Pip Jordan, who appeared in the recent London production oft at the Adelphi Theatre as a swing as well as the show’s dance captain, talks us through what being a swing actually involves…
We are often asked what does the role of “Swing” mean…
Swings are those who know every ensemble role in the show – with the addition for some of us having particular roles we cover for. On Joseph we have 4 girl swings and 3 boy swings.
So a boy swing has to be prepared to cover any male ensemble roles in the show, and a girl swing any female ensemble roles in the show?
Yes, we have to be flexible enough to cover all those parts!
From a covers point of view what is the worst case scenario that you have experienced in the last two years?
Well we are supposed to have 12 brothers including Joseph and we have had only 7 before. Or maybe 8. If all the boy swings are on and we are still brothers short then Dean Collinson (who plays the Pharaoh) has had to step in to be a brother.
How does that work – is it for the whole show?
No it is just at the very beginning when all the brothers come on stage and announce their names individually so we have to have 11 brothers plus Joseph for that point. It would be a bit obvious if we were short of a brother or two at that stage! And the other day, Jonathan Stewart, my assistant dance captain, was on as three different boys within the one show! I think one of our other swings was on holiday and another was injured.
Would you say this was a particularly tough show for ALL the swings?
(Pip laughs) Although Joseph looks like such a fun show, it has been the hardest show I have ever swung. Did you see Contact? I was swing on that which you would imagine would be a nightmare because it was just dancing with partners and everyone does something different from beginning to end, but that was easier than this! Maybe it is because all the ensemble roles seem similar in Joseph, but they aren’t really. I think because it is sung through…You learn the track as a through track… where am I going, who does she run to… All of us swings have said the same, it has been very difficult to get it into our heads when we first started, both for the girls and for the boys as well.
And don’t forget the 36 children have to have swings too. The chaperones are amazing because sometimes children are away or sick and each child swing has to know what all 36 children do – where they need to be, which side of the stage etc.
How on earth does each swing learn all the other roles?
(Pip lifts down a large and heavy loose leaf file from a shelf in her dressing room). This is what we call our Swing Bible and this covers the whole show. (She opens a page at random and there is a layout of the stage covered in bright sticky dots) Each coloured dot is a different role, and each of these pages represent different numbers and staging in the show. So you can see what everyone does and where everyone is at any one time. I have to have one with all the boys in as well. It’s pretty complicated.
Do you wear the costumes of the person you are covering for, or do you have your own?
We have our own costumes which are made specifically for us. Obviously as swings we need to have a lot of costumes in order to cover every ensemble role!
I have heard that the ensemble girls have a particularly difficult time in this show with regard to costumes– can you explain?
Do you mean starting the show? Well yes, we begin the show wearing a LOT of layers. First of all we have our pants, with a mike belt with a hard silver microphone at the back. Then these nasty thick flesh coloured tights which are for the Potiphar number. Over the top of these tights we have the black and white stripey leggings for the Hoedown, then over the top of that we have a blue lycra, all in one cat suit that is polo neck and long sleeved, complete with feet (Joseph’s Dreams). Then over the top of that we have a pair of pantaloons. Then a dress with a really heavy petticoat in it, then over the top of THAT dress we have our black burkha wives outfit. Then we obviously have the hats, masks, headdresses and long veils with red cowboy boots.
Is this because you don’t get time to get back to the dressing room in the first act?
That’s right, the interval is the first time we get back to the dressing room. So we begin the show with ALL those clothes on. We exit and we take off our hat, masks, our black burkha and our hoedown dress and our black petticoat and our pantaloons so we just have our blue all in one cat suits and our boots. We then put on a tutu, blue gloves and a blue balaclava for Joseph’s Dreams. We then go backstage, take off all the blue stuff – we still have our stripey tights with the flesh coloured ones underneath and we put back on the dress with the petticoat and our waistcoat, hat and veil, boots and neckerchief for the hoe down, then when we come off from the Hoedown it starts to get REALLY tricky! We take off our Hoedown costume, including the stripey tights so ALL you have on at that point are those nasty flesh tights. You even have to take your bra off because the Potiphar costume which you then slip on has the sequins on the boobs – so no bra can be worn! After that number EVERYTHING comes off and you put on your Go Go Joseph costume on.
It sounds very complicated!
Everyone thinks when they watch this show onstage it is such a simply staged show, but it is actually really complex. Just from an organisational point of view.
And all of this while you might be playing different roles on a nightly basis?
Yes, as well as what you do onstage, as a swing you have to know where each girl changes backstage. You have to make sure you hit the right spot backstage so the costume pieces you need will be there.
Is it easier in the second act, costume-wise?
We don’t have a chance to come back to the dressing room in the second act either but it is less hectic. During the new Pharoah number we actually get to sit down for 10 minutes backstage. That’s the only time as a swing you can consult your swing bible and see what you are supposed to be doing. The whole of act one you have to have memorised before you start. When you are on for so many different people all the time they all blend into one so you always need a little check.
The boys also don’t get a chance to get to their dressing rooms. But for most of the numbers, especially in Act One the boys are on stage while the girls are changing. Oh, and while we are changing we are singing offstage as well!
Do you enjoy being a swing?
There are good and bad sides to being a swing. It keeps you on your toes and stops your brain going stale. But it can be manic.
Presumably as a swing, you are not necessarily on for every performance?
It is very rare that we have a completely full company and no swings are needed. This dressing room is for all 4 of the female swings on the show. The boy swings have a room of their own upstairs. I think we could probably count on one hand how many times during the last two years all four of us girls have been off and sitting in this room. And even more so when we only had three girls last year. Someone is always, always off.
If you are not covering the show do you still need to be here?
Ha! Yes! Even if you don’t start the show you are often needed to take over if anyone goes off during a show due to illness or sickness.
So have there been any disasters with people in the wrong place at the wrong time?
We have had swings in the wrong place who have had to run over to the other side of the stage during the Megamix. But amazingly, nothing really really major!
Click here to go back to previous page