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There are no minor roles

Do you ever take a second to stop and think about other peoples’ lives? I mean, really think about them. The man who washes the windows of your office building every second Tuesday- does he have a child? Did he have to overcome a fear of heights to be able to scale the walls like this, day in and day out? The bus driver who grunts at you when you ask if this bus goes to the High Street, well, maybe his wife didn’t give him a kiss goodbye this morning- a ritual that she’s done every day for 30 years- and so he’s feeling a bit anxious. His grunt isn’t aimed at you, he’s just distracted. He has his own stuff going on, his own life and he can’t always be the chirpiest chirp on the block.

It’s funny. Yesterday I went to the bathroom during lunch and was so grateful to see the toilet paper had been replenished and the toilet had just been cleaned. I smiled at the cleaning lady when I came out and I began to wonder about her. I don’t know her name or where in China she’s from, or anything about her for that matter. But regardless of this, we still greet each other with a friendly smile every day. She doesn’t know anything about me either. Sometimes I create stories in my head for people I don’t know, maybe they do the same for me.

In acting class last night we were studying Uta Hagen’s Object Exercises. This is a basic step which helps when building a character. The ‘who am I’, ‘where am I’, ‘what are my objectives’ etc. During our discussion of creating a life for a character, we talked about how even if you’re only playing a minor character, or part of the ensemble, it’s still important to understand your given circumstances. Our teacher gave an example of two actors who played in the ensemble in a play he directed. Despite being minor characters, they still fleshed-out the roles they had by giving them a history, a full-blown husband and wife relationship and they even had the wife come on pregnant in the first scene. By the end of the play the baby bump was gone and their story was that the husband physically abused her and had caused her to lose the baby. They had absolutely no need to create such a vivid life for their characters and yet this is what they did, and you know what? It worked. It gave them a purpose, an objective, a life. They didn’t just enter the stage, sing a song, and then walk off. They had an entire life going on that only those two actors knew about.

A couple of people in our acting class pointed out that this could be distracting. What if the audience focused all of their attention on the pregnant girl instead of the lead girl? Should the director have allowed such minor actors to create such big lives? Well, hopefully the lead actors have enough skill to pull the audience back to the main plot, but sub-plots can be just as exciting. One guy offered his opinion which I completely agree with and which I’d just been thinking about earlier the same day-  when we view someone as a ‘service’ such as the cleaning lady, the shop assistant, the security guard, we often don’t stop to consider that they too, lead complex lives. We are often so deeply involved in the service we’re trying to receive that we don’t stop to think about how they feel, how their day is going. Some people may view them as the ‘secondary characters’ in life, the minor roles, but actually we are all the same, we should all be equal. I get so upset when people are rude to waiters or taxi drivers or anyone, actually. You shouldn’t just get in a taxi and demand where you want to go without so much as a ‘please’ or a smile. That taxi driver is a human just like you. He/she has a family, just like you. Ask him how his day is going. So what if it’s only small talk, at least you’re treating him like the human he is, like the human you believe you deserve to be treated as. Just because someone cleans your toilet does not mean they are any less important than the boss of the entire company who gives you your monthly pay check. Treat people equally as polite, no matter their role in society.

The same goes for acting. I wish I’d known this when I was 16 years old and was cast as a maid called Jane in ‘The Secret Garden.’ It was a West-End performance with a highly-talented professional cast, and I felt so inferior compared to the lead roles. I had 3 lines and the rest of the time I was in the ensemble. I didn’t create a life for Jane. I didn’t even stop to think about who her parents were, what her relationship with the people of the house was, or even what her surname was. She was just Jane the maid. Now I see how wrong I was to treat her like this, and to treat myself like this. By treating Jane as insignificant, I made myself feel unworthy as an actor.

We all do this in real life too. We need to stop putting ourselves down. We all have a story- a past and a future and we are all as important as each other.

Smile at people. It seriously makes the world a happier place. It’s that simple, or at least it should be.

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