Jimmie JeterJimmie ‘JJ’ Jeter could play any of the six ‘Hamilton’ roles he knows including the lead, Alexander Hamilton, at any given moment.
- Jimmie “JJ” Jeter has one of the hardest jobs on Broadway.
- He knows six different parts from the hit musical, “Hamilton,” and has to be prepared to play one of them at any given moment.
- He’s what’s known as a “swing” in musical theatre, but I think “musical genius” is a more fitting title.
- I shadowed Jeter to learn what a typical day in the life of a “Hamilton” swing may look like.
- As a swing, each day is different for Jeter. When I shadowed him for the day, he was playing the lead , Alexander Hamilton, for the matinee show, but he could either be on standby or asked last minute to play another role for the night show.
- I learned that it requires serious dedication and work to perfect six different roles, especially in such a highly-coveted show such as “Hamilton.”
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It’s clear from the moment I met Jeter that he is excited about his day ahead, even though it’s going to be a long one.
When we met, Jeter had a two-hour rehearsal, then he’ll be performing on stage for almost three hours, and then spend about five hours waiting around to see if he’ll be needed to perform again in the night show.
But this is all part of the job for Jeter, who has gotten used to the unpredictable swing schedule for almost 3 years now. “If I know I’m on, I probably won’t get up early and go do things. I’ll get myself the sleep I need,” Jeter told Insider.
Jeter said swings always have to be mindful of how they use their energy when they’re not performing. “I’ll ask myself, ‘Am I going to take that workout class? Because I might be on for both shows. Can I take this vocal class? Can I go out with friends?’,” Jeter said.
Jeter will often begin his workday with rehearsal. Sometimes he knows in advance what part he’ll play that day — when we met, he was playing the lead, Alexander Hamilton during the 2 p.m. matinee show — and will practice that role.
When he’s in the studio for up to three hours at a time, Jeter puts on headphones and runs through the show rehearsing or learning new material.
While rehearsing, Jeter carefully pays attention to the numbers on the floor. The numbers are so each actor can practice their spacing and know exactly where they will be on stage in the theatre. It’s not easy to remember the spacing and positioning for six different characters, Jeter said.
Rehearsals are a big part of Jeter’s schedule as a swing, especially if he’s learning a new part. Sometimes he has to learn a role in as little time as two weeks, which he had to do for his role as Hamilton.
He said his personal technique to learn so many different lines, parts of songs, and mannerisms is to colour coordinate the different roles in his mind to separate them when he’s learning a new one. One character will be one colour and another character will be a different colour.
Though Jeter learned the roles of Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and King George, while he was a swing in Chicago a year ago, he still continues to rehearse those parts to keep them fresh in his mind.
When Jeter was leaving the Chicago “Hamilton” company, the Broadway company called him, asking if he can be a swing there instead. While in New York, Jeter was asked to learn three additional roles.
By the summer of 2019, Jeter packed up his belongings and headed to New York City. But he said it wasn’t too hard of a transition because the city is like a second home to Jeter as he went to Juilliard for four years.
Jeter said as a swing, he must be prepared for any situation he might be thrown into. “I’ve never had the same show twice,” he told Insider.
After rehearsing, we left the studio around 11:30 a.m. so Jeter could eat something two hours before showtime.
“I eat a certain amount and at a certain time before the show so I can be both full but not feel things moving in my stomach while I’m on,” Jeter told Insider.
Jeter’s pre-show meal was a healthy bowl filled with chicken, quinoa, black beans, and corn. “You want something that will give you energy, keep you full, but not too full,” he told Insider.
After Jeter finished eating around 12:30 p.m., we made our way to the “Hamilton” theatre.
He entered the theatre through the stage door, and once inside, Jeter greeted a few people and signed in.
We walked up several flights of stairs to where Jeter’s dressing room is that he shares with members of the ensemble. If Jeter is not scheduled to perform, he remains in his dressing room on call in case he’s needed at any moment on stage.
He said he sometimes will go over lines, read, watch something on Netflix, or play on his keyboard when he’s backstage in his dressing room during a show.
Jeter must be backstage throughout the week in case someone gets injured or calls out at the last minute and he needs to fill in for that role. There are some weeks that Jeter is on stage every day and other weeks where he hasn’t been on for a month or longer.
Jeter said his dressing room has become his second home. Everyone gets their own station where they keep their belongings, apply their makeup, and get ready for the show.
After leaving the dressing room, I followed Jeter down the stairs to the “Hamilton” stage, where he ran through the material once more before showtime.
Jeter was unbothered by the crew preparing the set and stayed in his zone going over the role he was about to play in less than two hours.
Jeter then showed me around the backstage area where some of the show’s costumes are kept.
Jeter said that some ensemble members have an area backstage where their costumes are and where they will get changed. I’m surprised to hear this because the backstage area is very narrow and dark.
When Jeter is scheduled in advance to perform in a show, he’ll put on his costume and do vocal warm-ups in his dressing room.
It’s an involved process for the actors of “Hamilton” to put on their costume and wig, so they will get help from the dressers. “The costumes have a lot of details that the dressers have to specifically check for. They will help you put on your mic as well,” Jeter said.
Jeter said he always gets some nerves before he’s about to go onstage. But as soon as he walks on stage to perform, he said he forgets all about his nerves and realises how blessed he is to have this job.
After the matinee show ended at around 5 p.m., I stood with the crowd who were eagerly waiting for Hamilton, aka Jeter, to exit the stage door.
The door swung open and Jeter greeted the crowd with a smile. “You were incredible!” some audience members said to him as he humbly signed autographs.
Jeter made sure to chat and pose for a picture with each person in the crowd.
After signing autographs, Jeter had a few hours to kill before he needed to be back at the theatre, so he was planning on seeing a movie.
Jeter said he always tries to find things that will inspire him creatively, and watching a movie in between shows will do just that.
After a two- hour movie, Jeter would head back to the theatre, he’ll remain backstage to potentially perform for the second time today.
Spending the day with Jeter proved to me how being a swing is an incredible job that requires a lot of dedication and a strong work ethic.
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