Recently, I got the chance to talk to Christopher Rice via email. Rice is a swing on Broadway’s The Book Of Mormon. A swing is a non-performing member of the chorus who goes on when a member of the chorus is absent or is performing as an understudy in place of a principal; a swing ‘swings’ the chorus, and functions as an ‘understudy’ to the chorus, according to Maria Somma, who is the spokesperson for Actors’ Equity Association. In addition to that, Rice also created the #Tappy video series on YouTube.
Angela Tricarico: Where are you from? Did you grow up doing theater, or did you dance before that? What was the first show you saw on Broadway?
Chris Rice: I grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma and was exposed to theatre at a very young age through my church. They did a big, Broadway-style musical every year and I was in that a lot as a kid. I loved “playing pretend” on such a large scale. I probably got involved with that show because my older sister took dance every week and she auditioned to be a young dancer in the show. Seeing her do both dance and theatre helped spark my interest. I wanted to be like her. The first Broadway musical I saw in New York City was the original company of Wicked.
AT: Did your regional theater experiences prepare you for Broadway?
CR: Absolutely. There is a superb equity (professional) theatre near my home town. I worked there as a kid, teen and in college. My time there helped me become the performer I am today. It exposed me to professionals from New York City and showed me what a strong work ethic was.
AT: Could you explain what being a swing is from your perspective, since you are one?
CR: A swing’s job is to fill in for a number of different performers at any given time, to help complete the cast when someone is sick or out of the show. They complete the picture and the audience usually has no idea anything is different.
AT: Which tracks do you cover at The Book of Mormon? Do you have a favorite track? (Author’s note: In The Book of Mormon, most of the actors play multiple roles in the show. All of their roles combined creates the actor’s “track.”)
CR: I cover the seven Mormon boys and all the parts they play. I love the track that gets to play Cunningham’s dad, Jesus and Hitler… All in one night!
AT: Which track were you covering when you made your Broadway debut, and how long after you joined the cast of Mormon did that happen?
CR: I was on as the Elder Cross/Mormon track when I made my debut. He actually starts the show as Mormon (as in, the person who has the golden plates that the Book of Mormon is said to be based off of). It happened two weeks to the day after I started rehearsal.
AT: How unpredictable is your job when you’re a swing? Are there any particular struggles about it? What do you do on nights when you’re not on?
CR: The job is unpredictable at times because even if I am not on stage, I have to be in the building in case something happens and I need to jump in. It’s hard knowing 7 parts, because it is a lot to keep straight. I have memories doing every part so when I am on for someone, I can’t trust my muscle memory. You have to trust that you have done the work ahead of time.
Backstage activities include: dancing, stretching, Netflix, memorizing material for upcoming classes or auditions, and hanging with the other swings.
AT: What is working on The Book of Mormon like, considering it’s one of the biggest musicals of the decade? What is your favorite part of it?
CR: Being a part of The Book of Mormon on Broadway has been a dream come true for many reasons. I dreamed of being on Broadway for years and years and to be able to experience that dream coming true has been one of the coolest things yet in my life. I also loved the show before I was in it. That made it even more special when I joined the team!
AT: Your tap dancing videos on Youtube are absolutely amazing. Where did you get the idea to start making them?
CR: Well, I never intended for there to be any more than 1 video. However, the first one was such a success and people kept encouraging me to create more. It has been such a fun artistic endeavor and I have learned so much in creating this #Tappy series. The idea for the first came to me when I kept seeing these video covers of Cups all over YouTube. I thought to myself that someone should use Taps instead of cups to make the drum sounds. I looked around online and no one had done it yet, so I got to work.
AT: What inspires you to dance?
CR: Sometimes I am inspired by watching others dance but most of the time I dance because I have something inside of me that MUST dance. It awakens something inside of me and releases some kind of energy that I crave. There is no feeling like the one you have when you’re dancing.
You can find Rice on Twitter and Instagram @ChrisRiceNY, and go to his website christopherriceonline.com for more info on him!