By Mitzi Adler-Wachter
You might think that acting is only fun if you get a big part, or that acting is all for the glory of being the star, or even that the amount of fun you have depends on the size of your role. I can assure you, with the reliability of seven years of acting, that none of these things are true.
I started acting when I was 7 years old. At my elementary school there was a teacher, Mr. Skillings, who did a Shakespeare play with his class every year. When I was in second grade, his class did A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I saw the play with my mom and I loved it. Part of that was probably the appeal of fairies and a secret world within the woods, but there must've been something I liked about Shakespeare too because after the play I told my mom I wanted to do Midsummer and I've loved Shakespeare, and acting, ever since. I love the old-time feel of Shakespeare, and there's something completely thrilling in performing in front of 70-plus people you don't know and having their undivided attention.
This winter I did a production of Romeo and Juliet at Seattle Public Theater (SPT). I started acting at SPT when I was about 7. For Romeo and Juliet, the list of characters I wanted to be was unlimited because all the characters are amazing, but the two I was most interested in were Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin/friend, and Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother. But I was cast as Lady Montague, Romeo’s mom.
Lady Montague and Lady Capulet might not seem that different. But all I saw about Lady Montague at first was that it was a really small part. In our cut of the play, she had five lines – well, six if you count when she screams “No!” after Romeo is banished. But, the size of a character, I’ve learned, isn’t only based on number of lines or even stage time.
I saw a play at Seattle Children’s Theatre a few years back called Getting Near to Baby. I’ve remembered that play for years because it was not only a great play but one of the most central characters had only one line in the entire play. She was a young girl who had gone mute after her younger sibling “Baby” died. This girl would always climb out onto the roof or around in trees, and when her older sister tried to take her into a cave or mine and she turned away scared. And she never said a word until the end of the play when she explained all her weird behavior with one line: “I’m gettin’ near to Baby.”
Lady Montague turned out to be an even better proof of the number-of-lines-to-size-of-part ratio. After the cast list was sent out, my director, Shana Bestock, guessed I might not see Lady Montague for everything the part actually was and said she wanted to talk to me. She told me about the part: How Lady Montague was really just a worried mother who wants desperately to help her son but has no idea how to because he’s so distant from her. Her husband wants Romeo to “man up” and go out on his own and Lady Montague doesn’t feel like she has the power to challenge him. That really helped me to understand that Lady Montague was so much more than an extra part put in just to wrap up all the family details.
In the end, Lady Montague was fun to play and might even be my favorite of all my parts.
Throughout the course of Romeo and Juliet I came to embrace the beauty of small parts. I realized that the size or importance of the part has almost nothing to do with the number of lines and, more importantly, the best characters are not always the biggest. It’s also an amazing gift, whether you’re a lead role or “spear carrier number seven,” to work together with other people to make something incredible.
About the author: Mitzi Adler-Wachter is a freshman at Ingraham High School. In addition to acting she loves playing the piano, and rock climbing. This is her first article for ParentMap.