Brittney Johnson is currently making history as the first Black actor to play Glinda in “Wicked,” but she’s also had a lot of Broadway experience in jobs that are in many ways even more challenging than a starring role: filling the save-the-day shoes of an understudy, a swing or a standby.
Listen to this week’s “Stagecraft” podcast below:
“I’m so grateful that my first Broadway show was as a swing,” Johnson said on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. The actor made her debut in 2014 in “Motown,” in which she had to be prepared, at a moment’s notice, to play one of nine roles, including Diana Ross. She said she still benefits from the lessons she learned from that experience.
“Something that you just have to accept as a swing is that it’s not going to be perfect, because you are a human being,” she explained. “That’s something that’s really hard for lots of artists, and that’s something’s that’s hard for me, for sure. But [when you’re a swing], if you go out there, you don’t hurt anyone, you don’t hurt yourself, the show goes up and they clap, it’s a win.”
Johnson joined “Wicked” in 2018 as an ensemble member and understudy, and also spent time as a standby for Glinda, going on when the regular lead was absent. In 2019, she became the first person of color ever to play Glinda on Broadway, and as of Feb. 14, she’s the first Black actor to play Glinda full-time.
Johnson praised Broadway’s often-overlooked understudies, standbys and swings at a moment when replacement performers have been an integral part of keeping Broadway running relatively smoothly during all the COVID-19 disruptions of the last several months.
“Not only do you have to do your job every night, but you have to be ready at a moment’s notice to lead a show [in a part] that maybe you haven’t rehearsed in weeks,” Johnson said of being an ensemble member and understudy. “It’s not easy to tap into that kind of energy. Even just thinking of it from a physical standpoint, wearing new costumes that you have to carry differently — now you’re worried about, Am I holding this prop the right way? Am I standing on the exact right [spot] to not impale someone with this wand? There’s a lot to think about!”
Also on Stagecraft, Johnson recalled her first landmark performance as Glinda, offered her advice for young performers and expanded on her thoughts about the significance of a Glinda who is a person of color. “It is so powerful,” she said.
To hear the full conversation, listen at the link above or download and subscribe to “Stagecraft” on podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and the Broadway Podcast Network. New episodes of “Stagecraft” are released every other week.