Life As A Swing In Urinetown

Posted on 5 November 2014

How many times have you seen someone listed as 'swing' on a theatre programme and wondered what it meant? I've had a look into life as a swing and this is what I found.

A swing is like an understudy in that it's their job to fill in for a member of the ensemble when he or she is out of a show. However, unlike an understudy who fills one role, swings need to be able to step into multiple roles on a moment's notice.

Imagine how much hard work it takes to prepare for a role in a musical. Times that by ten and you get an idea of what it's like to be a swing.

I talked to Christina Modestou who is currently fulfilling the role of swing on the West End production of Urinetown at the Apollo Theatre

Christina is from South Wales and loved theatre from an early age. After training at ArtsEd, she went into 'We Will Rock You' at the Dominion, where she was second cover for the role of Killer Queen and played the part on a number of occasions. 

After other roles in musicals including the Southwark Playhouse production of 'In the Heights' and the Tabard Theatre production of 'Edges' Christina is now a swing in the new West End production of Urinetown.  

Me: "I haven't seen the show yet, tell me a bit about it."

Christina Modestou: "It's bonkers"

Me: "What does a swing in Urinetown do for the show?"

CM: "Within this show we cover all the girl's parts, as well as having an onstage track"

Me: "So you are generally off stage unless you are needed?"

CM: "This is what's different about this job, which I've never encountered before. Normally a swing's off unless someone is on holiday or someone's sick. However in this show we have an onstage part which we share, which is really different. "

For a layperson it does sound pretty complicated so I asked Christina to explain to me a little bit about what goes on. 

CM: "There is an onstage female track which we share. We do four shows a week and then if one of us gets on as our covers, we have first and second covers, so if one of Vicki's (Vicki Lee Taylor) first covers goes off, she goes on as that, and I take the female swing track. We did have a situation in the second week where two people were off, which meant two covers were on, which meant me and Vicki were both on as covers and then we had to cut the female swing track" 

Me: "It is complicated!"

CM: "It's quirky, it's fun but it is a lot of work. The great thing with this show is that the characters are just so much fun"

Me: "So tell me, do you secretly pray for the leads to be ill so you can get on?"

CM: "Ha ha, you don't secretly wish for them to be off but to get on and do each track once would be great. I know if I was playing a role I wouldn't be off unless I was dying."

Me: "Which part would you chose?"

CM: "It's really hard because they're all so different... I think I probably want to go on for 'Hope' the most just because it's so different to anything I've done before."

Me: "What's the shortest notice you've had to step up to the next track?"

CM: "At 'We Will Rock You' I found out half an hour before the show once"

Me: "How about in Urinetown?"

CM: "Touch wood, so far we've been alright"

CM: "We did have a scare once where Jenna (Jenna Russell) was stuck on a train"

Me: "How would you feel if midway through the show you had to change track? Would that be exciting or scary or both?"

CM: "I think I'd be scared, because there's no time"

CM: "Being on stage every night you hear the show which massively helps"

Me: "What would your dream role be?" 

CM: "I've got a couple"

CM: "I would love to do 'In The Heights' again. I played a part called Nina and it's one of my favourite musicals. Then I think every girl says this but one day I'd like to be green"

Me: "You are talking to one of the world's biggest Wicked fans."

Me: "What show are you desperate to see in the West End at the moment?" 

CM: "The Book of Morman and Curious Incident. I also can't wait to see Scottsboro Boys and Memphis."

It definitely sounds like being a swing is great fun and I'm sure there are many very talented performers quite literally waiting the wings for their big moment. 

Urinetown is currently booking at the Apollo Theatre until 24 January, 2015. Don't miss your chance to see this great show, book your Urinetown tickets now!

Interviewed by Nicky Sweetland