I read a great blog post today called Your drama teacher lied: there *are* such things as small parts by RJLouise. She’s talking from a writing standpoint, giving tips on how to write for a small character. But the same advice can apply to actors portraying a minor character.
When I first started acting in high school, the first thing I would do when I got my script was to count the number of lines I had. That was important to me for some reason. I suppose I saw it as a sign of my worth as an actor.
But a small part is more freeing to an actor. If the part is small then the playwright has likely not filled in many details about them.
This is actor crack.
The world’s your oyster. Give your character everything you’d give if the character was the lead.
- Give your character a history, a dream, a focus, a want.
- Give them a family, an ethnicity.
- What’s the sickest they’ve ever been?
- Give them a secret.
- Are they secretly in love with someone?
- Are they secretly plotting to kill someone?
- Are they secretly someone other than who they say they are?
- Write the monologue they would deliver if they found themselves alone on stage.
- Write an outline of the play as if your character was the lead. How would the play be different? How would be it the same?
- Where are they coming from when they enter? Where are they going when they leave? Do they want to be here?
Then show 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 bring the character to life.
Don’t worry about doing too much, about stealing focus, about being too big. The director will pull you back if necessary. Just focus on bringing the (albeit small) character to life.