On a recent Saturday morning, Broadway actress Jennie Harney was woken up by a phone call with a voice on the other end asking, “How do you feel about a fling today?” “
A few hours later, she was at an airport in New York. That night she was in San Francisco, ready to take the stage, if needed, as one of the three Schuyler sisters in “Hamilton”.
It’s the life of a universal vigil in “Hamilton”, the musical based on the life of the founding father of the United States, Alexander Hamilton. The show has five Universal Actors ready to fly across the country and perform in one of its three productions, in New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, whenever a regular cast member can’t continue.
“Your job is to be prepared for emergencies,” Harney said.
Nicknamed the “Universal Schuyler,” Harney takes over the lead roles of Angelica, Eliza and Peggy Schuyler, while the other actors are “swings,” spanning five or six ensemble roles.
The show wraps up its San Francisco tour on Saturday, and Universal Cast will add Los Angeles to their rotation when production resumes there on August 11.
While the productions of “Hamilton” are largely the same in all three cities, Antuan Raimone, one of the universal swings, said his work is more like 18 roles due to the different dimensions of the scene, which change. where it should stand and how it moves. He must also remain aware of the nuances that the actors of each production bring to their roles.
When Harney later went to San Francisco, she had to face playing the role of Eliza for the first time. And as Eliza, she had to quickly develop a passionate connection with Alexander Hamilton and a brotherly bond with two actresses she had just met.
“There just isn’t the time. You have to go in there and do your job and pretend they’re your best friends, ”Harney said.
“Hamilton” chose to employ five cast members, rather than the more traditional vacation option – actors who come for prescribed periods – because of the time it takes to integrate a new member of the jet set. distribution. It takes an average of four to six weeks to learn a role in the fast-paced show and six weeks to build a costume set.
A vacation swing might decide not to return next time, which would mean the investment of production time and money is in vain, said Jason Bassett, production supervisor of all “Hamilton” shows.
“Considering ‘Hamilton’ can afford to keep someone on their full-time staff, it was worth it,” Bassett said.
The production of “Hamilton’s” on Broadway grossed more than $ 3 million last week, with premium tickets at $ 849, according to the Broadway League.
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“Jersey Boys” had a cross-country swing when it had several productions underway, and Bassett said that “Hairspray” relied on such swings as well, but the role of a “universal watch” is relatively rare, because the concept is based on the performance of a program. have several simultaneous productions.
The job can seem stressful, but Harney said she finds the experience of getting in and out of cities and throwing “exciting.”
She’s getting married next year and considering moving, so she jumped at the chance to join the cast of a popular show that is expected to last a long time. “It was a big priority for me to have that stability and to know that I’m going to have a job that isn’t going to close,” Harney said.
For Raimone, who is 37, the fact that he doesn’t typically perform eight shows a week, like he would in a traditional ensemble role, means he doesn’t stretch his body too much. In the long run, this means he is able to lengthen his dancing career. “I love to dance and I love to play, but I am also aware that the body cannot do what it can do for so long,” he said.
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Typically, Bassett tries to schedule the swings and the day before, Harney, with a month’s notice. Each cast has their own swings and town vigils, but if they’re all happening at the same time or someone is on vacation or injured, Universal Actors are needed.
If there is enough notice, the show will give FedEx all of the actor’s costumes, which can mean a “fleet” of five to seven boxes traveling past them, Raimone said.
“Even an M5 [ensemble member], who is James Reynolds, has seven different coats and capes, ”said Raimone.
In an emergency, however, the actor is sent to the airport with a giant suitcase of costumes.
Harney and all the swings are based in New York, and they must be at the theater in the city they are in for each show. When traveling, the show pays for the flight, covers accommodation, and provides a per diem for meals and other expenses.
Because of these perks and the fact that he sublets his apartment when he is away for long periods of time, Raimone has learned that being out of town helps him save money. “It is, in essence, more financially beneficial for me to be outside of New York City,” said Raimone.
The show also encourages actors to sign up for loyalty miles and allows them to choose the airline when possible.
And the time in flight provides a good opportunity to study the role, as the actors have access to videos of the production of “Hamilton” in each city.
To prepare for each Schuyler sister, Harney said she created a binder with color-coded index cards – coordinated with the color of each sister’s main costume – as a “cheat sheet” for each issue in the series. She began her studies by isolating the show song by song for each role, taking notes on the movement and props involved.
“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched ‘Helples’ and ‘Satisfied’ just to look at the traffic patterns,” Harney said.
On the flip side, Raimone said he earned the nickname “Magic” due to his ability to watch the choreography multiple times and memorize it. “I am a monster,” he said.