The Understudies
November 2, 2019 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Nige Tassell at The Guardian interviews a Formula One test driver, a warm-up comic, a second-choice goalkeeper, a guitar roadie, and an understudy about what it's like to work in someone else's shadow. "With standup, the crowd has come to see you, or at least a night you are part of. With warm-up, you’re not an expected part of the evening – you’re an appendix or footnote. It’s not the place to experiment with quirky material – the warm-up has to fit with the tone of the show."
posted by adrianhon (9 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
This article seems to underscore something not often understood: everyone who is Successful with a capital S has a team behind them who are working to make sure they are Successful. They don't achieve a capital S on their own -- they've learned what the failure points are and they don't attempt to test for failure or to fix failures on their own, but instead they have a team/crew who will work ahead of time to ensure that when they come on the stage (whether it's made of wood or asphalt or whatever), their success is more assured than if they didn't have that team/crew.

I wish most of my life could be lived this way, but alas it is not. But it's a great thing to have, especially if you are Successful enough to afford the luxury.
posted by hippybear at 6:57 AM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

Indispensable help comes in many forms, human or otherwise. From Stephen Hawking, Hawking Incorporated, and the Myth of the Lone Genius, Scientific American - Guest Blog, Hélène Mialet, December 31, 2014:
In the movie [The Theory of Everything (2014)] , it is striking to see how Jane, Hawking’s wife, becomes, as the director has commented, an extension of Hawking. We can see her becoming Hawking’s legs, arms, and lips; as his body loses strength, we see her taking care of his physical and emotional needs, giving him the possibility to live and pursue his academic work. In the same way, as Walt Woltosz, the designer of the software that Hawking uses, told me, Hawking’s computer had become an extension of himself. Indeed, it is well known that Hawking has refused to change his voice despite its American accent because it has become part of his identity, or that he is very reluctant to modify special software that he likes even if he could be faster with more advanced versions.

However, we don’t associate his extreme dependence on his wife and nurses and computers (to both live and communicate) with his ability to produce science. Again, this is because we are in the habit of believing that science is the product of thinking, and we believe that thinking does not rely on anything other than a good brain. Hawking says much the same thing when he notes that to be an astrophysicist “no physical ability is required;” it’s all in the mind.

Does this mean that all the humans and machines—the computers, synthesizers, wheelchairs, nurses and assistants—that allow him to live, move and communicate, are absent or unnecessary when it comes to the mind or the so-called intellectual work?
posted by cenoxo at 7:15 AM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

There’s truth in that although I’d say this is also what it looks like when we build a healthy amount of slack and excess capacity into our systems rather than running them at ultra-lean breakneck pace all the time (cf. automated scheduling systems for contract workers). It’s that slack that makes life liveable and helps introduce and train new people into roles.
posted by adrianhon at 7:15 AM on November 2, 2019 [8 favorites]

Being a follower also gives you room to make mistakes and pursue other solutions, which in a sense lets you gain more experience than the leader (who is usually expected to be right all the time).

Unfortunately, as C&H said, There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.
posted by cenoxo at 7:53 AM on November 2, 2019

So many "leaders" are just partners that have taken the credit. It's frustrating.
posted by cowcowgrasstree at 8:31 AM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Speaking of slack time, it’s Saturday, so let’s take a related detour inside The Top Secret McLaren Simulator (with video).
posted by cenoxo at 8:42 AM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I worked in the shadow of a famous person once. It wasn't a bad gig, really. About the only thing you had to work on getting past was, when outsiders found out who you worked for, you kind of lost your personal identity, and became "mr. oh-you-work-for-so-and-so!" You get over it, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:14 PM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

The understudy's tale resonates with me.
I spent last summer as an opera understudy. An understudy's job is to be ready to go onstage at any time-- while simultaneously being aware that it will most likely not happen (especially with the low number of performances in opera). At the end of summer, I had to bid farewell to this character whom I'd spent so much time and work internalising without ever having played her.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:15 PM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

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