“There are no Small Parts, Only Small Actors”

If you’re involved in theatre in any way, then you’ve definitely heard the phrase “there’s no small parts, only small actors” at least once– and probably far more than that. When I was younger, I figured this was just untrue. There are small parts, I thought, that’s just a fact. Some parts are on stage less, or have less lines. They’re small, but that’s not the actor’s fault.

Clearly I wasn’t alone in this sentiment and clearly I’m still not, because I constantly hear stories about actors quitting shows because they didn’t get a “good” part.

This idea among young theatre students– that there is indeed a “small part”— feeds into multiple bad behaviors that not only makes their acting worse but can make entire shows worse. In fact, I’d say that dispelling this myth is one of the most important things a director can do right off the bat to make sure their show has all the power it can have.

So let’s establish something right now– there is no such thing as a small part.

Yes, some have less stage time than others, and some have less lines. But that’s a terrible way of gauging importance to a show. There’s plenty of characters that aren’t in a show for long but are lastingly memorable and extremely important. Brenda is only in the second act of Catch Me If You Can, but she’s still a great role. Grizabella is only in a few scenes of Cats, but she’s by far the most memorable. The characters in Godspell pretty much only have a song each, but some of these songs are extremely recognizable even outside of theatre. Madame Morrible changes the trajectory of the entire plot of Wicked, and she’s only got a handful of lines in the whole show.

My point is this: just because a role doesn’t have many lines or isn’t on stage much doesn’t mean it’s unimportant.

But let’s say you’re no Brenda or Madame Morrible. What if you have an ensemble part? What if you don’t have a single line? What if you don’t even have a name?

You already know what I’m going to say about that, but you probably don’t understand why.

Yes, even the nameless ensemble character is important. In fact, nameless ensemble can make or break a show. They can still be just as recognizable as the characters above. At the beginning of Beauty and the Beast, nameless ensemble become incredibly iconic characters. In Catch Me if You Can, the Jet Set and the nurses are nameless ensemble members that are very important, and also loads of fun to play. Even when the characters aren’t iconic, they’re still important– imagine Wicked without “Dancing Through Life” or “One Short Day.” These songs couldn’t exist without a large cast of ensemble members. Maybe you don’t know who these munchkins are, but you still appreciate them being there! Furthermore, the ensemble parts have the incredibly difficult task of establishing the world or situation, or effecting tone or mood without having any lines. A good, fully-engaged ensemble makes a show fun or heavy- a bored ensemble makes a show boring and non-impactful. 

I think I’ve established the first part of this maxim well- There’s absolutely no such thing as a small part and everyone on the stage has a very important task to be fulfilling. 

So on to the second part- the “small actors”.

I mentioned a bored ensemble above. That would be a group of small actors. Someone who is cast as an important role but plays it bored and limp because they’re upset they don’t have a bigger part is a small actor. Anyone who shirks their responsibility to the show they auditioned for just because they aren’t the lead is a very, very small actor.

In part this is because of their failure to or lack of willingness to learn. Someone who shirks their responsibility to a show because they don’t like their part isn’t learning anything. Contrary, apparently, to popular belief, you can learn a ton from acting in the ensemble: how to make every line meaningful, how to use body language to convey a character without lines, how to stay on and engaged on stage at all times, so on. Someone who stays angry and lazy as a result won’t hone these skills. They won’t learn how to perform their role better, they won’t learn how to make more of an impact with less to work with- they’ll just say their piece and get off the stage to sulk. Anyone who does this will not become a good actor, and they should never get a larger part. 

Like I mentioned before, even parts with one or two lines can become iconic and recognizable. Lurch from The Addams Family doesn’t speak a word until the very last song, but he’s still iconic and you can bet that a really great actor can make it a fantastic, hysterical role. A “small actor” would just be mad to be a side character and phone it in. No one would appreciate his presence. The role would effectively be wasted.

