Are small parts a major letdown, or are they “actor crack”? Here are 3 tips that show you and your students how to make the most of a small part.
1. Play that small part as if the character is the lead
Give your character everything you’d give them if you were playing the lead:
- A history, dream, focus, want.
- A family tree, an ethnicity.
- What’s the sickest they’ve ever been?
- Give them a secret.
- Are they secretly in love with someone? Another character in the show?
- Are they secretly plotting to kill someone?
- Are they secretly someone else besides who they say they are?
- Write the monologue they would deliver if they found themselves alone onstage.
- Write an outline of the play as if your character was the lead. How would the play be different? How would it be the same?
- For every entrance and exit: Where are they coming from when they enter? Where are they going when they leave?
- Do they want to be in the scene?
Now that you have all this background work—show it. You can’t upstage the action, but you can be a part it. Even if you have one line, use that one line to bring the character to life. Even if you have no lines, use your blocking and movement to bring the character to life.
2. Give your character a specific physical presence
An audience is not going to remember a character based on the content or number of lines that you say. They’re going to remember you based on the character you present. The most important thing to take away from that concept is that theatre is a visual medium.
The audience is first and foremost taking in the play by what they see. They’re looking, more than listening. To that end, how much time are you putting into the physicalization of your character? What visuals are you giving the audience? You can’t upstage the action but you can make sure an audience never forgets your moment.
Lindsay has never forgotten her experience of being 19 years old, with four words in a play, (Yes, Yes, Hello, Sorry) and getting applause every night. How did she do it? A big part was physicalizing the character.
3. Take inspiration from the big screen
If you’re feeling down about getting that small part, take some inspiration from the big screen. Look for roles in movies where an actor ran with just a single moment. Here’s an example where Alan Cumming takes a small role with bland dialogue and acts Tom Cruise (the world’s biggest movie star) right off the screen.
The bottom line is this: If you have a small part, you actually get to act. You don’t have to follow a path that’s already laid in stone in the script. There aren’t any rules, other than you can’t completely hijack the play. Don’t think of a small part as a lesser part. Think of a small part as the greatest acting challenge known to man. Are you up for it?Click here to download an acting tips poster with advice that covers all roles (including small roles)!
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