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How Do You Support Students Who Feel Discouraged About Ensemble Roles?

As theatre educators we understand the importance of making every student feel valued and inspired throughout their theatrical journey. However, we know that students can become discouraged when consistently cast in ensemble roles despite aspiring to take centre stage. Establishing strategies that foster confidence and resilience among these students is so important. But how do we effectively accomplish this?

We went straight to the source to get the inside scoop from those who’ve been there: drama teachers.

We asked: How do you support students who feel discouraged about consistently landing ensemble roles?

Put the work in

Ask if you can cover / learn a smaller role, to expand your skill set. If okayed, then show up and shadow quietly and respectfully. (Amy W.)

Work on your craft with people who have succeeded at what you want to do. Arrive early and be willing to stay late. Focus for the entire rehearsal period. Maintain a positive attitude — never complain or bring your problems to rehearsal. Understudy every role in the production that you could play and be ready to step up in rehearsal to fill in for absent actors. No one starts as a lead — you have to consistently give your best and be seen doing so. (Kimberly F.)

It gives you a chance to show how hard you are willing to work. If you work hard, show up, and limit excuses, a director recognizes that. And that moment at auditions when it’s between you and someone else for a lead role… trust me, they won’t forget that. (Matt B.)

The work is the same whether it's a lead, a supporting part, or an ensemble. Do the work. Keep doing the work. Because if you don't like the work you're in the wrong business. (Allan R.)

I always tell my students who are in the ensemble and want to do more to show up on time every day, learn their lines and everyone else’s lines, do their absolute best, and be an asset to the show. There have been many times that we’ve needed to replace a leading role for a myriad of reasons and those faithful ensemble students are the first to be promoted. Also, I’d tell them that every rehearsal is an audition for your next show with me. If you are a joy to be around you have a much better chance to get a bigger role next time. (Mary R.)

Allow them to savour the chance to shine

Shine as an ensemble member. Interact with what is happening on stage. Make choices that will show directors, audience, and fellow actors that you are not just taking up space on stage. (Lauren P.)

No matter what the size of the role is, it is how you shine in every role. (Danny J.)

Make the role you got the BEST role it can be. (Amy R.)

I have had leads and ensemble. Ensemble is so much more fun! Less stress, often more stage time. Just because you're in the ensemble doesn't mean you can't steal the show. 🤩 (Heather J.)

Explain that ensembles are everything

Ensemble gets the most stage time and, as far as I’m concerned, is the hardest working performer on stage, between costumes, choreo, and random lines! (Talia K.)

Theater isn’t about the leads. Theater is about collaboration. Being a part of it, participating, meeting the best people in the world. (Tommie G.)

Ensemble roles require the ability to blend, and not everyone can do that. It's a gift if you have the right mindset. (Sarah P.)

The ensemble makes or breaks the show. Great ensemble, great show. (Janine M.)

Ensembles are EVERYTHING. They are the glue, the foundation, the heart and soul of storytelling. (Melissa C.)

The most fun roles I ever had were ensemble. Less pressure, fewer lines, all the fun of parts of the team and experience. (Tara F.)

I tell them about how I need strength and talent in the ensemble; it can’t just be a bunch of random useless people standing around. I need their skills and leadership to help build a full scene. Then I tell them about shows, good legit shows, where it was the ensemble that made that show great, not the leads — the ensemble made it shine. It helps the kids when they know you see their worth. (Andi C.)

The ensemble can be really great as you often get the chance to play more than one character, you are in almost every large number, plus way less pressure to learn as many lines usually. Becoming a strong ensemble member can lead to becoming the understudy which is absolutely underappreciated. People should be proud of these roles. (Jessica H.)

Show them how to learn from the experience

There is just as much to be learned in the ensemble as there is in a solo role; it's all what you make of it. (Sarah P.)

It’s not the size of the role, it’s the fun you make of it. (Alice X.)

Focus on the importance of their role, and why it is critical to the success of the show. (Fiona Y.)

I look for leadership. Can they help lift and inspire other cast members to lend a hand, work hard, get off book, master choreography, give their best? My leads are also leaders. (Colleen S.)

I would say to them, enjoy and learn from whatever roles you are offered — chorus or ensemble is better than not being cast at all. Make connections with others, do your job well, don't complain. You never know, you might be perfect for the next leading role in a show that your director will be doing in the future. (Wendy G.)

Being in the ensemble is one of the best positions to grow within. Not only do you see the stage more than many lead roles do, but you also have an opportunity to watch and learn from the best vantage point. Time. Sometimes you're just not quite ready. Never stop just because you didn't get that role yet. Key word: yet. (Cherish T.)

Encourage them not to give up

Be great in your ensemble part and make it your own. If you do it well, you will be noticed and placed in a suitable main role eventually. (Melissa S.)

I agree with many other responses but my foundation is: “Theatre is where everyone has a place,” and I remind them of the unique characteristics I see them bring and that the show would not be the same without them. (Jennifer M.)

Each role is equally as important as the others. I see you and I notice how hard you are working. I am incredibly glad to have you here and our show wouldn't be the same without you. We can only take so many kids a year in our show and you made the cut, so be proud of yourself and let's continue to build your skills in theatre. (Morgan S.)

Your place in this department and in this group is larger than any single role. It doesn’t matter what you’re playing, we need you here. (Carlos G.)

Don’t give up until it’s not fun anymore. (Rochele S.)

Commit to the role, whatever it is. Fearlessness, good attitude, and willingness to listen to constructive feedback. There is a role that will find you if you work toward being ready for it. (Mitchell B.)

Additional Reading:
* The Importance of Ensemble Thinking
* Ensemble is More
* Top 10 Ensemble Plays for Students
* Ensembles are Characters Too
* There are No Small Parts

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