Stand-ins and other crews keep theaters alive during the pandemic

LIVERPOOL, UK — Since cinemas reopened during the pandemic, the way the industry works has had to adapt and many of the stars who get things done aren’t the headliners.

Demonstrating an incredible amount of creativity and hard work, stunt doubles, swings, back-ups and back-ups have a vital role in keeping productions open.

Sally Cheng and Rosemarie Akwafo are stunt doubles in Mischief Theatre’s The game gone wrongcurrently playing in London’s West End.

In a recent Zoom interview, they talked about their roles at the company and how they’ve operated differently during the pandemic.

Sally Cheng (photo provided)

Cheng covers Sandra, Annie, and Denise (normally Dennis), with Akwafo covering Annie, Sandra, and Tessa (usually Trevor). They also both have the functions of assistant to the management.

When not on stage for a lead role, Cheng described her day once she arrived at the theater:

“We help set up the stage, put on the props for the show, wash the glasses that were used the night before, we do other backstage chores that need to be done like a bit of vacuuming – making sure the stage is ready, basically.

Additionally, they both help cover all the behind-the-scenes changes, reset the scene during the interval, and clean up the scene after the second act.

For Akwafo, stepping onto a West End stage has been her biggest achievement since joining the production, as it is her first professional theater job.

“I’ve never been an understudy before, so there were a lot of firsts for me, which was really fun,” Akwafo said. She said she likes not knowing who she’ll be playing each day and knowing each character’s different assignments for the show.

Last year, Cheng made her debut as Denise, which was the first time a woman played the role. She credits this as her proudest moment on the show.

The game gone wrong is a masterpiece of physical comedy following the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they attempt to play The Murder at Haversham Manor.

Things end up going awry and quickly descend into chaos.

Asked about their experience in rehearsals and learning multiple roles in a massive production, Cheng said, “It’s a very physical show. Even when you’re not in your role, ASM’s tasks are also quite physical, and I think you need, like on any show, to maintain a level of fitness.

Akwafo mentioned how the company brought in a professional to go through the fight on stage in the show, to make sure he did it properly and safely.

Rosemarie Akwafo (Photo provided, credit Michael Wharley)

Since cinemas reopened last year, Akwafo and Cheng have detailed the many covid protocols and measures in place to keep their production open. This included daily testing, social distancing as much as possible, wearing a face mask when not on stage, and a one-way system around the theater.

“The theater has been trying to get back on its feet for a long time,” Cheng said. “I think we were very lucky to have been one of the first shows to open and we have very strict safety protocols in place which mean we can do the show safely.”

Akwafo said it’s important for people to know it’s safe to come to the theater – everything is done to try to keep the audience and actors safe.

“As long as everyone follows the protocols and wears a mask, it’s great to be able to come here as an outlet in these times to watch a show like this and be able to do so safely,” said said Akwafo.

A group of drama students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art founded Mischief Theater in 2008 and have performed improv performances at fringe venues and festivals across the UK.

Three of its founding members, Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, wrote The game gone wrong. It premiered in a pub theater in 2013 and after years of hard work and perseverance, it became a global hit.

“That story of determination and belief in something, I think, is pretty unique in this business,” Cheng said.

Akwafo added, “It started where a lot of people start their careers. It shows you what you can accomplish when you work really hard and focus on something.

At a time of unprecedented challenges for theatre, the multidisciplinary industry has adapted and grown to continue sharing stories with audiences – whether comedy, musical or tragedy.

The combined efforts of everyone involved to keep performances safe and open highlights the versatility of the arts and the role they play in society.

The show must continue.

Rosie Evans is a journalist and illustrator for Youth Journalism International.

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