Behind the scenes at Orlando Shakespeare Theater

A Study in the Art of the Understudy

Photo by Brittany Bly

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an understudy? The answer is most likely “No”. It’s always exciting to dream of being the star of the show, but the hardworking stand-in is often overlooked. They spend hours watching from the audience, memorizing lines so they can be ready to leap on stage at a moment’s notice–not an easy job! Marketing and PR Intern Lexie chats with Sara Costello, understudy for Princess Calliope in our current production of The Frog and the Princess, as well as an alumni of the Theater’s summer camp programming and an aspiring young actress.

LH: First off, how did you catch the “theater bug”?
SC: I was inspired to join in after I watching my older sisters on stage. I’d participated in community theater, but didn’t take it too seriously until my junior year of high school. That’s when I really started putting my all into roles. I always knew I liked to act, but I don’t think I really knew how to.

LH: What was the first role where it just liked clicked for you?
SC: In high school I played Tiresias in Oedipus Rex. It was the first time I felt like I got lost in a character.

Oedipus Rex, Colin Peterson

LH: What have been the major milestones thus far in your theater journey?
SC: A major moment was when I discovered the English Speaking Union Shakespeare Competition. (Up until that point I thought I was going to be a nutritionist!) The annual high school competition is designed to celebrate Shakespeare with school-wide competitions across all 50 states. I got the chance to compete at the national level at NYC’s Lincoln Center, and that was another big moment. Performing on a Broadway stage is exhilarating and it makes you want to come back.

LH:  Who have been your most influential mentors?
SC: My high school teacher, Ms. Elizabeth Horn, always encouraged me even when I didn’t think that I was anything special. Also my college theater professor, John DiDonna, has opened a lot of doors for me including casting me in Phantasmagoria. He’s the one who encouraged me to do more auditions at Orlando Shakes, which lead to an understudy opportunity and even this interview!

LH: What’s your favorite role so far?
SC: I recently played Hunger in Metamorphosis at Valencia College. That’s a really fun character because it’s not a person–it’s the embodiment of starvation. I got to latch onto people’s backs and crawl everywhere. I think I had two lines and they were “yes” and “yes”. My favorite roles are ones where I get to embody something new and leave an impression on the stage. Whatever that may be.


As You Like It, Landon St. Gordon

LH: Let’s talk about your experience working on Shakespeare with Heart.
SC: Shakespeare with Heart is a summer camp program where young actors get the opportunity to perform in a professional theater. I participated in Summer 2013’s As You Like It. I worked alongside students with and without special needs, but in this camp nobody’s different. After the two week rehearsal process, we performed a Shakespearean production in front of our friends, family, and the public. These kids just blow you out of the water!

LH: Being an understudy in The Frog and the Princess is your first professional theater credit. What’s the biggest difference between working in a professional vs. an educational setting?
SC: I’ve always taken theater seriously, whether that’s good or bad. While working on The Frog and the Princess, I finally get to be around a group of people who feel the same way. We all want to produce the best work possible.


      Phantasmagoria, Michael Moran

LH: What is the most important thing you’ve learned about being an understudy?
SC: I learned that it’s a lot of work, which is something I didn’t know going in. You have to put in extra time, because you don’t have the luxury of all those hours in rehearsal.

LH: What’s the best part of the experience so far?
SC: The relationships that I’ve developed with the rest of the understudies and the main cast. It surprised me in a good way, because I’m just so happy to feel like a part of the team.

LH: What’s the most challenging part?
SC: Time management. I’m working on Phantasmagoria at the same time, and I also work at a bakery. I’m learning to give each event in my life the time that it needs.

LH: How are you and Princess Calliope alike?
SC: We ramble. Especially when she sees Gerwyn, she’s star-struck. She just starts rambling because it’s love at first sight. And that’s me. I ramble!

LH: If you could give one piece of advice to a younger actor, what would it be?
SC: Some of the best audition advice I’ve gotten is go in confidently. It’s not scary when you’re sharing what you love to do. And if they’re moved by that, you might get the part. Or maybe they love you and you still don’t get the part. You just can’t take it personally.

IMG_20150312_172122Lexie Hoag is currently a Marketing and Public Relations Intern at Orlando Shakespeare Theater. After completing her AA at Valencia College, she plans to pursue her Bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. She can often be found rereading books, snuggling her puppy, and haunting local theaters.


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