The Supporting Role
The Supporting Role
A letter to ensure a reality check among theatre kids
Dear Theatre Kids and Curious Minds Alike,
You've gone through auditions and maybe even callbacks and now you've read the cast list. No matter what role has been chosen for you, you're going through a wave of emotions. You may be shaking and unable to concentrate on the words in front of you. You might have lost all hope already and are waiting for a surprise written on the wall for you. Maybe you've already burst into tears and refuse to talk to anyone. Truly, after the cast list is posted is when a theatre kid is most vulnerable.
More often than not, you won't get that nice juicy lead. Sometimes you'll be put in the chorus. Not stuck in the chorus, put in the chorus. I want everyone to understand something. Theatre is a beast. There is no such thing as post cast list depression. If you think there is, you're being a drama queen. I'm not being insensitive. You might be thinking, Bailey, you're not the one stuck in the chorus.Stop it. Just stop it. The negativity in your voice is unbearable. "Stuck"? Nobody is stuck in the chorus. If you can't handle being in the chorus, you need to walk out of the stage door right now. Maybe you'd be glad to walk out since you didn't get the role you wanted. If you're one of those closed minded people that quits everything because they don't get what they want, I'm glad you're walking out. I don't need that negativity in my life and neither does the rest of the hard working cast.
In my general opinion, everyone needs to be in the chorus at least twice in their life. They don't necessarily need to start there, but they need to go through the chorus. Theatre as a whole has made the chorus out to be "bad". Oh, if you aren't any good you'll be in the chorus. This pigeonhole has caused countless kids to drop theatre (which is a big mistake, if you quit after not getting a named role, the director will think to themselves, hmm, I guess they don't want to be in the show, they just want to be *insert name of role you wanted here*). The chorus is a learning experience that I wish I had understood far earlier into my high school theatre run. I fell under the impression that the only good people in the theatre were the leads and that if I wanted to be seen as talented, I had to be one of the leads. If I wanted to have a good time in the theatre, I needed to be one of the leads. If I wanted to be impressive, I needed I repertoire of starring roles under my belt. I'm going to tell you, that just doesn't happen (at least not regularly). What people don't realize is that the size of the role doesn't make the character. The size of the role doesn't make you have less or more of an experience. One of my favorite theatre memories is being a townsperson in Beauty and the Beast. It's my favorite musical that I've been apart of and I always wish I could go back to that organized chaos we made on stage. Group numbers are memorable to the audience, especially if there's a lot of quirky happenings going on. The audience has a smorgasbord of character developing things to look at.
Getting back to my point, the chorus is nothing to frown upon. The chorus is the base of the musical and without the chorus there's no magic. Think about every musical you've ever seen. In Beauty and the Beast, where would the magic be without the inanimate objects and the mob, tavern goers, the people in the town? What type of convent would Maria be in if she was the sole nun in The Sound of Music? King Triton wouldn't be king of any kingdom if there weren't any fish in The Little Mermaid. You need to have a strong base before the main roles can tell the rest of the story. If all of the group numbers are crap, the audience isn't going to be sitting very easy for the duration of your performance. There is no musical without the chorus and you can't truly appreciate the chorus until you're in it.
It can be very frustrating when you find yourself in the chorus show after show. The chorus does a lot of the work in the musical without much recognition and you have to settle for being a little selfless so you can graduate to a larger role with more recognition. That larger role might be a supporting role or even a lead. But please, don't get too big for your britches after you get one lead role or one really large supporting role. You might be setting yourself up for disappointment. Every show calls for different people in each lead role. Don't think that because you were put in one lead role, that the next one will just fall into your lap. Don't hate people for being more talented than you. Don't hate people for getting a bigger role than you. Don't hate your cast. Don't hate your director. That's one thing that people really get wrong in theatre. People can't "steal" a role from you, especially if the role wasn't either of yours to begin with. Back tracking to what I said earlier, there's no "post cast list depression". You can't mope around for being apart of a show, no matter what your role is. If you can't do your time in theatre, you need to change your attitude. Being in every show and having a solid audition doesn't guarantee you a large role. Every role requires different characteristics and talents. Sometimes the director wants to give a new person a chance to shine, and that's where you need to figure out your place. Personally, I've been in four musicals (going on five) and two plays. I've been in the chorus three (going on four) times with minor roles two (going on three) times. I've had three really great roles with a lot of solo time on me. I've done my time in the chorus and even so, I'm still doing my time in the chorus. I've gone from have a big juicy role to one line'rs. Although I think of myself as a dedicated actress, a lot of my roles in musicals are very small. I am not a serious singer. That gives me a severe disadvantage in musicals which take the spotlight over plays, the type of show I excel at. Although I'm not as good as my ego projects, I still make the most of my stage time.
In theatre, we get so caught up in the lead roles that we don't see the beauty in the other roles. We think that if we don't get the lead, we are nothing. That's not true. I recently went to see Chicago, and my favorite character, hands down, was the Jury. The Jury is one of the smallest roles in the show, but it was the most memorable for me. As a theatre kid, I really appreciated everything that went on during the show. I made sure to watch every character closely, even the supporting roles. The supporting roles can be some of the most difficult. They might not give you much to work with in the script. You might not have any lines at all in the script (that's happened to me!). If you are upset about whatever role you got, here's a reality check. Any person in the show, especially the people who didn't get a role at all, wants a named role. The director would be more than happy to sub in a chorus member to do the named role that you are ungrateful for. On a side note, don't piss off the director. The director holds your destiny in their hands during the course of time you spend with them. Be polite, helpful, respectful, and responsible, and your work will be paid off in the long run.
You are equal to everyone in the cast no matter what role you are. You are not inferior for being in the chorus and you are not so much better just for being the leading lady. Be gracious about your role and everyone around you will benefit.