If you treat any given role this way, you shouldn’t be in the show at all. You’re wasting a vacancy of cast space that could be used to make the show better. A cast is only as strong as its weakest link and the moment someone isn’t all-in is the moment a show falters. Being a small actor will make the shows you’re in worse. You will be dragging down your friends and castmates.

So what can you do to avoid that?

You can learn. You can learn not to be upset and you can learn how to play your “small” part to the best of your ability. You can come out of the show having improved your acting abilities and impressed an audience.

Or you can just be mad. That’s what makes you a small actor. Being a small actor is a choice– and if you’d choose to do that, I’d prefer you not join any show of mine. 

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5 More Nonfiction Reading Recommendations for Theatre People

Following up my previous list, here are even more reading suggestions for actors and fans of theatre. Once again, this list is organized roughly from “easier, conversational works” to “textbook-style information”.

1. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

The source material for the Broadway musical of the same name, this graphic memoir has all the charm and intrigue of the show. This sophisticated read deals with family, sexuality, and coming-of-age passages, all told with Bechdel’s sarcastic humor and biting wit. A must-read for fans of the musical and everyone else.

2. Drama High by Michael Sokolove

The (highly adapted) inspiration for the NBC show Rise, about the high school theatre program that piloted high school editions of both Rent and Spring Awakening. If you are interested in teaching theatre, this is absolute required reading! This book is at once a meditation on lower-middle-class Suburban life, education, theatre, and the effect all three of these things have on each other. If you are a Rent or Spring Awakening fan, you will find a lot to enjoy in this book, as you will if you were ever a high school theatre kid.

3. The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel

A very conversational dig into the bare bones of musicals. Moving “chronologically” through the structure of a musical, this book explores the traditional roles of various archetypical songs in theatre, such as the “I Want” song and the “11 O’clock Number”. Examples from classic and contemporary popular musicals make the information as entertaining as it is accessible. Audience members and actors alike will be able to take plenty from this read!

4. Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway by Michael Riedel

This is the first book strictly on theatre history I have recommended on this blog! This deep dive into the history of the Great White Way has as much energy as the street itself and doesn’t shy away from the seedy daily dealings and dark underbellies of the biggest titans of broadway business. As informative as it is entertaining– a love letter to show biz gone by. If you want your history to be as gritty and unflinching as the Broadway bigwigs themselves, look no further. Highly recommended.

5. Acting the Song by Tracey Moore with Allison Bergman

Incredibly dense and incredibly useful for any musical theatre actor or singer. This book is essentially your step-by-step guide to interpreting songs and as well as performing them. As the title suggests, Acting the Song is about finding actable interpretive choices and playing them at their most effective. The book includes plenty of examples and exercises to steer any performer in the right direction. Take your time with this read– the information is valuable and worth your full attention!

 

Actors are way More Introverted Than you Think

There is this weird supposition that all or most actors are extroverts, to the degree that some people think theatre isn’t attainable as their career or hobby just because they’re introverted.

Boy is that a load of crap.

Science estimates that there are slightly more extroverts in the world than introverts, or else there is a roughly 50/50 split. This seems to hold up with my own observations. Being an introvert, I tend to attract other introverted people, so my friend group is perhaps slightly skewed but even with that in mind I’d say a 50/50 split is fairly evident in my personal life. For every deeply introverted friend I have, I have a strongly extroverted friend to counterpoint.

The irony is, a really large portion of my introverted friends are my theatre friends.

Part of the problem is that not all introverts or extroverts behave the same or enjoy the same things. I know extroverts who are the life of every party, who really attend every party instead of bailing at the last minute with a vague text about having to work or feeling crappy, but are terrified to do an oral presentation on a project to a classroom. I’m introverted enough that I might want to skip out on the cast party since I’ve been stuck in a dressing room with these animals all tech week, but the actual on-stage part with them is the highlight of my month. It’s all a spectrum of interests and behaviors, and frequently comes down to luck of the draw, how much time I’ve spent alone versus with others over the last several days, and how badly I just want to get home and play video games, already.

