Ask anyone working in the Broadway community about the role of a “swing” and they will confirm that it’s one of the most challenging jobs to have. The performer has the responsibility to learn each ensemble member’s vocal and dance parts as well as the entirety of the show’s blocking cues, marks for props, and traffic in case they need to fill in. The equally tricky job of an ensemble member is to absorb all of the duties of a swing with the added concentration of learning one or more roles as an “alternate.” Karla Garcia and Kamille Upshaw are “swings” and Sasha Hutchings is an “ensemble” member in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning Hamilton.
ESSENCE went backstage to get the details on Broadway life from castmates Kamille Upshaw, Karla Garcia, and Sasha Hutchings.
ESSENCE: The stage moves a lot. What are some of your challenges?
Upshaw: Learn how to walk in the area of the turntable when the two floors are turning in both directions.
Garcia: The turntable is such a shock to your sense of balance. It’s like being on a moving escalator that goes in a circle.
ESSENCE: Do you remember your first theater experience?
Upshaw: Yes, like it was yesterday! My nana took me to see the Washington Ballet Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center. All I could think was, "When will it be my turn to dance in front of thousands of people like that?”
Garcia: I was about eight years old, and the first Broadway show [that] I saw was CRAZY FOR YOU. There was a dancer who had taps on her pointe shoes. I thought it was the most amazing thing!
Hutchings: The first theatre experience … at four years old, performing a riveting rendition of Teddy Bear Picnic. I received rave reviews from my grandparents.
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ESSENCE: What are your beauty and health routines?
Upshaw: I swear by Bare minerals products! The liquid and powder foundation, along with their mascara works wonders with my face. No breakouts!
Garcia: Sleep. I always feel the healthiest when I'm super rested.
Hutchings: Always thoroughly wash and cleanse your face at night. Drink lots of water. Get plenty sleep.
ESSENCE: What’s the best advice you received?
Upshaw: Never let anyone design your dream and most importantly, always remember that the work never ends. This is a profession that continues to push you past your comfort zone.
Garcia: Stand out in your own unique way. There’s strength in your individuality.
ESSENCE: As woman of color being in this show means to you?
Upshaw: I get to be a positive part in the change and growth of this world, the arts and the lives of other young black women!
Garcia: My mom and dad immigrated here from the Philippines, to create their own opportunities that were not available to them back home...Feeling special to be a part of this show is an understatement. I feel like I'm making my parents proud.
Hutchings: Having the opportunity to express myself as a performer beyond being a just a woman a color. Dated ideas of casting often reduce ensembles to one token member of color. The idea that one non-white cast member satisfies even the slightest desire for diversity is absurd.