by Zachary Daniel Jones
I never in a million years thought I could swing a Broadway show. I can barely remember what I ate for dinner last night, let alone know and perform multiple tracks in a musical. So, when I found out I was joining Beetlejuice on Broadway as a vacation swing, you can only imagine the shock, thrill, and terror I felt.
I had just finished a contract in Houston and had been back in New York City for less than a day when I received an appointment for an immediate vacation swing at Beetlejuice. The email came on Tuesday, the audition was for Wednesday, and by Thursday someone would be joining a new Broadway show. After swapping shifts with a coworker, printing off a last minute headshot and resume, and slapping on my favorite pair of socks, I was ready to roll.
Every time I enter an audition room, I wear at least one article of clothing to remember to just have fun. Beetlejuice was no exception. My “go to” for this audition was a pair of pink socks, but my good luck repertoire ranges from a backwards ball cap to cheetah pants (seriously). More often than not, I look ridiculous. But it reminds me to have as much fun as I can while I am working my ass off. If I fully trust my abilities and allow any judgement or doubt to fade away, then what I have to share in an audition room will be more than enough.
After a few rounds of dance cuts for Beetlejuice, casting wanted us to come in one at a time to sing. At some auditions, monitors come out to let the next person know to come in. But, on that particular day, the team wanted us to head in as soon as the person before us had finished. We were slated to sing in alphabetical order.
Either I don’t know the alphabet very well, or I just wasn’t paying attention. No one had entered the room for a while, but I was next in line. Before I knew it, the casting director, Rachel Hoffman, was opening the door asking, “Zachary? Do you want a job or not?” We shared a laugh. Or perhaps I might’ve done most of the laughing. My anxiety abuzz, I shuffled into the room to sing.
When I finished, as I was answering their questions, I walked over to the piano to grab my rep book. Scratch that, I thought I walked over to the piano. In reality, I had walked directly up to the casting table and gathered all of Rachel’s papers and headshots. Who knows where my head was? Before I could catch myself, she joked that I was trying to read her notes to which I replied, “I don’t know what I’m doing... I think I need to leave before this gets any worse!” It was equally confusing as it was hysterical. Having made an even bigger fool of myself than usual, we all laughed, I thanked them for their time and went on my merry way. I got the call at work later that night that the job was mine.
When I first joined Beetlejuice, I felt as if I had fallen backward into my second Broadway show (the Cats revival being my first). I made a fool of myself at my audition, the entire process happened so fast, we were three days from starting tech, and I had never swung a show before. Every day I showed up to rehearsal more nervous than the day before. Due to the jam-packed, fast-paced, ever changing nature of tech, I learned fairly quickly swings get very little time to rehearse. But I wasn’t going to let that prevent me from doing the work I needed to do. I spent the majority of tech taking videos of everything, tracking out as much of the ensemble as I could, and then getting up on my feet in the upper lobby of the Winter Garden to get as much of the show in my body as possible. Which really paid off when I had my first scheduled rehearsal and midshow swing on within hours of each other.
Yes, you read that right. I had my first rehearsal and onstage ensemble debut in the very same day.
For all you swings out there: woah, I get it now. I may have initially fallen backward into this company, but I was now leaping forward into one of the most special experiences of my life. Every single person in the building rallied to help me succeed. Costume and wardrobe helped get me into costumes and makeup I’d never tried on. Stage managers guided me through all of the backstage traffic I had yet to shadow. And after a quick spacing rehearsal and lift call during intermission it was time to step out on that stage and soar.
As I prepared to enter from the side window of the Deetz’s now-possessed home, I tapped into the same energy I carried into my audition. I closed my eyes and said, “You got this. Now go have fun.” And that’s exactly what I did. With the utmost support and love from my cast, creative team, and entire crew I was having too much fun to ever even question how terrified I was. A whirlwind of emotions and a dazzling sensation I will never forget.
Typically a vacation swing covers medical leaves, injuries or vacations after a show has been up and running, but that wasn’t my experience. This was out of the ordinary, but why shouldn’t the job be just as strange, challenging, and comical as the audition that lead me there.