I get the theory. Theatre is a team sport. It requires a lot of social interaction with a lot of people, and requires you do it all on stage in front of even more people. To some introverts, this is a nightmare. This sounds, for all intents and purposes, like a strictly extroverted activity.

However, theatre is actually a perfect activity for introverts. In fact, they may even be better suited to it for extroverts.

The thing about theatre is that it doesn’t just require communicating with others– it requires really connecting with yourself. A big part of acting is looking within. You, as an actor, need to understand the circumstances of the script, how they apply to the character, and how you would feel in the character’s situation given their life experiences. This is, in no uncertain terms, an introspective act. A lot of acting is just making introspection visible to an onlooker– many acting teachers advise beginning with mental lines of thought and letting a physical life emerge from it. Usually show and character analysis comes before determining blocking or character choices. Most of the set-up for acting is highly introverted, in the respect that it deals with a lot of independent thinking and deep intra-personal reflection.

And once all of this business is brought to the stage, extroversion alone still isn’t enough to succeed. Consider what we often think of as a chief trait of extroversion: the ability to strike up conversation with anyone and always know what to say.

Responding to other actors on stage isn’t about finding the nerve to speak to someone or knowing what to say next. That much is already taken care of by the script. Really truthfully responding is very much about more introspection, though in an obviously less isolated sense. Actors need to be able to cut to the heart of how the dialogue and circumstances make them (and their character) feel. While being clear about feelings and emotions usually isn’t a strong suit of the introverted, it isn’t necessarily for the extroverted, either. Both groups are similarly inclined to stomp down their instinctual feelings in favor of presenting a comfortable exterior to the public. Introverts, though, are typically well versed in thinking on and working through these emotions later in private– something extroverts are more likely to skip out on. Stanislavski said that while acting, actors should be able to maintain a sense of public solitude. In other words, the public part of performing shouldn’t be much of a worry at all, and introverts have the leg up on behaving in solitude.

At worst, extroverts are more likely to focus too much on the strictly external. They might characterize their performances through only physical or even superficial actions, or give in to over-the-top clowning in order to be funny and eye-catching. Acting is not about being the center of attention (unless you’re playing a role that really demands it– and this is rarer than you think). Acting is about knowing when to back off and switch to internal action. This is something the introverts will have on lock.

Of course, anyone and everyone can do theatre. I simply want to dispel the myth that theatre is wrong for some people due to their preference of company versus alone time. I’m an introverted actor, surrounded by other introverted actors and an equal measure of extroverted actors– don’t count yourself out!

Maybe You’re Just not a Belter: A Letter to a Young Actor with Vocal Strain

Dear Young Actor,

I get it.

You’ve listened to Barrett Wilbert Weed and Krysta Rodriguez and Sutton Foster and now you just want to sound just like them. We’ve all been there.

Contemporary Broadway is full of belters belting their faces off. It’s flashy and impressive and now basically everywhere you look.

Here’s the thing about belting.

Everyone has a natural shape to their voice. Everyone’s larynx, vocal folds, and resonators (like the mouth and sinuses) are built just slightly differently. This will change the way your voice sounds– speaking voices and singing voices alike all sound different from person to person for this reason. Some people’s vocal folds are longer than other’s, or thicker, or more slightly elastic– all of these factors will cause the vocal folds to vibrate slightly differently and produce different sounds.

Some people are built for different kinds of singing than others. This might be why some people you know can sing soprano with no training while you struggle to sing higher notes and vice versa.

Your speech patterns and habits can also effect your singing voice. For example, you might be prone to mumbling and always talk in the lowest pitches of your voice. You’d probably tend toward a closed mouth and the lower range of your singing voice, because this is what you’d be used to.

You can change the natural build of your voice. This is especially evident with training.

With practice, you can well and truly do nearly anything you want with your voice. Though certain biological disadvantages may stop you from being able to hit record-breaking high or low notes, you can achieve extraordinary results with training. The important thing is that you practice, and practice hard, with someone who can coach you to safely achieve these results.

