by Michelle Beth Herman
I always loved back-to-school shopping at Staples. Admiring the rainbows created by the hundreds of color-coordinated items in the aisles and breathing in the fresh scent of paper. New school supplies always signaled new beginnings. It made perfect sense then that I found myself back there shopping for tools for my first swing job. I tossed colorful Post-It notes, highlighters, Sharpies, pencils and erasers into my cart.
I honestly had no clue what I was doing. All I knew was I needed to learn eight tracks. I asked friends who had been swings for their best tips. They all said the same thing: “Every swing has a different method. You’ll figure out something that works for you.” $150 later, supplies in hand, I was ready!
I booked my role as a Swing with the Broadway National Tour of Les Misérables on April 11, 2017. Four months later, on August 11, I walked through the doors of New 42nd Street Studios in Manhattan, a place I had only dreamt of rehearsing in. As the company worked in the open space, my four fellow swings and I sat behind a table taking copious notes. I color coded every move made. I was watching a living, breathing chess board with pieces quickly moving from place to place.
The chance to come out from behind the table came when one of the actors took a break or went to a costume fitting. I would be called up to step into their role. Each time I went up, my heart would race knowing it was my responsibility to make mental notes to later fill that cast member in on their own blocking, while also needing to keep track of the other seven girls I was covering. It was daunting yet exhilarating, and it tested my concentration on every level.
I see swinging as the hardest job in the biz. I never thought I’d do it. I’ve been a lead in shows, but swinging is a whole different beast. To be a successful swing, much like a director, you must see the full picture. I got to experience Les Misérables from eight different perspectives. I had the opportunity to connect with every cast member in some capacity because I know eight peoples’ shows. I consider myself lucky to have experienced that. Swinging makes you aware and makes you a better artist.
From the get-go, the Les Misérables team worked to make us a family. I was concerned that as a swing, I might have been isolated from the rest of the cast once we hit the road. Our director, James Powell, made sure that didn’t happen. Five more chess pieces were added to the board for Press Day, Picture Day and, most importantly, on the show’s Opening Night. James included all the swings in The Epilogue and final bows. These are among the special moments I’ll forever hold in my heart.
It’s hard to say goodbye to something you love so much. But after 14 months on the road, I felt it was necessary to go in order to grow. I took what I thought would be my last bow at Les Misérables in Rochester, NY in November. I returned to the City, redecorated my apartment and quickly got back into a routine of auditioning, performing with friends and working survival jobs. I missed my Les Misérables family, but I was happy to learn life does go on when you return from the road.
Then in true dramatic fashion – on National Swing Day of all days – I got a call from my agent, they needed me back on the Barricade as an immediate replacement. 48 hours later, I was on a flight to Florida and watched the show from the audience that evening. The following day I was back on stage. Thank goodness for all my colorful notes and a supportive cast. It was like I had never left, although the little slip of paper in the program “welcomed” me to the company! I’m here for six more weeks and then it’s back to New York ... for now. This business is non-stop and full of surprises. I love it.
Some tips for future swings that I had to learn the hard way:
• Be fearless.
• Trust yourself.
• You’re enough.
• Don’t sweat the small stuff.
• You are fierce. Know it.
• Save the show because you are indeed a super swing.