimes two different roles in the same day).
So hats off to the marvellous saviours of musical theatre, the talented octuple threats who put the rest of the acting world to shame with their sheer dedication and ability to learn so bloody much and save countless shows from being cancelled. Without them, the industry simply wouldn’t work, dear.