Every day, understudies hope to go on in the role they cover. Yet as much as that is the desire they obsess over, the even greater dream is to take over the part permanently. Understudy veteran Afton C. Williamson’s dream came to fruition on June 15 when she stepped into the role of Susan in David Mamet’s legal drama Race for the remainder of its run. Understudying Kerry Washington since Race began previews in November, Williamson will stay with the production through its August 21 closing date. Already an experienced understudy from last year’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Williamson sat down with Stage Rush to discuss achieving the ultimate understudy dream.
How does it feel to go from understudying a role to taking it on as your own?
Surreal. As an understudy, you usually only get a performance or two, if that. When I did Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, I didn’t get any performances. I was understudying three women, and it was a wonderful experience. All of them became some of my best friends in the world. To come through all this and to still keep building people in New York, it’s always good to have people around you who get it.
This is a situation that not many understudies find themselves in.
Being with Race for seven months and listening to it every night and seeing over 200 shows, all of that has really just prepared for this moment. But I didn’t know it when it was in existence. There were days where I was like, “Man, I really wanted to go on stage tonight, but OK.” You just do it. It’s the craziest job in the world. You just got to be ready at any moment, but as actors, all the gratification is when we’re on stage. But as an understudy, you don’t get to act. You work up all this stuff every day and then you don’t get a release. The actors on stage get the release. I kind of go home like this—(m,akes a clenched fist). You’re like, “Maybe once! Maybe once!” When we have understudy rehearsals, that’s when all the understudies get the opportunity to let it all out. I think it’s going to be exciting to have that experience every night. Read more