Which brings us to where you are now: young, and early in your training, with a very sore throat.

Belting is not an in-born ability. Some might be biologically predisposed to it more than others, and some may have certain speaking or singing habits that helped them achieve their sound relatively naturally. However, no one is a natural belter. Belting takes years of time and practice to perfect safely.  The Broadway stars we know and love for their clear, powerful tone have worked likely for decades to achieve their sound. They have studied vocal technique extensively and learned to make habit certain behaviors that make belting easily attainable. They have specially trained the muscles that support breathing and phonation to take pressure off of their vocal folds and make the process safe.

When people don’t learn to belt safely, they end up ruining their voices. It’s common. The strained, tired throat you’re nursing now is in the very first stages of this downward spiral. When you strain to belt, you put pressure not on trained lungs or supporting muscles but on your vocal folds directly. The pain you’re feeling in your throat is from forcing the sound out instead of letting it naturally float. This can be traumatic to the vocal folds and the longer you do this, the more you risk permanent injury. At best you’ll find yourself in pain when you sing, or nursing vocal polyps or cysts that will go away on their own with vocal rest. Or you might end up with vocal hemorrhaging, which will require surgery to resolve and keep you from singing for months.

So give it a rest.

Your dreams are not in vain. You can learn to sing however you want. However, make sure you’re doing it safely. Find a good voice instructor. If possible, find one who can teach you the basics of classical singing technique– Barrett Wilbert Weed attributes her success with belting to her background in opera singing. Learn how to create a resonant, well-supported tone, and then worry about putting the power behind it. Feel free to explore pop and rock sounds, but do so in a safe way.

Remember, even with training, vocal injuries are incredibly common due to the demand for high, show-stopper belting. Even trained belters run into trouble when they have to belt at the top of their ranges 8 shows a week. So don’t rush yourself– take your time. Build up the muscles and perfect the habits you’ll need to keep your voice safe. Ask yourself if the song or role you really want is really attainable for your voice yet– and save it for later if it’s not. You’ll get there some day soon enough. Don’t blow your chances by being impatient.

And if you can’t achieve the belting of your dreams? That’s okay too.

Not everyone needs to be a belter. There is room for a wealth of voice types and personalities in performing. You’re better off performing in a way that is healthful and attainable for you than what is ideal for someone else. By all means, work and push yourself– but don’t lose sight of your own original sound, either. You were born with your own unique voice for a reason. Use it.

Take good care of your voice, and it will support your passion for the rest of your life.

You’ll regret it if you don’t.

Love,

A concerned friend

5 Nonfiction Reading Recommendations for Theatre People

Because it’s the subject in life I’m most passionate about, theatre is nearly the only subject on which I actively seek out and enjoy nonfiction. Some might say I’m just growing up and discovering a more sophisticated taste in books, but fiction is no less refined than nonfiction, and I’d make a list on theatre-related fiction recommendations if I’d read more of it. (Maybe soon!) Regardless of your ideas on the sophistication merit of nonfiction versus fiction, these are five nonfiction books anyone can appreciate, even if nonfiction isn’t your usual gig. For the sake of the less enthusiastic nonfiction readers, I will order this list following a sliding scale of “reads like a novel” to “reads like an essay” and let you decide for yourself where reading will become a chore. I really encourage everyone to try these five books, even if they intimidate you– they’re worth the struggle!

1. Without You:  A Memoir of Love, Loss, and the Musical Rent by Anthony Rapp

This memoir reads like a novel about the first toddling steps of the musical Rent, and I love it to pieces. As a huge Rent fan, I geeked out over almost every page. You learn about the true stories of real people involved in the original try-outs and OBC of the show, unfolding alongside personal events in Anthony Rapp’s life. Just like the musical, there is equal measure joy, sorrow, and meditation on LGBT+ issues, woven together by hard reality and the drive to connect to others through our passions. If you are a Rent fan, this is absolute required reading. If not, I advise you to read anyway– you may find more to take away than you expected.

