There ARE Small Parts. But Avoid Small Thinking.
If you ever check out my other blog, (and history suggests that you never do), you will know that I am currently in yet another play. This time, the play is Tom Stoppard’s, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It is in a way Shakespeare’s Hamlet from a vastly different angle. In fact, it’s told from the perspective of the two title characters who, in Hamlet are in fact two minor characters. Only a step above the torch bearers, really. But in this play, they are the focus.
In an ironic absurdist way, that is. The play is not at all linear or plot driven, but rather an existential examination of the randomness of life, by way of linguistic gymnastics. However at various points throughout the action, these two gentleman find themselves in the midst of scenes from the actual Hamlet. Hamlet, Ophelia, Claudius, Gertrude, Polonious, The Player, all come in and out in what is essentially mere background for this story. And when they do appear those characters speak their actual Shakespearean lines. I myself play Hamlet.
I have always wanted to play Hamlet, though I admit, not in this particular capacity. While I do intend to play Hamlet in the actual Hamlet some day, this experience has been an interesting spring training for the character if you will. For you see, he is still Hamlet, with all of the depth, dimensions and complications associated with the character. And for my brief time on stage, I must play him as such. (And I am doing a fairly good job at that, if I may say so.)
If my infrequently seen Hamlet were to be phoned in or otherwise be terrible, people would know. Would it deep six the whole production? It would not have to, but a palpable sense of the play being off somehow would, I surmise, permeate the production. Hamlet, though a small role in the play itself, is not a small presence at all within his own head. As far as he is concerned, he is the Prince of Denmark, with all of the importance and burdens that come with that. For me to do little work because he is not seen much would be not only unfair to the rest of the play, but lazy. And it would miss the point.
I apply this approach to my acting whenever I play a smaller role, or need to perform a scene in the background. I work hard to be totally present in whatever part of the story I am telling. My commitment to good theatre necessitates this.
Yet I have tried to apply this notion to other aspects of my life as well. And it is not easy. But if I am lower on the totem pole for something, or if I am contributing only small bits and pieces to a conversation, or appear only on the outskirts of a project, I make every effort to remember that whatever I am doing deserves my full attention and effort at the time of my doing so. Perhaps it will not change my life, or improve my lot, but if I choose to do something, I do it right. Or opt not to do it in the first place.
Don’t shrink your universe. Despite what the success gurus say, you don’t have to always be out there leading some kind of Gen-Y, “go get ’em!” type of charge in order to be fully engaged in something. When you have a small job to do, it is still a job, and it is still yours. Everything behind what you do, and everything you bring to a table should be relevant. Not just for the sake of the job you are doing but for your own sake, so you don’t allow yourself to feel insignificant between the big moments.
For me it’s much more difficult to do this off stage than on stage. But I recognize the wisdom of it.
How do you feel when you are in the background, or the edges, as opposed to the forefront of something? Does your effort ever slack at those times?