Small parts vs small actors

I got a question about the size of my recent role in Saratoga Drama Group's Bye Bye Birdie, which I thought I'd talk about here. Gloria is definitely a cameo role - I was only on stage as Gloria for about 4 minutes, but I made it as big of a part as possible while I was on that stage!  Many folks commented on my character after the show as being "naughty", "obnoxious" or "funny", so I obviously did make an impression.

My middle school director, Miss Nichols, always said, "There are no small parts, only small actors", which is a hard thing to hear when you're a heartbroken 12 year old who just found she only got a bit part in the school's big show, but my experience as an actress has shown me that it is true!

If you were to look at my acting resume, you'd see my stage life is filled with bit parts and character roles, and I have found they can be the most fun!  You don't have to learn as many songs or lines, yet it's possible to make your character just as big (or bigger) than any of the leads. It's about realizing that every role in a show is important, or the author would not have put it there in the first place.

In addition to my role as Gloria, I also played a teenager and a parent in various scenes.  This required I actually step into a different role and focus on who I was. Even though my teenager role had no lines, I still had a name (chosen myself) and a undying lust for Conrad Birdie.  Audience members who did not know me did not realize I had been multiple characters - the best compliment I can get as an actress!  Even though I literally came back on as a teenager only moments after my Gloria scene, I blended right in - although I'm sure this will be the last time I'll be cast as a teenager - I am getting "long in the tooth"! :-)

Years ago, I did HMS Pinafore, and instead of being a standard sister, cousin, or aunt, I was cast as a sort of escort/guard to Sir Joseph Porter.  Another woman, Connie, and I were dressed in military garb, had jet black wigs, and very stark makeup.  We followed Sir Joseph Porter around, serving him tea, and other odd things.  Connie, like me, knows there are no small parts, so the two of us worked together to synchronize our movements and both dove completely into our roles.  Nearly every night during notes, though, we got told by the director that we actually had to pull back - we were stealing the scenes!

A good friend's mom actually won an award for best actress in a community theater group for a role in which she had only ONE LINE! I did see the show, and I did agree, she was outstanding.  She showed every emotion with just expressions, never needing to speak. Her "background" character was fascinating and compelling, telling an entire story with just her eyes.


It is important to keep this in mind, whether you're a lead role or just in the ensemble - you are there for a reason! Step up to the plate and become that character. The entire show will be much more enjoyable for you and the audience if you do.

There is a great website, StageAgent, where you can go to look up role sizes, vocal ranges, and amount of dancing required. Check it out! 

Comments:

This is also borne out by Dame Judi Dench being awarded the "Best Supporting Actress" Oscar for her role in "Shakespeare in Love" - during which she was on screen for all of six minutes :-).

Posted by Dave Walker on March 18, 2007 at 06:51 PM PDT #

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Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/

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