‘My head exploded with it all’: students suddenly pushed into the spotlight Stage

AActor Anthony Taufa was going out for sushi last Saturday when his phone rang. A member of the Sydney Artists Theater Triple X’s company product was pinged as a close contact with the Covid case. Is Taufa ready to take its place? Tonight?

Toufa says, “My wife said that when I called, I could tell how stressed I was when my hands slowly lifted from my waist to my lap.”

Taufa is one of four artists on standby if any member of the advertised artist of Triple X is dropped from the show. Still, he did not expect to end up on stage.

“I lost my appetite and went straight to the theater to rehearse my scenes.”

As the omicron wave reaches its peak, Major Australian stage products are forced to reschedule Demonstrations as the virus affects the cast and crew. To prevent entire seasons from being canceled altogether, theater companies now rely on students to make sure the show runs: a strategy that has been described as “volatile” because it could add thousands to the budget.

Taufa is a familiar face to STC viewers for her role in the creation of Home, I Am Darling and others. Black is the new white. She had eight hours to prepare for the preview performance of Triple X, after Elijah Williams tested positive during the isolation: her first set against the show’s stars Glass Chase and Josh McConnell.

“It was really stressful,” he says. “But Josh is a great actor and he knows the front and back of the show, so when I left a few lines, he was able to turn the scene around and tell me to them – because there was information the audience needed.

“It would have been nice to have someone who knew what they were doing when the actor came out of the bathroom thinking about how to lift the bottle without hitting, and how to get the charcuterie board off the stage. My head exploded with it all.

Unable to breathe enough, Toufa was invited by VIPs, colleagues and critics to the opening night in front of a packed audience.

“It was exciting,” Taufa admits. “But yes, I was very worried.” Taufa will remain on the cast until at least January 18, when Williams will return; Another cast-member, Kristen O’Leary, will be joining Cherry Cassidy, the second undergraduate, after a positive test.

Anthony Toufa and Josh McConville at the Sydney Theater Company’s Triple X: “I was wondering when to pick up the bottle.” Photo: Prudence Upton

In musical theaters, it is standard practice for artists to have multiple alternatives (“swings”) that can accommodate key roles when they are sick or need to rest. On Broadway earlier this week, for example, Understudy Kathy Voyko suddenly found herself opposite Hugh Jackman Acting in music man; She found out in the afternoon, her first rehearsal was at 1 pm, and she went on stage that night.

Until recently, however, Australian theater has often been without them. If an actor falls ill or is injured, they often rely on adrenaline, painkillers, and “doctor’s footlights.”

Kovid has changed all that. Even when the cast and crew live and work in a covid-safe “bubble”, the highly transmissible omikron strain makes it possible for the person involved in the production to be denied many performances. Understudy is now central to the show’s survival.

“This is a new paradigm,” says Mitchell Butell, artistic director of the South Australian State Theater Company, which presents the fear of the Virginia Wolf. As part of the Sydney Festival at the Sydney Opera House. The production has two understudies with all four roles.

“The challenge is in the fund,” he says. “Employment for non-students adds thousands of dollars to the budget. It eats away at your ability to pay for other things. But cancellations are bad, and so in terms of risk mitigation, understudies are really important right now. ”

Kip Williams, artistic director of the Sydney Theater Company, agrees. “It’s incredibly new to us. We never understood before Covid. We couldn’t support them. But now, if we had to cancel performances at the Roslyn Packer Theater because of Covid, that 900 seats would be over. If we canceled the Wharf 1 show.” [such as Triple X] That’s about 350 seats. “

Kip Williams In Rehearsal For Julius Caesar.
Understudies are ‘a kind of insurance policy’ but not financially sustainable, says Kip Williams, pictured here in rehearsal for Julius Caesar. Photo: Daniel Bowd

The STC’s recent production of Julius Caesar There were three studies, none of which were used. Nor were there any studies for it Death of a salesman. But the extra money is worth the peace of mind, Williams says – at least for now.

“It’s a kind of insurance policy, but it’s not financially sustainable. This is not something we can commit to in the long run. ”

‘You’re slotting as best you can’

To keep costs low, understudies do not practice as lead actors. It’s a sit-in-the-pants gig, Toufa says.

“For Triple X, we watched the play twice, took notes, and asked the other actors about the technicalities of entry and props. We have to do what they do to maintain the integrity of the show.”

Taufa adds, there is no training on how to understand. “It’s a different set of tools and you have to be very self-reliant. You don’t have much contact with the director or any other artist. You’re slotting at the best you can and it can be very difficult.”

Different products use understandings in different ways. What if Benjin Maja and Isabel Wahcartano were fried by the Virginia Wolf? If read at the time, they are likely to have the script of Edward Albie in their hands.

Joe Is Scared Of The Virginia Wolf
‘This is a new paradigm’: Who is Fried of the Virginia Wolf premieres at the Sydney Festival this weekend, with two students taking on four roles. Photo: Yaya Stampler

“Martha and George are two big roles in the theater and it’s a three-and-a-half-hour play,” Butell says. .

“I still think it would be nice to give viewers the opportunity to get a refund if they didn’t really enjoy the show with an understanding, but a lot of people enjoy it – something different.”

Butel (who once went on to play Iago in Othello’s Bell Shakespeare production, without any rehearsals for the role), says Butel, especially for students who are new to their careers, the gig can be a great experience. ).

“The study is invaluable in terms of exposure, and access to professional rehearsal rooms is also good,” Butel says. “It’s not like you didn’t pay attention.”

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'My head exploded with it all': students suddenly pushed into the spotlight Stage 5

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