Back in high school I used to begrudge the fact that I was never given the chance to play the lead in any of our productions. It seemed unfair that people who were maybe less invested, determined or committed would get the “best” roles. When we did Grease, I played a gender-bent version of the head mistress – just so they could actually give me a part in it. I wasn’t being given my chance to shine and it was something I came to endure through my teenage years.
As time has passed and I have grown (somewhat) more mature (and hopefully wiser), I have come to realise that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered my role as a “character actor” and why that isn’t something to be worried about.
When I got my first break at The Little Theatre, it wasn’t a large part. It was a small role at the end of our 1000th production. I had to turn it down due to other commitments at the time and I foolishly lamented the fact that I had missed my one chance to make it. Some time after that I was cast in my first main stage part as the fool in that years’ Christmas pantomime. That was a massive learning experience for me in so many ways, not the least of all that I had realised you don’t need to be the titular character or leading part in order to connect with an audience. I relished my time in that pantomime and still remember fondly how much fun it was to play the fool.
It wasn’t until after one of the auditions performances that it truly sunk in. One of the children in the show came up to me and said something that I’ll never forget;
“You’re my favourite actor in this.”
To think that a relatively small part like mine could have connected with at least somebody gave me a sense of validation and made me realise that every part has its’ worth. Stanislavski once said “there are no small parts, only small actors” and I think there’s a lot of truth in that statement. You might be the one actor who has two lines of dialogue, but it’s what you make of the part that will determine how you resonate with an audience.
I couldn’t tell you how many plays and live performances I’ve seen where the characters that audiences connected with or remembered most were the smaller roles; the comic relief or that one character who said three words. It’s been four years since my part in that pantomime and I have performed many times since, in roles of varying sizes. I have still never played a lead role, save for the occasional two-hander, but I no longer lament that fact. As actors we are all just cogs in a larger machine. Some cogs are smaller than others, sure, but if any single one of those cogs wasn’t there, the machine would stop working.
Take a look at our auditions on the Get Involved section of our website – we’ve parts of all sizes (but of equal importance!).