Understudies are like the first aid kits for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — always on call and ready to patch things up.

Understudies are like the first aid kits for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival: always on call and ready to patch things up.

Should an actor become ill or be otherwise unable to perform, substitutes like Kate Sullivan, 49, and Eve Smyth, 45, are ready to fill her shoes, often under-prepared and on a minute's notice.

Before the start of the OSF season understudies sign a contract for specific roles, observe rehearsals and practice in their living rooms in preparation for the urgent call to come perform.

"Conceptually, it's crazy. Here's some clothes you've worn once, a set you've been on once or twice, if that, and people you've never acted with "¦ Go," said Smyth of her experiences as an understudy.

"All preparation goes out the window. Give me anything and I'll adjust," said Sullivan.

Younger understudies chomp at the bit for their chance to be thrust on stage while Sullivan and Smyth look forward to their relaxing Mondays, knowing there will be no calls to fill shoes that may or may not fit.

Of the two women, Sullivan confessed to being the most superstitious. Good luck wishes do not bode well with her; instead, she'd rather you wish her a broken leg.

"It's always meant have a good show," said Smyth of the traditional theater term.

There are roles both women have always longed to play. The dream role has passed for Smyth who admitted she cried when she turned 25 because she was too old to play Juliet.

"I want to play Hamlet," said Sullivan with a wistful upward glance.

Theater life in Southern Oregon isn't all broken legs and spur-of-the-moment performances for these women. Both have been instrumental in the development and success of the Oregon Stage Works Children's Theatre and Ashland Children's Theatre.

Sullivan co-founded the OSW Children's Theater and directs plays. Smyth writes plays and grants and directs some OSW plays. Smyth is also part of The Hamazons, an all-women improv troop. She can also be found working on a new play for the Ashland Children's Theatre "Jack and the Green Stalk," opening in November

"The kids we work with are up at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival doing roles up there," Sullivan said.

On any given night throughout the summer you may find them filling these roles: Sullivan is the understudy for Lady Macduff in "Macbeth," Beatrice in "The Servant of Two Masters" and Inez in "Don Quixote." Smyth is prepared to play Maud Dunlop in "The Music Man" and Brighella in "The Servant of Two Masters."