There are no small parts, but there are big ones. With big parts, comes big responsibility.
Have you ever been an ensemble member in a production where the lead is out of control? They don’t know their lines, they don’t remember blocking, they argue with the director, or they make you feel unsafe? I know I have, and it’s a huge problem. Here are my 5 tips on how to show leadership in a lead role, which will improve every play you are in.
Do your homework.
Playing a lead role is a privilege, not a reward. Once you land a lead role the real work starts. Regardless of how much lead time you have, it’s your responsibility to do your homework. That homework includes learning your lines, researching your character, and preparing yourself physically and mentally. But the learning isn’t just about your performance; it involves learning the story, understanding the historical context of the play, and researching anything and everything relating to your director’s vision for the play. Having all of this knowledge under your belt will help you walk into rehearsals cool, calm, and collected. Ready to work.
Oh and learn the names of everyone in the production. Seriously, don’t be a dick.
Be open and generous
After doing your homework, you will have the confidence to have your opinions challenged. You will be able to listen to your cast mate’s thoughts and understand their point of view. Remember, it can be tough playing a minor role, and everyone needs to feel important. Being open and generous towards every member of your cast will raise the standard of the whole production, because everyone will feel like their opinions have shaped the story. Just make sure you’re not patronising. If you have struggled with this in the past, try reading How to Win Friends and Influence People. It really helped me.
Challenge (But don’t tell people how to play their part!)
Now that you have created an atmosphere of openness and generosity in the rehearsal room, it’s time to challenge your cast mates. Keep your performance dynamic and ever changing (until the director tells your to stop). If the actor opposite isn’t responding to your offers, shift, try new tactics and achieve your objectives. If you achieve them early, enjoy it. See how the other actors respond. If people don’t know their lines, don’t drop out of character just because they do. Stay in the moment. Present and waiting. Ready to play. If you see a cast mate really struggling, about to give up, think about how you can challenge them to engage in a deeper more meaningful way.
Spontaneity is great in rehearsals. It keeps things spicy, filled with conflict, and playful. The only problem is, sometimes it makes people nervous, in a bad way. A great way to avoid this is to ask questions. For example, you might ask the director publicly “Do you mind if I try smashing this glass?”
At the same time as asking permission from the director, it also indicates to the whole production team, that you might try breaking a glass in the next scene. If the director says yes, it’s now the responsibility of the stage manager to make it happen safely. It also gives the other actors in the scene an opportunity to speak up if they feel unsafe.
One of the most important parts in any rehearsal process is the transition from developing the director’s vision, to claiming ownership of the story. As a lead, it’s your job to take the reigns, maintain the story, and accept responsibility for the success of your play. You’ve done the work. Regardless of how your play is received, you have done your job well, and you should be proud. Show the world your work.