Performer Bree Langridge is a cast member in the Australian premiere production of The Bodyguard and she joins the AussieTheatre team as guest columnist to give a special insight into the life of a Swing in a major musical.
Follow Bree’s journey as she pens a weekly diary about her learning process, the rehearsal room, preparing to cover (and perform) multiple roles at a moment’s notice and more (and you’ll soon find out why swings are the unsung heroes of the musical theatre world!)
Coming Up Swinging
So, last year I was offered on-stage swing for the Australian tour of Cats the musical. I’m not gonna lie, I was always terrified of swinging, but I took the contract and as it turned out, it was one of the best years of my life. I’ve never worked harder and I’ve never been happier. So this year when offered on-stage swing for The Bodyguard, I was a little more at ease and excited at the thought.
A lot of people ask me about swinging so I’m going to keep this raw and real and share my experience swinging on a new show.
I’ve never seen The Bodyguard live, but have read my script, watched the film, listened to the original cast recording and googled. A lot. Apart from that, all I know is I’m covering all four female dancers and the two female backing vocalists in the production. These covers are split between myself and the resident choreographer / swing Amy Campbell (a superwoman who I have endless respect and admiration for). We will have first and second covers but we will both have to know them all. I think most swings have a “process” for learning and documenting a show, but it’s day one working on a new show that I’m not really sure how it all works. So, my only plan is to learn as much as I can and get it in my body.
I have been to Officeworks. I have plenty of pencils, erasers, note books, full battery iPad and phone charger. And I’ve had a coffee.
The morning is very official: meeting the creatives talking through the set etc, then a read through / karaoke where we all sing the songs…living !!! Paulini (Rachel Marron) takes ‘I Will Always Love You’ and that’s when it hits home, this is going to be amazing.
After lunch, BANG, we start learning the choreography for ‘Queen Of The Night’, the opening number. Being an on-stage swing, I have a plot for me to perform every night, but it’s designed to be easily removed if I am on for a cover.
As the BVs (backing vocalists) enter, I am informed one doesn’t join us in rehearsals until day 2 so I step in her place. Now, ideally everyone is well and present at all rehearsals, but these opportunities are gold for swings to be amongst it on the floor. I absorb everything like a sponge. Before we know it day one is over – not too scary – didn’t take many notes but not too bad.
Straight back into choreo. Ok, hold on, there’s long-stick-prop-dancing! All dancers are different angles, different choreo, BVs are in opposition…swing nightmare…
Rephrase: swing challenge! And by learning both left and right sides of the routine, it gives me the chance to strengthen both sides of my body. Tick.
The other male swing, Blake, and I are up the back putting everything on our feet as we go. Note to self: take more notes, we are moving FAST.
I remember Emma Delmenico (our resident choreographer on Cats and currently working on The Book of Mormon) said to me “see the show as a whole as much as possible (as) it will make more sense”. So I take a step back and see the traffic as a whole and the full stage shape to understand it. Everyone has a different process but that made me breathe easier, still not sure about the stick choreo but hey, I have time.
After lunch, we sing, I’m also learning several vocal harmonies, this is a first for me, but it’s Whitney so I’m happy to sing in general.
Note to self: record EVERYTHING.
I’ve had some strong chats to myself this morning and have come in with a plan to break up the chunks of the day. I’m going to focus on different sides of the choreography at different times. For example, morning right side, afternoon left, so I’ll see how that goes. I guess I’m working out the best way to lock down an understanding of ensemble tracks. This is starting to help a lot and as numbers become closer to completion, it’s much easier.
The ensemble is focusing on the choreography first and leads are doing script work and vocals, but when we get our leading lady Paulini in the room it’s very exciting and we all lift.
This is hectic! We started to learn a massive group number where everyone is working in partners and each partnership is completely different. My head is pretty full and I think I’m now cross eyed, but watching the incredible choreography and individuality of each partner is so exciting and made me realise how lucky I am to have the possibility of dancing all these tracks with these amazing male dancers.
That’s me being positive. I’m also thinking “how on earth am I going to learn all this?” I know if I focus on that, it can get the better of me so I don’t. I was then informed of first and second covers (ie the tracks I would step into first and the tracks I cover in the second instance). This is going to help a lot. I’m sure some shows may know these breakdowns from day one, but going in with an open mind for me is the calmest way to approach it.
Our associate director Frank Thompson talked to us on day one about the show’s world-wide success and productions in several countries. He explained it isn’t a cookie cutter and he aims to work with each cast to find their individual version of the show. Knowing that is so inspiring, it means even as a swing even though I must know number for number, hit for hit, vocal harmony for vocal harmony of all my tracks, I can bring my flavour to it.
I’m sore and feeling very confused today. I was offered the chance to audition for a lead cover earlier in the week and was successful in gaining that cover. I’m not going to lie, if I think about all the material it’s overwhelming! No amount of yoga or coffee will calm that. I remind myself that this is normal and to keep my head down, do the work, it will all make sense soon. By the afternoon I’m feeling a lot more optimistic, and had a light bulb moment that I think I may know more than I feel I do. I hope…
This cast is wonderful, I’m grabbing people left right and centre to go through stuff and everyone is so accommodating and supportive.
Saturday, a half day.
We spend the day finishing numbers off and recapping.
It’s been a massive week and I’m looking forward to a day off to digest it all. I think after week one I’m starting to grasp how the show may work for us swings, I also take a moment to remember whilst we have much more to do, we are in great hands with this company and creatives. It’s so exciting how beautiful and multicultural the full cast is, and is a testament to our country we were all cast here.
So week one down, I look forward to sharing week two of this process soon.
If there’s any part of the process you like to know about I’d love to hear it.
Till next week, sleep enough and drink good coffee.
The Bodyguard opens at Sydney Lyric Theatre on April 21 before continuing to Brisbane and Melbourne. For more information and Tickets visit: thebodyguardmusical.com.au