Young People’s Theatre Newcastle

Spotlight On: Our Understudies

Spotlight On: Our Understudies

5 minute read // Published by Young Peoples Theatre, January 2022
Written by Maddie Newland and Chelsea Willis

Understudies meaning: (in the theatre) a person who learns another’s role in order to be able to act at short notice in their absence. The actor learns this in addition to their own role.

Introducing Jackson Archer, who plays Paris in our production of Romeo and Juliet and Anthony Ulph who plays Montague. Both Jackson and Anthony have taken on large understudy roles within in the cast as Tybalt/Apothecary/Friar Lawrence (Jackson) and Romeo (Anthony) respectively. We interviewed Jackson and Anthony to hear more about their process throughout this production.

What is it like to be an understudy? 
Jackson: I find (being an understudy) very engaging and rewarding when you take the role professionally within a production. In my instance I play a role of my own, as well as two other understudied characters. I find learning the ability to become involved as either, deepens perspective within the show and refines the presented role of your own onstage.

Anthony: It can be a lot of pressure due to the fact that Romeo is such an intense character.

What has been your process for managing your understudy role alongside your own role (Could be characterisation, script management, rehearsal process)
Jackson: My main process to learn my understudied roles was to communicate and observe that actors use of language and relationships towards other roles. I then took all necessary parts as well as specific traits I enjoyed from them as to add to my own version. A particular method I did was read alongside and anything that catches my eye I change to see fit.

Anthony: I learned and characterized my role of Montague as fast as I could so that I could begin work on Romeo. I also asked for line learning tips and notes from the actor playing Romeo.

What has being an understudy taught you about theatre and the production process?
Jackson: The bearing weight of each moving part within a production, and how the implications of understudying are extremely important to undertake within the professional productions of the industry.

Anthony: It has shown me the amount of effort that any understudying lead needs with heavy note taking and all the blocking work needed. It also made me appreciate directors due to the fact that they had to run the scenes even more times.

How did you find working with Shakespearean text for the two characters? What differences could you see in the way they were written?
Jackson: I learned within his work, that each form of character is written almost to a completely different pacing and rhythm. And to properly understand them and how they speak and act is half the battle.

Anthony: Montague and Romeo are incredibly different down to the way they walk. Montague being much more demanding in tone and purpose whenever he speaks where Romeo often doesn’t stop talking.

Have you enjoyed the process? What have you found most interesting?
Jackson: I absolutely loved working with my fellow cast members on both understudied characters, the cooperation between them greatly helped my understanding of the show as well as the cast.

Anthony: I have enjoyed it and the most interesting thing I found was the perspective that the more experienced actor playing Romeo could share and show me.

What has been the most difficult/challenging part about the overall process?
Jackson: I think the active blocking and queues were harder as involving myself in script as well as character was easiest in my experience.

Anthony: The most difficult thing has been balancing outside of theatre things that were necessary for Romeo with social, school and drama life.

Has this process/production changed the way you see the play? How?
Jackson: In countless ways as I saw each possible story from multiple eyes of each character, tied a masterful show together.

Anthony: Previous to this play I only ever saw Romeo and Juliet as something I had to study in year 10 English. This has definitely changed how I saw Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet plays at YPT Theatre until 5 March. Tickets at ypt.org.au/bookings

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