Sunday came and went, and I had not written my weekly column. Been a crazy week around here, so do pardon the mistake.
"There are no small parts. Only small actors." What a tired and often ignored cliche that has come to be in the acting world.
Yet like many cliche', it has a basis in the truth. But I think one aspect of it's truth is long overlooked.
At first pass, if people are not numbed to the saying by overuse, they feel they know what it is getting at; no matter how small a part you may have, you are just as important to the show as the star.
This is a portion of the meaning, and is certainly true to a large extent. But one of the reasons the expression, dare i say, the proverb has lost it's luster over the centuries is that many of those with small roles have come to conclude, fairly, that there are in fact small parts.
To qualify, this does not mean that these parts are useless. Yet, if an actor uses applause and notoriety at the end of the production as a metric by which to measure his contribution to the direct impact of the pieces, he is in all likelihood going to be dissapointed. The notorious fickle nature of the theatre audience cannot be counted upon to give every actor in a show it's total due much of the time.
While I maintain that appreciation is owed by the cast and the audience to such small parts, the reality of the situation dictates that it may not always be forthcoming from either group. I therefore maintain that this ancient addage applies more to how large or small an individual actor's opinion of his role is. The "only small actors" segment referring not to the largeness of a stage presence bestowed on an audience by an actor, but the largeness of the same bestowed by the actor upon an audience.
I have seen it many times in my community theatre travels. People who "really wanted" X-part, but took the smaller one ofered because they had nothing better to do. Or for other silly reasons.
The atmousphere around such people is predictable; contempt. Sarcasm. Laziness. Lack of committment to what they are doing. Easily distracted from the task at hand.
I despise this, and I have tried my whole career to avoid it, no mattrer what role I am playing, leads or ensemble.
You see, if you keep at theatre, the chances are you will one day have a larger role than the one you find yourself in now. But awaiting that future production should not dampen what you are doing now, if you have bothered to accept the role in the first place. For once you do accept, accept everything about it. The lines, the blocking, the smallness, and the lack o applause during your curtain call if it comes to that. For if you cannot be totally into what you are doing now, I imagine there is little reason to believe you can totally be into any part in the future.
Actors that have decades long careers often forget which plays they have done, or in which theatres. They have to think sometimes if they have ever played certain roles. For me, this is hard to imagine, given that I remember with great detail the experience of each of the plays I have ever been in. I could tell you right off if I had ever played a certain role or not. But then again I am still early in my career relative to a veteran. Yet it is my hope that even the veterans, who find they took jobs here and there for too numerable to recall now, at least put everything they had into said roles at the time, even if later they would not think much of it. I think those that do that are the truly great ones...concentrating wholeheartedly on what they are doing now, not what they wish they had been doing onstage.
I have always tried to make whatever show I am in at the exact second count the most. Perhaps that is why I remember them all so well looking back on them. And maybe that is why I often get a lot of feedback, even when I have a tiny role.
I am not a small actor, it would seem. May it always be so.