To swing or not to swing… that is the question. Broadway claims that swings are the most in-demand performers in the industry, yet there seems to be a lack of them. Why is the most in-demand role in theater struggling to find actors to fill them? The answer is intimidation. This job is not for the weak, it is made for those looking for a thrilling challenge.
Dustin Layton, dance captain and swing for Disney’s National Tour of Frozen, answers yes! Layton covers all nine of the male ensemble roles and is the understudy for King Agnarr and Pabbie. “I enjoy the change,” he says, “that’s why I dove into swinging head first because doing something different every night is just exhilarating and fun.”
Dustin Layton – Dance Captain and Swing
Layton’s swing counterpart and assistant dance captain, Jessie Peltier, also covers all nine of the female ensemble roles and is the understudy for Bulda in Disney’s National Tour of Frozen. This being her national tour debut, Peltier says that she didn’t go into the audition process expecting to get a swing offer. “I remember thinking this was going to be really hard, I’m gonna have to be really brave,” she says, “it’s such a brain challenge but it’s been so rewarding.”
Jessie Peltier – Assistant Dance Captain, Fight Captain, and Swing
A swing is a member of a cast that covers all roles of a show, being able to switch from role to role in an instant. Being prepared at all times, these actors must be ready to go on stage at any given moment. Saving the day one role at a time.
“There have been times where I have gone on for 18 straight shows and done a different track every single night,” says Peltier, “you feel like you can truly accomplish anything and it’s really helped my confidence as an actor as well.”
The world of a swing can be exhilarating and fun, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with it’s challenges. What we don’t see is all the work, time, and prep that happens behind the scenes. “We have a four-week rehearsal process and the material is new to everyone,” says Layton, “the difference is that we are learning nine roles and on top of that dance captains are learning the entire show at once.”
The stress and anxiety that comes with this role is a big deciding factor for an actor, especially in the world of COVID-19. The pressure of having to stay healthy enough to go on for their fellow sick actors has intensified the job of a swing. Now more than ever, theater companies have set new rules out of an abundance of caution. Anything from a sore throat to a cough, an actor must stay home.
This was a big challenge the cast of Disney’s National Tour of Frozen faced during the major Omicron Surge this past December. With actors calling out left and right, Layton explains that every single show was a different show. Using all the swings and resources that they had, Layton and Peltier would stay up endless nights planning for the next show. Calling mandatory pre-show rehearsals in order to talk the cast through the changes. “That was when I felt the most support from the cast because they physically saw what we were doing,” says Layton, “seeing that was really helpful getting me through that tough time.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions
In the past, swings have been seen as the underdogs of theater but Layton states that if you haven’t done it, then you don’t know how hard it is. “Swings get looked at as like the people who are there in case none of us can do it,” says Peltier, “ it gets this kind of hierarchy feeling.” If you are in the business, Layton advises you to try something out of your comfort zone once so that you may have compassion for those who do it everyday.
Before the pandemic, swings were constantly under the radar. It’s saddening that it took this long for the industry to recognize these incredible actors but, nonetheless, their time has come. Now the question is, how can the industry be better?
(1) Clearer communication by listening to swings if they have an issue, knowing their boundaries, giving them the resources they need and notifying them sooner before going on stage. (2) Respect and recognition, making them feel like they are a valued part of the company. (3) Pay rate, reevaluating the intensity at which swings have to work under in this post COVID-19 world.
To swing or not to swing? As an actor, you may have already answered this question but I challenge you to reevaluate it. There IS a career in swing acting and it might be the most consistent gig in the market right now! All you need are 3 characteristics to start. (1) Self-awareness, knowing how you fit into a show. (2) Selflessness, knowing you’re an essential part of making a beautiful production. (3) A sense of humor, learning to laugh through the chaos.
Layton, now 31 years old, made the switch to only pursue swing acting at 25 years old and he will never go back. “It’s not second class, it’s not negative, it’s not a demotion from performing every single night,” he says, “in a way it was a promotion for me because I was just happier.”
Say yes to swinging! And if you’re not ready for that next step, then just be kind to your fellow actors. Remember, we are all in this unique experience together. To all you swings out there, we see you and we appreciate your hard work. Thank you!