“There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors”: Why This Isn’t True and What To Do About It

"There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors": Why This Isn't True and What To Do About It

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “There are no small parts, only small actors” before. We often tell this to young actors who have received their role in a show, counted their lines (ugh!) and have discovered that their friend has 36 lines while they only have 4. They truly have a small part.

If you are doing Romeo & Juliet and are the Apothecary, you have a small part. However, your part is still vital to the show. Without you, Romeo doesn’t get his poison and the ending is totally different. (For the better, actually… maybe we should re-write the show without the Apothecary!)

Just because your role is small, does not make it unimportant. If you fully commit to your character and know exactly why he/she is there in that scene at that time, you’ll be able to make each moment count. Your role could be the turning point of the show.

The Porter in Macbeth is a small role but has the potential to be extremely memorable and a hilarious comic relief in an otherwise heavy play. Lady Macduff and her son are only in one scene in the entire show. Macduff’s son doesn’t even have a name! Yet their deaths are extremely important to the rest of the show: it’s what urges Macduff to seek revenge on Macbeth.

This can be more difficult in musicals, especially ones with a large ensemble. When you are playing Fish #4 in The Little Mermaid among a sea of other fish, young actors may think, “What’s the point?”

Directors, help your actors to understand why their character is important and necessary; otherwise they may wonder why they’re even in the show at all. Remind them that being in the ensemble is awesome. Not everyone can be a lead or even a supporting role all the time. Some actors are just not ready yet or skilled enough for a certain part. Those people can learn from other more experienced actors and hopefully get bigger roles in the future. Or perhaps they are ready or skilled enough, but they’re not right for that particular part at that particular time. Acting is extremely subjective. It’s not a great answer, but it’s all I’ve got at the moment. Actors, it may help for you to remember why you do theatre. It’s up to you to figure out where you go from there.

My biggest piece of advice would be,

“Don’t count scenes or lines. Instead, make your scenes and lines count!” Click to tweet!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.
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6 thoughts on ““There Are No Small Parts, Only Small Actors”: Why This Isn’t True and What To Do About It

  1. Timothy Aaron-Styles

    lol Uggghhh ..isn’t that what Stanislavsky/i meant in the first place? So–it IS true that there are no small parts but, instead–small actors whose egos make them “small.” because they feel they are too big for small roles i.e. roles with less lines.

  2. Pingback: 2016-288 – Heliozoan Mandala | Mandala of the Day

  3. i think you got Stanislavsky’s expression wrong: Your article proves that it is true, indeed! What he meant is that even ‘small’ parts are not really small if played by a real [not small] actor 🙂
    thank you for your article though, it is very helpful! ❤

  4. Kerry,
    I Googled “There are no small parts, only small actors” while doing some research for a sermon I’m preparing. I was looking for the history behind the line but what I found was a great post on making the role you’ve been given count. The example you used on the Apothecary in R&J was spot on and brilliant. Your post encouraged be because it is exactly the encouragement I want to give my congregation is loving and serving the people around them at home, work, and in the community. Thank you! Have a great week.

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