by Valerie Nagel
As on any sports team or group activity, there is a bond that happens in the cast of a musical. Whether you are a high schooler or on Broadway, the cast of a show inevitably becomes family. It’s an innate thing that happens to a company while going through these processes like tech, previews and running a show.
Jesse Swimm is an original cast member in School of Rock - The Musical on Broadway. He was also travelled as an actor in with three European tours, and an understudy for Bert on Mary Poppins on Broadway among many others. With all this experience under his actor’s belt, Jesse shared what it is like being an ensemble member and why it is so special, maybe even more so than when one plays a leading role.
The feeling of family is not the only similarity between high school and professional productions. According to Swimm, both include homework. He described the assignments that the ensemble got while on tour with My Fair Lady. The cast would split into groups and have very specific topics based on the time frame of the death of the king in London. The directors wanted them to study the different aspects of that time, and Jesse said “it became a history lesson."
He also mentioned how a cast member brought in beers from different pubs and the cast tried them out. Jesse stated that "the audience wasn't going to know we did this kind of work. What it did for us as an ensemble and I think what people don't necessarily realize when they come see a show is the amount of work we put into being in the ensemble, sometimes can be far greater than what a principal is putting in."
"Where the principals have their part laid out for them," continued Swimm, "we are taking it upon ourselves to come up with our own world. Creating these imaginary circumstances, we are a fluid part of the story that moves seamlessly in and out without it being obvious that we are there or making it seem false.”
After all this work, Swimm believes that a Tony Award for Best Ensemble help theater students understand that an understudy, swing or ensemble role is important to any show. Growing up in Southern California, Jesse saw a plethora of shows at the Segerstrom Theater in Costa Mesa, CA: "I very much remember going to see shows. The one thing I always loved was when I would open up the Playbill and look through the bios of the ensemble members. What really did it for me and made me feel connected to them was when I saw their bios and saw that they have done a show that I have done and I felt like a part of something.”
Swimm says that having the ensemble showcased at the Tony Awards would do no harm. "It would boost our industry. The ensemble is a very integral part of the story. An award for our work would help audiences see the whole picture, because we create the world around the story onstage."