SAC Theatre Arts

With my ensemble of Big Love.

Imagine you are watching a play, a musical, a movie, or a t.v. show. Now, think of the scene at the train station, or the one on a city street, or in the cafe. I would like you to mentally erase all the people in the background. How bleak do the surroundings look?


The ensemble is it’s own art, they are the backdrop that paints a living picture. This is what the ensemble is there for. They bring the stage to life. 

The Ensemble is quickly dismissed by actors who believe it to be not that big of a job. I even looked down on the importance of the ensemble when I was first starting out. A young actor’s point of view doesn’t always shine the best light on background work. When you stand in the back and you don’t have any lines, you’re not sure where you fit in the story.

As actors, we do what we do because we wish to learn a new character, find out what makes them tick, and embody that on stage. It seems a bit tough to do when there isn’t much mention of you in the script, but to be a successful actor you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. An old director of mine used to say, there are no small parts, only small actors. I didn’t at first grasp the important lesson she was trying to teach me at the time. I thought this was just a way of saying “Hey, be happy you’re in the show at all, kid.”

When the times would come that I was called upon to be an ensemble member I followed my orders to the letter. I entered, hit my marks, reacted to what the leads were doing, didn’t pull focus, and then would exit. It wasn’t till later that I realized I wasn’t adding anything to the stage. Yes, I was there physically but I wasn’t putting forth my character’s energy.

SAC Theatre Arts

With my ensemble partner from Big Love.

I didn’t take into account that this was another living person, with their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations.

I thought back on the whole “small actor” thing and finally “got” what was really being said to me. It doesn’t matter the size of the role you are under-taking; What matters is what you are bringing to the table for all the actors to play with. Armed with this new mode of thinking I quickly found myself connecting on stage with my fellow actors. I was now an active participant in the events that unfolded in front of my character.

Ensemble work has taught me two very important things as an actor. First, to not let my ego get out of hand, and remember just because your character doesn’t talk doesn’t mean they are less important. Second, is to really ask myself what I am adding to the stage.

So, now I pose this question to you: What are you adding to the stage? Another body to fill the space or a living, breathing, character?

Let me hear your story,

SAC Theatre Arts

Trent C. Brown

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