Andrea Scott is the proud mom of Maggie Scott, who plays various ensemble roles and understudies the roles of Molly and Kate – and, coincidentally, is the youngest member of the 30-person cast – in PTC’s current production of Annie. Andrea writes an article for our blog; this article can also be seen in the Deseret News, here.
Annie closes Friday, Dec. 23rd – there are only three more chances to see the show, so don’t miss out!
Early this fall, over a hundred bright-eyed girls auditioned for Pioneer Theatre Company’s Christmas production of Annie. Two callbacks narrowed the girls down to twenty. Then the phone calls went out to offer ten local girls, ages 10-13, various roles. The director, guest artist Paul Barnes, said casting the orphans was perhaps the hardest casting he’s ever had to do because of incredible talent that auditioned. Of the ten local girls, four were chosen to be a part of the ensemble cast and to understudy seven larger roles collectively. For the first time in their young careers, these four girls landed understudy roles, sometimes said to be the hardest job in the theater industry.
An understudy is someone who learns all the blocking (movements), lines, songs and dances for a certain character in the event that something should go wrong and the actor can’t go on stage. Being a professional theater, PTC ensures the show will go on regardless of unforeseen circumstances.
So why is being an understudy often referred to as the hardest job in the industry? Perhaps it is because everyone on the production team is hoping the understudies are never needed. If they are, it means something unexpected has happened, such as an injury or illness. The understudies are really the heroes in the wings, quietly standing in the background, doing the same work, without the public recognition. These girls attended all scheduled rehearsals for their understudy part(s), rehearsals for their own parts in the ensemble numbers, and two rehearsals specifically for understudies. If you had peeked in on the orphan rehearsals, you would have seen four young girls taking meticulous notes about every move their leading performer made. (Most of these girls are understudying two different roles!) You may also have seen girls shadowing behind the lead performers trying to learn various dance steps. During breaks, the girls jumped up and practiced the routines on their own to make sure they got them down.
Even though the hope is that an understudy doesn’t need to go on, the girls are very positive and excited about the whole experience. Maggie Scott, the youngest cast member at age 10, understudies both Molly and Kate. She said, “it requires a lot of waiting and watching, but even getting to learn the role of Molly is so much fun because she’s a great character! Plus I am having the time of my life working with all these amazing kids, adults and directors!” Regardless of the fact that Annie’s understudy, eleven-year-old Sydney Peebler, may never go onstage as Annie, she said she is grateful for “the opportunity to work with a host of amazing talent both on and off stage. It has been an experience that will be remembered for many years to come.”
All four understudies have impressive résumés for their young ages. Among the four girls, they’ve collectively played Annie (Hanna Gemperline at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre, who understudies Pepper and Duffy), To Kill a Mockingbird’s Scout (Bailee Johnson at Hale Center Orem, who understudies July and Tessie), Alice in Alice in Wonderland (Sydney Peebler at West Jordan Youth Theatre, who understudies Annie) and Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden (Maggie Scott at South Jordan Community Theatre, who understudies Molly and Kate). And this list only scratches the surface of their experience. These understudies are well-seasoned actors, dancers and singers and were all carefully picked to ensure, should the need arise, they could step into the role without a hitch. Those who have observed the understudy rehearsals are confident they could do just that.
Jessie Ibrahim, a past director for both Scott and Peebler, said, “When I am the best in a cast I rarely grow at all as an actor, but when those around me are amazing and I have a smaller part or ensemble part, I grow [by] leaps and bounds.” Many of the young cast members have expressed gratitude for this experience to learn and grow. They have had a unique opportunity to work side-by-side with adult actors who have years of professional experience. During understudy rehearsals, veteran Pioneer Theatre actors graciously shared what they’ve learned along the way, even teaching the orphans how to successfully sell a stomp on Miss Hannigan’s foot.
The role of an understudy varies from theater to theater or even production to production. In some productions, the understudy will never set foot on the stage, and waits patiently in hopes of an opportunity to perform. Sometimes, the understudy is guaranteed a performance or dress rehearsal during the run. In other productions, including this one, the understudies also perform as ensemble members. At Annie’s final callbacks, Barnes told parents he wished he could make up three casts from all the girls in attendance. With only three and a half weeks to put together a musical from start to finish, Pioneer Theatre Company can’t accommodate more than one cast. Knowingly, Director Paul Barnes wanted the four understudies to be a part ofthe ensemble and on the stage every night. If you come to see Annie this December, you’ll spot these four unsung heroes as homeless children in Hooverville and various roles in NYC. Or perhaps (but unlikely) you’ll have the chance to see them playing the part for which they spent so much time preparing!There are THREE more chances to see Annie at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 South 1400 East. Ticket prices range from $36-$57 ($5 more day of show; kids in grades K-12 are half-price for the Friday, Dec. 23rd show at 2:00 p.m. and can be bought online at pioneertheatre.org or by calling the box office at 801-581-6961. No children under age five admitted.
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