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Ghost of a chance: Island actors talk about life as an understudy

Experienced actors make sure the show goes on if needed to fill a role

The importance of understudies cannot be understated in shows like Ghost The Musical at the Chemainus Theatre.

That’s why veteran actors Sean Baker and Chemainus’ own Georgia Bennett are serving in that role during the summer-long production. In the event of any unforeseen circumstances – and it has happened – they’re set to step in because the show must go on, so to speak, no matter what.

Baker has been at the ready for the roles of Sam Wheat, Carl Bruner and the male ensemble, with Bennett prepared for the Molly Jensen lead and female ensemble members at any time.

It’s like being members of an emergency response team.

As it’s turned out, Bennett has already done the role of Louise in the ensemble for a full week and one time as Mrs. Santiago in the ensemble. Baker got called into duty for the Subway Ghost of the ensemble twice during the beginning of the show.

“For us to be on, it means someone else is not on stage,” reasoned Baker. “The performers we cover would rather be there.”

But when duty calls for whatever reason, it’s good to know Baker and Bennett have done the work to ensure the performance is seamless to the audience, even if it can be a bit stressful for them.

“It’s kind of an actor’s worst nightmare,” said Bennett. “You can be as prepared as you can be. It’s always that feeling am I going to freeze on stage or remember what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Baker, 39, made his Chemainus Theatre debut last year in Classic Country Roads.

Bennett, 28, was also in that show and appeared in 2018’s Little Women as well as Playbill Dining Room Cabarets and previous Kids’ Series shows The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe plus the Magician’s Nephew.

In the lead-up to Ghost The Musical, both auditioned for a specific role in the show at first before being offered the understudy positions.

“We’re at all the rehearsals,” noted Baker. “Most of our rehearsal time is spent watching.”

“We’re both covering four roles in the show,” Bennett added.

“We’ve joked around, Georgia and I, aside from two roles we can do the entire show together,” laughed Baker.

“We have to be in the audience or backstage or shadowing one of the actors four days a week,” Bennett explained.

It’s been an interesting experience for them to be involved in a show in this manner rather than the conventional specific role.

“At first we were a little trepidatious,” conceded Bennett. “It wasn’t something either of us had ever done or considered doing. Now that we’ve been on, it feels like we put a lot of work into it.”

It’s still taken some getting used to, however.

“I think it’s just a totally different muscle,” reasoned Bennett. “We get a lot of time off. We can do our own thing when the show starts.

“One thing we want to do is be on stage. It is hard. You get a little jealous. You want to be up there with them.”

Baker concurred with Bennett’s different muscle analogy. “In my estimation, it’s more difficult because that muscle is underdeveloped.”

“It is very emotionally exhausting,” added Bennett.

Like Bennett alluded to earlier, the questions are also always there for Baker.

“Having never done it, am I going to crash and burn at some point?” he pondered. “I’m having to juggle four roles which is the entire show in my brain.”

“For the future this is a good experience for what works when we have an opportunity to do this again,” reasoned Bennett.

“Georgia and I rehearse together quite frequently just to make sure we’re ready,” Baker indicated.

That’s a unique aspect to their duties since that doesn’t happen normally once cast in a show.

Being a part of Ghost The Musical in this way has given them a unique insight into what makes it such a heart-wrenching and much-praised show.

“I love it,” said Bennett. “Sometimes I’ll not see it for a few days. I just forget how good the show is.”

“It’s extremely well-crafted,” said Baker. “It’s exciting to be involved with it honestly.”

Bennett praised the cast for being so supportive of them as well.

The good news about the schedule and the situation for Baker is it allowed him to get married on July 15 after five years together with Alyssa Bryce, now Baker, who’s also a performer.

Baker doesn’t have any other projects in the works for the rest of the year, but said he’d love to work with Chemainus Theatre’s artistic director Mark DuMez again.

“I love Chemainus and it’s close to home,” said Baker, who’s from Cobble Hill. “Moving forward, it would definitely have to be the right circumstances.”

Bennett is looking forward to a six-week tour of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern B.C. with Sound The Alarm, a Vancouver-based company, for Music of the Night concerts in celebration of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 75th birthday.

“I haven’t seen a lot of the Prairies,” said Bennett. “It’ll be an interesting experience.”

Don Bodger

About the Author: Don Bodger

I've been a part of the newspaper industry since 1980 when I began on a part-time basis covering sports for the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle.
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