No Small Parts; Tell THAT to Your Actors

If you missed last year’s post “Short is In”, check out Guest Contributor, Christina Hamlett’s take on the same subject and how to provide equal opportunity on stage when size matters.

Guest Contributor
Playwright Christina Hamlett


Konstantin Stanislavsky is credited with saying, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” While this is generally true, the reality is that most actors will feel much more wedded to a community production if their participation in it involves the delivery of more than one line, then disappearing for the rest of the show. For theatre companies focusing on full-length plays, it’s those teensy “dinner is served” parts that rarely give performers a chance to really show what they can do. Earnest and supportive as their friends and families are to turn out for opening night, they, too, secretly wish that the person they have come to see on stage that evening would have been given a tad longer spin in the spotlight.

My own acting company, The Hamlett Players, resolved this issue in a creative way; specifically, our seasonal programs not only combined 3-4 one-act plays (each approximately 20 minutes) but also cast actors in multiple roles. In one play, for instance, an actor might be portraying a clueless banker in the 1860s, in the next he’d be wearing a Nazi uniform of the 1930s and coldly confronting a former classmate whom he once envied. If in the third and fourth plays he happened to have a minor, three-line part as a pirate or a servant, he didn’t mind in the slightest, having already shone in two previous lead roles.

Repertory fare such as the one-acts, 10 minute scripts and shorts-under-20 offered by publishers such as Heartland Plays accomplishes several objectives.

The first is the ease and efficiency with which rehearsals can be scheduled. Speaking as someone who tread the boards for eight years prior to launching my own company, a lot of time is wasted sitting around in rehearsals for a full-length show – especially if you’re one of the actors that has just one “blink-and-you-miss-it” appearance.

Secondly, your actors’ talents can be better honed the more you give them to do and the more diverse roles they’re called upon to perform. After all, they’re already committed to the season, even if that season is only comprised of 1-2 weekends. Couple this with the practicality of learning lines for the lead role in a one-act is less stress than memorizing the lead role in a full-length play. If they want to take on parts in the accompanying shows, that’s great. But how many individuals shy away from auditioning at all because of the amount of time it’s going to take away from existing commitments to family, school and work?

Thirdly – and it’s a sad reflection of our “instant now” society – audiences sometimes have the attention span of gnats. They’ve become so accustomed to channel-surfing, clicking through websites and receiving information in 140 characters that they’re prone to fidget if they’re sitting in a theater and staring at the same set for 90+ minutes. Switching up the visuals, characters and storylines is an effective way to keep them engaged…and to keep them coming back for more.

Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is the author of 34 books and 163 plays. She is also a professional script consultant for stage and screen.

Guest Contributor