How to play a small role? I’ve no idea.
How to get into one? Read along…
It is generally acknowledged – in the world of acting – that there is no such thing as a small role.
A role is what you make of it. I firmly believe that, and that’s why I was actually pretty excited about this new role I’m playing (the maid) in The House of Bernarda Alba. I’ve always loved watching plays where the small roles blow my mind. I’m not playing this character with that intention but I’m loving the challenge of finding out who she is when there isn’t that much information about her in the text.
Some of my character’s lines are announcements for example, and I’m finding it challenging to play those lines intentionally but without pulling the focus too much. In some cases I’m not on stage for a long time and then I suddenly appear to deliver one line without interacting with anyone so I‘ve had to find a way of keeping things both simple but meaningful.
So how have I done this?
1. Going old school. Not only have I written a whole bio but I’ve gone detective mode and created a story board with objectives, obstacles, props to play with, timelines, etc. This has been crucial for me to know where my character is coming from, where is she going an why. I know a lot of actors do this with their characters but there’s a lot I’ve had to imagine/invent myself to fill in the gaps for all those scenes my character is not on stage.
2. Channeling my character’s inner animal. In this case, I’m a chameleon. Keeping that in mind has helped me to find my character’s physicality and even play intentions accordingly. I chose a chameleon based on the information I had of my character in the script. I then researched more about chameleons and with that I’ve been able to bring more playfulness to my actions.
3. Thinking about what my relationship is with each character. I stole this one from an actress I’m currently working with. I thought it was brilliant especially when you don’t have many lines. Sometimes a look can say much more than any word so thinking about how I relate to each character in the play has definitely given me something to play with.
4. Finally, squeezing the juice out of each word. Good writers are clever with their words even when they might not have written many for a certain character. Although I’ve intellectualised my character’s intentions, I’ve been warming up my voice by saying my lines and sensing how they sit in my gut. This exercise has made me fully understand my intentions, action them in a certain way or change them altogether.
So there, now I only hope this malarkey has actually been a sensible use of my time!