Young Man From Atlanta: There are no small parts…

by Carolynne Wilcox

Don't blink or you'll miss the pretty green dress! (Photo by Armen Stein)

So, I play Will Kidder’s secretary “Miss Lacey” in scene 1. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss me. The copious amount of time I sit around and wait during the show’s run each night makes me realize it’s actually been quite a long time since I’ve had a truly miniscule part in a play. Meaning less than a minute of stage time total.

My inaugural role back in Jr. High, when the theatre bug first bit was such a part – I had lost out to Laura Culberson the role of Dagmar in I Remember Mama (John Van Druten) after a series of callbacks (3!) where the director couldn’t make up her mind. Finally she had 3 other teachers come in, watch and vote. I got 1 vote, Laura got two. As a consolation, the director created a small, one-line walk-on role for me in the second act: “Hotel Guest Child”.

The next weensy role was my 1st year at Colorado State University in Brecht’s Mother Courage, when I played “Scene 8 Woman”. I got to wear old-age makeup and collapse from hunger after saying my one line(which I still remember), in a German accent no less. It was an important role for me at that point in my college career, however, as I got to meet and bond with other folks in the theatre department that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I ended up winning a department award for that role – can’t remember award’s title, but it had something to do with fulfilling your tiny duties and having a good attitude about them.

Other smallish roles occurred, even several without any lines but way more stage time and movement. A non-speaking fairy in  A Midsummer Night’s Dream in high school; a non-speaking attendant in Antigone after transferring to a different college…and several small roles in Romeo and Juliet several years ago at Driftwood Players in Edmonds. I took up crossword puzzles during this run; for YMA I’m writing blog entries and watching the latest episodes of Top Chef on my iPod!

Since 2002, I have 35 more shows under my belt nearly all either leading or meatily supporting. And here we are at the Young Man From Atlanta with a five-line role and the aforementioned free time! I likely won’t accept this type of role again, not because I need to be a BIG STAR with LOTS OF STAGE TIME, but mainly because I love acting…I love to inhabit a character, and doing it for less than a minute always leaves me wanting to more acting, more character, and envious of my castmates who get that.

The director (Maureen Hawkins) warned it’d be “thankless”, but I wanted to work with her. And also, I DO still get to be part of this ensemble. I still get to speak some Horton Foote, however little and be in a Pulitzer Prizewinning piece of dramatic literature. I get to wear a pretty green dress, eat potato chips with the girls in the dressing room and laugh at Matthew (Gilbert) and Zach’s (Robinson) coveralls at the end of Scene 1. There is still a very intricate set of rituals attached specifically to this show that I get to enact. Theatre is all about the “get to’s”, since it is not very often about lots of financial compensation, and the “get to’s” on this show work for me!

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The Young Man From Atlanta runs through Saturday, March 10. Tickets can be purchased by phone at 206.633.1883 or online at BPT or GoldStar. More information can be found on Stone Soup’s website.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Such a sweet entry.

    You’re right, I always felt like the small roles were the perfect opportunity for bonding with the rest of the cast. It’s good to always just be happy while in a show, no matter how small the role.

    However, having a character who is onstage for less than a minute total, in the whole play, goes to show how far we’ve come in our playwriting skills. It’s just no fun to have a one-minute character! So when writing, make sure to give all of your characters fully developed stories. Everyone will thank you for it in the end. (c;

    • I second that, Catherine! I think the trend now is to have fewer characters all with decently-sized roles, or if there are a ton of characters, around 6 actors, a couple who can handle multiple smallish roles…not necessarily about being nice to actors, however, more about keeping costs down. I’d have been pissed at Horton Foote, but according to Maureen (Hawkins), there is *another* Young Man From Atlanta script floating around somewhere where my character appears in more than one scene. She tried to get her hands on it, but was unsuccessful. I’d be curious to read it. But yeah, playwrights, flesh out the tiny roles a little – even ONE meaty scene goes a long way…


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