2. Theater Geek: The Real Life Drama of a Summer at Stagedoor Manor by Mickey Rapkin

Half history lesson on the famous performing arts camp and half reality show unfolding in its midst, Theater Geek is supremely fun and validating to read. The camp is a haven for those who throw themselves wholeheartedly into their passion for theatre. While high school theatre kids get a bad rap for being dramatic, ambitious, and larger-than-life, Stagedoor Manor welcomes and worships these qualities, and promises unparalleled training and potential fame to the best of the best. Rapkin weaves the perilous history of the little camp that could turned Broadway pipeline with the true dramas of young actors preparing to perform with all they’ve got in the camp’s most demanding productions. A page-turner that keeps you in true suspense while delivering triumphantly, lovingly never-dry history on a camp we’re all too old to attend– but wish we could go to, anyway.

3. The Actor’s Art and Craft: William Esper Teachers the Meisner Technique by William Esper and Damon DiMarco

If you’re looking to learn something about acting, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat. The Actor’s Art and Craft is like being a fly on the wall in one of the most incredible acting classrooms in the world. It’s a relatively easy read, with all of the acting advice given in narrative form through a fictionalized re-telling of Esper’s tutelage. It is inspiring and deeply informative, and full of heart in a surprising way. You read this book because it’s interesting on its own and realize you’ve learned more than you bargained for along the way. A fantastic primer on Meisner technique and a shining beacon for anyone interested in the art of acting.

4. The Great Acting Teachers and Their Methods by Richard Brestoff

An unconventional read that provides a basic background on the greatest actors and acting teachers in history– essential reading for anyone looking to learn more about acting. Chapters provide history as well as sample lessons on the beliefs of each teacher. The wide sampling of ideas provides ample room for further reading, while also giving readers a basic understanding of many viewpoints on acting. This is a fantastic starting point for those looking to deepen their knowledge of acting as a craft. It is shockingly dense and yet surprisingly easy to read– you could read it in a day if you wanted, though you’d hardly get the full weight of the content if you rushed through it so fast! Take your time with this one and absorb as much as you can. It is well worth it.

5. The Empty Space by Peter Brook

Undoubtedly the most involved read on this list, and yet the shortest. Essentially a set of four essays on theatre as a whole– what it is, and what we do with it. This book provides a vocabulary for feelings about performances I previously had no words for, and lights a way to creating lively and inspiring theatre going forward. Reading it has fundamentally changed my understanding of theatre. If you are passionate about theatre, it is required reading that may shake you to your core.

Why Working in an Escape Room is a Great job for Theatre People

I’m lucky enough to have a part time job I really enjoy. Like most of the world, I’ve done my time in retail, and I hated almost all of it. Though great co-workers and the occasional fun customer can liven up any job, the feeling that you’re just putting in boring, tedious hours to scrape out the money you need to survive is draining and unfulfilling. It helps if you can find a job somehow relevant to your passions, but many of us aren’t so lucky. I struck gold when I found my part time job working at a local escape room.

For those unfamiliar with the escape room trend, here’s a quick explanation: You are placed into a room (or multiple) containing a series of puzzles that you must solve within a certain time frame. Often the rooms are themed. Most escape rooms are designed for anywhere from 2 to 10 participants at a time. As you solve the puzzles, a Gamemaster watches (usually from cameras) and can provide clues if necessary. Find a key to open a box, from which you get a math puzzle that works out to the combination for the 4-digit lock, which opens an envelope full of a documents that spell out a coded message– that sort of deal.

Working in an escape room is a lot of fun on its own, but it appeals especially to me because it uses many of the same skills I need when I’m working on a show! The relevance isn’t always clear from the outside, but take it from an insider: escape rooms are a great employment opportunity for those interested in acting. Here’s a few reasons why.

