At a moment’s notice, successful Broadway swings* juggle many tasks, think on their feet, maintain a cool head in emergencies, demonstrate good health practices, are good listeners, build positive relationships, and have tons of patience. If these skills sound like good parenting, for one Broadway actress, they are.
Lauryn Ciardullo is a young mom who works full-time as a swing and Jasmine understudy in the award-winning musical “Aladdin.” I chatted with Lauryn during some downtime in her tidy clapboard and gabled-roof home on Long Island, New York, which she shares with her concert percussionist husband and 10-year-old stepson.
Emmi Herman: What was your journey like to become a swing?
Lauryn Ciardullo: When I first auditioned for “Aladdin” it was an open call with nearly 200 girls there. I danced and got cut. They cast the whole show, but still needed a swing to understudy all the female roles. I had worked as a swing on three other shows, so that definitely helped. Then I went on a casting call for “Can Can.” That show used the same casting agency for “Aladdin,” and I got an appointment for the swing position. I was called back a total of about six times to sing, dance, and read for Jasmine from initial appointment to offer.
I’ve been in the show for more than three years and I understudy all eight female roles. I go on whenever someone is sick, injured, or on vacation. Given the circumstances, I could know months in advance when I go on, or 10 minutes before show time or sometimes I am needed mid-show. There are three male swings, two female swings, and two standbys. Altogether the group understudies a cast of 28.
EH: Your stepson is 10 years old and is a big part of your life. In what ways has being a swing prepared you to become a mother? Has motherhood made you a better swing?
LC: When you are a swing you are used to handling emergency situations at a moment’s notice. Sometimes I have five minutes to get on a microphone, costume, and wig. Occasionally, there are more people out than understudies available so we create a “split track,” which means I may have to do two roles in one show. We favor the responsibilities that are more important. For example, if a prop must be taken offstage but a line happens directly after that, I’ll run back onstage to say the line.
Being a stepmom has given me a lot of patience and being a swing has taught me to stay calm in an emergency. Both experiences help promote those responsibilities. The only downside is that as a swing you take on the responsibility of not wanting to call out or take off too much since your job is to be there when other people can’t do an eight show week. But I also want to be there for my stepson. We make the best of our time together during the summer when I usually don’t have as many rehearsals. The two of us enjoy the beautiful beaches nearby before my night show. When my stepson was four, I started teaching him yoga and easy workout routines. We like to go bike riding together on weekend mornings. He loves to engage in different activities; and it’s a great warm up for the two-show day.
EH: You commute from the suburbs. How do you balance work with home life, and in particular, meeting your stepson’s needs?
LC: I give myself an hour, door to door, to get to work. We have eight shows a week and sometimes rehearsals on Thursday and Friday. I also teach a master class for choir and theater to high school students every month in New York City. To stay healthy and in shape for the show I practice plenty of yoga and take voice, dance, and acting classes. With so much time spent away from home, I try to keep my Mondays free to catch up on laundry, cook meals for the week, and just be around for my stepson.
Some of the best family times are when the three of us simply lounge on the couch and play a board game before I catch my train on Saturdays. Another favorite thing we started is a group text to check in while everyone is busy with work schedules and schoolwork. It’s nice to start the day with just a simple “Hi” while my stepson is on the school bus. It’s reassuring, too. He’s extraordinarily sweet and he understands that his four parents work extremely hard to be organized to achieve their career goals. I like to think he knows he can achieve anything if he works hard, too.
EH: When you’re not on, what do you do backstage? Are you in the wings or the dressing room? How do you communicate with your stepson during work?
LC: I do a number of things backstage. Typically, I watch the show to study my tracks. If I haven’t done a particular role in a long time, I’ll focus on that part. Sometimes I practice a scene for my acting class with other swings or study music for my voice lessons. I also manage other social duties in the show such as a fun, raffle-type game called Dollar Saturday and Birthday Club. I FaceTime with my stepson when he gets home from school. One time, he FaceTimed me while he was at a friend’s house. I played it super cool at the time, but afterwards I got teary with emotion. It made my whole week.
EH: Like the song title from the show, how do you stay “one jump ahead” of a 10 year old? What does he think about your job?
LC: I like to make small things big and exciting. For example, we decided to take a family trip to Disney World for our five-year wedding anniversary. I thought a scavenger hunt was a fun and interactive way to share the news with our son. He searched for 24 letters throughout the house with a clue on the back of each letter. When the unfinished pile of letters spelled out “We Are Going To…” he looked up at us, and with a huge smile exclaimed, “Hamilton!” I think he is smart and embraces every opportunity to learn about the world in different ways.
The coolest part about working in theater is that my husband and I have at least one connection at every Broadway show. When we took our son to see “School of Rock,” a good friend from tour was on for the lead role. Afterwards, we went backstage and met up with our friend. Now my stepson practices “School of Rock” on the drums at home. That was a special experience for him.
EH: What is the best advice you can give to moms working in theater or in the arts today?
LC: The best tip I can give to moms working in theater is to try your best. You won’t make every school play, soccer game, or orchestra recital. But if you make the most of your time with your family and enjoy the calm, quiet moments, that’s what your child will remember. In general, there are a lot of outings and parties that you have to pick and choose. I would much rather race to the earlier train and tuck my stepson into bed, even if it’s five minutes before he falls asleep. Those five minutes are the most rewarding part of my entire day.
*In musical theater, the term “swing” is used for a member of the ensemble who understudies several roles in a production–sometimes as many as ten other performer’s exact tracks.
Copywriter by day and stories by life, Emmi S. Herman’s inspiration comes daily from her three opinionated millennials and two perfect grandchildren. When she’s not at her day job or working on a memoir about her sister, she’s in a car somewhere between NY and NJ. https://medium.com/@emmisherman