It’s an exciting time for swings on Broadway. The unsung heroes of live theater are helping to keep stage lights on while the pandemic threatens to dim them. In the spotlight now more than ever due to recent holiday vacation backfill needs and the omicron variant spike, swings are offstage cast members who are trained to learn multiple roles and step into them at a moment’s notice.
“Having this job where I just don’t know if I am going or not going to go on today can be one of the most adrenaline-filled days, to the juxtaposition of just preparing and waiting,” Chiara Trentalange told Broadway Direct. Trentalange is marking her Broadway debut in Girl From the North Country. The Bob Dylan jukebox musical is closing January 23, but producers expect the show to return in the spring. Trentalange is also the dance captain and has previously subbed for the role of Kate Draper, played by Caitlin Houlahan. She was the only swing to go on when the show was in previews pre-pandemic back in March 2020.
Housso Semon, another swing in the show, has been able to go on for two ensemble roles and Marianne Lane, played by Kimber Elaine Sprawl. She only had a few minutes to prepare.
“I went on midshow for Marianne,” Semon recalled. “That day, I decided I was going to go over Mrs. Nielsen [played by Jeanette Bayardelle]. I was in the greenroom watching the show and stepping through Mrs. Nielsen’s track. Jeff, our stage manager, comes up to me. He’s like, ‘You’re going on in 10 minutes as Marianne.’ I went upstairs and started getting ready.”
She did some breathing exercises to calm her nerves.
“’If I make a mistake, it is what it is. I’ll do better next time,’” Semon said to herself that day. “You have to tell yourself these things so you don’t just allow yourself to get so overwhelmed that you can’t do what you’re supposed to.”
“She was amazing,” Trentalange said about her fellow castmate. They were speaking with Broadway Direct before a Wednesday matinee performance, sitting next to each other in their shared dressing room at the Belasco Theatre. At the time of the interview, both women were not expected to go on — but in recent weeks, they’ve been filling in quite often.
“We’re just a little more on our toes and constantly rehearsing backstage,” Semon said.
“Everyone has this underlying layer of anxiety going on just because we’re living in the world of global pandemic,” Trentalange added.
As swings, they often rehearse on Thursdays and Fridays before the musical’s evening performances. Every so often, they also rehearse for what’s called a “put in.” Half of the onstage cast comes into the rehearsal space and does a full runthrough with technical elements. “That’s so helpful,” Trentalange explained, because it helps them nail down all their parts.
And, like all the other shows that have reopened in the past few months, there is constant COVID testing, which adds another layer to their busy schedules.
In their own words, here’s a look at what a day in the life is like for Semon and Trentalange as they navigate the important responsibility of being swings on Broadway.
Check out Housso taking us through her day on Instagram.
10:30 a.m. I do yoga in the morning to wake my body up, a vocal warm-up in case someone calls out, and eat a healthy breakfast. Oatmeal is my go-to at the moment.
11:30 a.m. Off to rehearsal, but first I stop at Monkey Cup Cafe. It’s one of my favorite cafes in Harlem. It’s super cozy and designed like the rainforest in Venezuela!
12:00 p.m. I take the A train to Times Square. On my way out of the station I see a Girl From the North Country ad.
1:00-4:00 p.m. I check in with our COVID safety monitor. This is where she checks my temperature, offers me a fresh mask, and asks if I’ve filled out my daily screening. The daily screening is an online form that everyone in the building fills out. It asks if we have any COVID-like symptoms or have been in contact with anyone with COVID. After meeting with the safety monitor, I sign in and head to rehearsal.
6:00 p.m. Every day the company must take a COVID PCR test at the theatre. We then get our results the following day early in the morning. We also take a rapid antigen test once a week.
7:30 p.m. Make sure stage management knows where I am during the show.
8:00 p.m. David Lurie-Perret makes the top-of-the-show announcement.
8:15 p.m. Trail the show from stage left with Alex Grayson.
10:30 p.m. I leave the theatre for the night.
11:15 p.m. Home sweet home!
Check out Chiara taking us through her day on TikTok.
10:15 a.m. Quiet morning in my apartment to start the day. I like sitting on the couch, drinking coffee, listening to a record, and doing some puzzles.
11 a.m. I do morning yoga in my apartment to wake up my mind and body. Maggie Rogers’s “Alaska” is playing in the background.
11:30 a.m. I make a fuel-filled breakfast to start the day. Today I had avocado and a fried egg on toast.
12:30 p.m. After I get off the train and get COVID tested, I head through Times Square to the Belasco Theatre and sign in.
1:30 p.m. David Lurie-Perret calls half-hour for the matinee and we get a peek at our amazing understudies and swings performing today.
1:45 p.m. As Dance Captain, I have the privilege of making sure the movement in the show is in excellent shape. I give Ed, a super swing, a spacing note for a new track that he debuted this week.
2:15 p.m. I am doing some work during the matinee by rehearsing spacing/choreography in the greenroom. I then go over percussion and harmonies in the music room.
4:30 p.m. Walk back through Times Square to get the train to go home and rest during the break.
7 p.m. I head back to the theatre with cookies and I take one more COVID test.
8:30 p.m. I study my tracks in the dressing room during the first act of the night show.
9 p.m. Go over “Duquesne Whistle” choreography during the first act of the evening show with a “special unidentified swing,” who is making their GFTNC debut tomorrow!
9:30 p.m. I walk through the theatre to the balcony to sit and watch the second act of the show and take notes.
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