1. Public Speaking Galore

Part of the typical gamemaster’s job is standard customer service– greet customers, take payment if necessary, maybe have them sign any waivers required by the business. Usually the gamemaster is also in charge of explaining the story/circumstances and rules of the room to players. Some escape rooms present five to ten minute introductory presentations to explain all the players will need to know to solve the room, for which gamemasters are responsible.

If you are someone who struggles with stage fright and nerves in front of crowds, public speaking practice is especially helpful. Even if you’re a seasoned veteran in that regard, finding ways to make your audience listen and laugh to your dry introduction is a valuable skill, and can be a lot of fun.

2. Memorization Game

Memorization is a necessary skill for all actors, and one we can always use a little more practice with. As I mentioned in the previous point, gamemasters are responsible for presenting the stories and rules of their games. Usually, this means memorizing as much of the necessary information as possible to make presentation to customers quick and painless. You’ll also need to memorize the path the players will take through the game, and memorize the room layout to return all of the props and puzzles to their correct places once the game is over. (It’s a bit like setting up the stage for the top of the show after a rehearsal!)

Running a room is an active exercise in memorization. Forgetting a step or resetting the room incorrectly can have consequences. Build your memory while being accountable for a customer’s gameplay experience– you’ll train yourself to double and triple check your work very quickly!

3. Acting Opportunities

When thinking about acting jobs, few would consider escape rooms. Admittedly, very few escape rooms hire people just to act. Some escape rooms hire actors to play characters inside the rooms, though this is rare. Slightly more common is commitment to character before a group enters or exits a room. For instance, at Enter The Imaginarium, an escape room in Pittsburgh, PA, all of the gamemasters roleplay as members of a mysterious “Order”, and act in character, even while giving clues during gameplay.

Perhaps the biggest acting opportunity for escape room workers is totally hidden– an opportunity where your ability to sell someone on a slightly bent reality really matters. When groups fail to escape, they are often very hard on themselves. The fact that they didn’t escape might totally ruin their experience if they get too down about it. It’s important players know that the fun of escape rooms is in playing the room,  not necessarily the escape. Sometimes they play very well and get stuck on small things, or wind up very close to the end. It’s a shame to let a group like this leave thinking they did poorly! Then, your acting skills can come in handy for raising their spirits. Even if they did poorly, no one wants to leave feeling dumb. If you have to bend the truth just a bit to make them feel better, that’s not a bad thing– but you’d better be convincing!

4. Practice Problem Solving on the Fly

One of the best things you can learn in live theatre is how to handle crises in the blink of an eye (usually, in the dark backstage, while being totally silent). Say a prop breaks right before your entrance with it– you need to be prepared to find a solution! The same goes for working in an escape room. Puzzles break all the time. Escape room props will likely be handled roughly. Important items will snap in half, locks will fail to open, and computer-driven sequences will fail to trigger. When this happens, the gamemaster needs to be able to handle whatever is thrown at them.

Both on stage and in escape rooms, sometimes shit just happens. Getting used to that fact and becoming intimately familiar with how to behave when it does is always of your benefit.

5. Build, Design, and Get Creative

Though some escape rooms buy their games as kits and purchase their props and puzzles, many design and build their own. This is a fun, creative process wherein you can flex a lot of crafting skills! There are large “set pieces” to construct– things like tables, counters, walls, and closets– where you can practice carpentry skills useful in theatre tech. There’s also small props and pieces to design. At my job, I’ve made magic wands out of metal rods, magnets, hot glue, masking tape, and a fancy paint job. There’s also the escape room equivalent of “set dressing” to be done, providing miscellaneous non-essential props to decorate walls, shelves, and floor space. Designing the actual flow of the room is a complex process that requires consideration for storyline flow, practicality, and a whole lot of abstract thought– a bit like the thought process required in directing or writing a show.

Most importantly, working in an escape room is fun. It’s an opportunity to get away from food service or retail and work in an entertainment capacity– even if you yourself aren’t the chief entertainer! If you love theatre, working in an escape room can also be relevant to your passion. It may not be your dream job, but it can be worth your time for now!

