A Beauty and the Beast company member shares what it's like to be part of an ensemble cast. Kimberly writes:
I was in the 3rd National Touring company of Beauty and the Beast for (and I'm not kidding), 999 performances. I was a "partial swing" which meant that I sang back stage every night, AND covered eight ensemble tracks. Yes, I was the one they gave all of the high "C"s to because I was "just standing" back stage. But when I was on for one of my tracks and doing that kick line at the end of "Be Our Guest," who was singing and holding that high "C"? That would be me.
Beauty and the Beast is known for its "character" ensemble: the townspeople, the castle inhabitants turning into different household items (I was turning into a wire whisk), and it was important that each of us be our own unique selves while STILL connecting and creating a sense of ensemble. We carried that sense of ensemble off the stage in order to give the audience the real feel of a "team," and that is how the "Dressing Room Fairy" came to be, granting little wishes and leaving them on individual dressing room spots to surprise and encourage each other.
ON the stage, my job as a swing meant I had to, in real time, calculate exactly what the most important part of each scene was, and be there for that. I have been on stage for up to FOUR of my ensemble tracks simultaneously ... they each had different important moments: one would place the barrel for Gaston to sit on, another would pass a tray of mugs out to stage right... even if they were different people in typical performances, some nights, they were all me. I have literally exited stage left, run at top speed to stage to stage right AS I WAS CHANGING, with a dresser running next to me, handing me the next thing to put on, and then run back on stage to do seven fan kicks and a jump split.
As a swing, I not only was responsible for eight shows a week, but EVERY weekly rehearsal as well. Those ensemble members who covered or understudied other tracks would need to show up, too, and when we put a new person into the show, who needed to show up to that rehearsal? The entire ensemble. Because anyone new had to become a part of this important "team" that we had created. The show would not exist without it.