by Erin Rubico
I received the offer to join the cast of The Secret Garden at the Denver Center while standing in the doorway of my downtown retail job. Trying not to disturb customers while jumping up and down, pure elation quickly turned to absolute panic: I was being offered the position of female swing. I had no previous swing experience and had only understudied twice before. Did I really have what it takes to join the ranks of these musical theatre superhumans? After pacing aimlessly through the streets of SoHo for who-knows-how-long, I made the choice to be worthy and capable of the challenge, despite my rapidly mounting anxiety.
The only way to combat those fears, I decided, was to prepare: I gathered my own curriculum of resources and taught myself a crash course. First stop: The Ensemblist (Episode #69, to be exact - give it a listen). I also devoured the book Broadway Swings: Covering the Ensemble in Musical Theatre by J. Austin Eyer and Lyndy Franklin Smith. The more I learned, the more I realized that this job aligned surprisingly well with my organizationally-driven, Virgo/Ravenclaw personality; skipping through the aisles of Staples while humming “My Favorite Things” and picking out color-coded note cards should have tipped me off that this job might in fact be a good fit.
Walking into the first day of rehearsal, it felt like no amount of color-coding could have prepared me for this. How long would it take me to run back over those beautiful Denver mountains?
I then looked to my left and realized that the male swing siting next to me had not only swung before, but had done so at this very theatre. I had a choice: feign confidence and continue freaking out or be vulnerable and ask for help? I thankfully chose the latter, and not only received some wonderful advice, but one of my closest friends on the contract. As the rehearsal process went on, I was able to relax and develop a style of notation that worked for me through plenty of trial and error.
The most unexpected showing of fear and doubt actually surfaced on our opening night. I participated in the backstage jitters, card-openings and breaking of metaphorical legs. As I then headed into the audience instead of to places, a final jolt of anxiety hit: if I’m not up there with them, am I really a part of this show? That fear lasted through the first downbeat of the overture and was replaced by an overwhelming sense of pride. Not only did I help to create this beautiful show, I was able to experience firsthand the profound impact it had on our audience. It was the best of both worlds!
First-time swinging is surely stressful and plenty intimidating, but also immensely rewarding, and the career achievement that I’m most proud of.