I’m Disappointed, Too: A Letter to a Young Actor

Dear actor,

It’s very clear what you expected to happen at auditions. It’s very clear you’re unhappy with the results. In a sense, I’m not happy about them either.

You had reason to feel good about these auditions. You’ve gotten a few shows with us under your belt. You have some experience with all the proper skills. You know how we work and have a working relationship with us. By all means, you should have nailed this audition.

Here’s the thing, though: Whether you did or not wasn’t really the issue in the end. What really ruined your chances was your attitude.

It was clear that you came into this audition with the mindset that this show had already been cast. You expected nothing less than the lead, and didn’t think for a moment you might have to really fight for the role. You prepared for your audition as a formality, and it was clear in your presentation. You did not show us your best performance. We have seen your best performance before, and we are honor-bound to hold you to it– you deserve nothing less than to be held to the highest standard, because you can meet the highest standard. If this audition were based on what we have seen you do before, you’d be home free at the top of the cast list. Instead, you gave us a half-hearted effort and a lot of attitude, leaving all your talent and hard work a ghost in the back of our minds. That is disappointing to all of us.

To be clear: I’m not disappointed in this outcome. I’m disappointed in your actions. You have gotten the role you earned. This is the role you deserve. By not giving your best effort, you earned less than you wanted. That was strictly your own doing– you have no one else to blame. I am as disappointed that you chose to give us less than your best as you are disappointed in the outcome.

However, please note: This is not a punishment.

We are not personally spiting you. To say I cast the show out of spite is an insult to every other actor who did their best in auditions. Everyone earned their roles in those auditions. There is not a bad role in this show. We, as a production team, see and respect the actors who recognize this. The ones who show up and give their all will always be favored over those who rest on their laurels. After all, they will always give their best effort, and that is a powerful thing.

Not being the lead is not a punishment. If you treat it as such, though, you’ve given us good reason to continue not casting you as leads. It means you think you deserve the lead, and I am always eager to break that line of thought.

To let you get comfortable and think you “deserve” leads would be to do you a great disservice. Casting is a complex process based on many variables, and the only way to improve your chances effectively in an audition is to work. As a growing actor, one of the best lessons you can learn is that you earn your dream roles only when you strive for them. There is truly no limit to what you can achieve if you are willing to put in the effort to reach your goals. I know you have it in you to play amazing roles– if only you give them amazing effort.

Please remember, this does not mean I have any ill-will towards you. I hope there is no love lost between us. It is because I know you can do better that I have not insulted you by accepting less than your best. Please use this as a learning opportunity.

You deserve to be rewarded for your best work, and nothing less.

I hope to see your best again in future auditions.

Best,

Your Director

My Attitude is Exactly why I got the Part. Yours is why you Didn’t

Dear Friend,

I’ve gotten a lot of parts I’ve wanted through the years. I used to say I was “lucky” with casting, but there’s much more to it than that.

I’d often use that phrasing because usually when I’m bringing up this point, it’s in a very specific context that somehow seems to keep occurring for me. I’ll paint you an image: The day after the cast list came out. I’ve gotten the fantastic part I wanted, but I’m feeling bittersweet. You, and maybe many more of my friends, are in mourning, because you did not get the parts you wanted.

Almost always, the conversation that follows turns the same directions. It might take a while to get to this junction, and this might not be stated directly, but we often arrives at the same point nonetheless.

You: “I’m not talented enough to get this/that/any part.”

And every time I hear this, I sigh heartily, and say, “this is going to sound bad, but I mean it with all the love in the world.”

Here’s what I say every single time: Talent means nothing.

Often, this gets confused with “you have no talent”, which is not my point. Even if that were my point, it shouldn’t be offensive, because talent means nothing. You can be born with a beautiful singing voice, but that does not make you a good singer. No one has an inherent talent for technical ability– that is all learned. Breath support and neutral larynx placement aren’t god-given gifts, they’re habits cultivated with hard work. Even with a beautiful natural tone, bad technique will stunt your growth and can even ruin your voice from misuse over time. In a race, talent would get you out of the gate fast, but you’d wind up in dead last quickly if it’s all you had to work with.

No, you’re not too untalented. If you keep working, you’ll get better, and more parts will be in your grasp.

This is an optimistic view, but I fully believe it’s the correct view. Anyway, why would anyone want to resign themselves to a life where they’re destined to never succeed because the Talent Fairy didn’t bless them at birth? Even if my view is a fantasy, I’d much rather live in a fantasy where people can improve themselves than any reality where such is impossible.

I always think sharing this mindset will be helpful. It often seems to be not helpful to my hurting friend at all. Usually, this is what happens next:

You: “Well, you always get good parts/got the part you wanted/aren’t in the ensemble, you can’t complain/don’t know how this feels.”

And then, I’ll explain:

The statement that I “always get good parts” isn’t incorrect. What it does not mean, though, is “I have never been in the ensemble.” Of course I have been, such is theatre life. Ensemble is a “good part”. I’ve been cast in the ensemble plenty of times, and often have just as much fun if not more fun in shows playing bit parts and mute townspeople than I do playing lead roles. 

Maybe I got the lead role I wanted, maybe I’m not in the ensemble this time. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like, and I’m not going to be dragged into ragging on ensemble roles. Ensemble isn’t a punishment. It is not the “untalented persons” dropbox.

I understand that people want to step out of the ensemble and show off their stuff– that’s natural. Landing ensemble role after ensemble role can become crushing, because it feels like no one sees your ability. Take solace, this isn’t a personal slight. Sometimes, your ability just doesn’t match up with the director’s vision, or with the demands of this particular show or role. Sometimes your ability is best used in the ensemble, where you can be a leader in keeping up the show’s vitality. 

But let’s be honest, too. Sometimes, ability just doesn’t measure up. 

See what I said above: this isn’t a condemnation. It doesn’t mean you are not untalented, but even if you were, that’s no big deal. This is a call to improve, however you can. Mourn when you don’t land your dream role, grieve it as you must. Once you’re done, it’s time to get into action. Auditions and callbacks teach you a lot about your competition. Sometimes it’s easy to spot where you failed. If you use these as learning opportunities, you get easy insight into where your weakest parts are, and can then train and armor them appropriately.

The important thing, in all of this, is that you keep working. If you want to be the best person for the part, make yourself the best person for the part. Hone your craft by sheer tenacity. By anger, by bitterness, even, if you must. Just keep getting better.

And then, quite often unsaid, but very often felt:

You: “That’s easy for you to say. You got the role.”

The weaponization of my attitude against me has always struck me as profoundly unfair. People always seem to think my mindset comes from a place of privilege. 

When does privilege inspire people to fight harder? Is privilege known to inspire people to dust off their bloodied knees and keep plodding onward? If my advice were “rest on your god-given gifts,” that would be privilege speaking. I’m telling you to rip your opportunities right from the jaws of fate and take your odds into your own hands– these are the forged-in-hardship words of someone who has struggled too hard to let circumstances beyond their control dictate their successes. 

At this point, I struggle to offer any more words, because now this is personal, and my response would be personally offensive. 

I got this role because I have this attitude. I got this role because I scrambled, panicked, evaluated, analyzed, and practiced, practiced, practiced my way into that audition, and into that callback, and onto that cast list. I took my own advice and patched the wounds on my ego and then went right back to working for next time. I have a drive to get better, do better, be better at theatre. If this attitude isn’t clear in my actions, it’s proven in the way I perform. 

My attitude does not come from the privilege of past parts. My past parts, and all my future ones, too, come from my attitude. 

As long as you nurse your bruised ego and wallow in mourning forever, your parts will also come from your attitude.

They will probably not be the ones you want to receive.