How to Nail a “Bit Part” and Why You Should Care

shutterstock_1370675429Bit part, walk-on role, day player…we have so many ways to describe our briefer experiences on stage and film. Yet they are often afforded less brain space and respect than the meatier roles we encounter. Today I’m here to champion the “bit part” and spread my enthusiasm far and wide. There is just as much technique and talent required to nail them, and they are every bit as essential to the overall production. Let’s dive in.

 

  1. Know Your Role. When playing a smaller role it is essential to be aware of your purpose within the greater scheme of the production. What are you there for? Supporting the lead? Providing a foil? Building the world of the play? Comic relief? Knowing why your character was written will give you the freedom to play within the role while still serving the story. “Stealing the show” should not be your goal here. Enriching the show should.
  2. Nail the Tone. Speaking of enriching the show…smaller roles often serve to build the world. They provide color and context. Isolating the tone of the production will help launch your process. Find creative ways to color the world. There is joy to be found in the set up.
  3. Have a Strong Point of View. Often bit parts or walk ons don’t have time to establish much of a character arch, if they get one at all. So you must make up for that by having a strong point of view. Your objective must be simple and crystal clear. Most times trying to elaborate beyond the text will only muddy the waters (and get you passed over in the audition). Just do your job. Complete the action of the scene. Come on clean and strong, have an opinion and leave the moral ambiguity and inner turmoil to the leads. 
  4. Identify Your Type. Many times contained roles will fall into a clearly defined “type.” Finding that type and playing it fully will give you the freedom to make it your own. By no means does playing a type limit your creative control. It gives you a launchpad, from which you can spring into your own spin on the character. 
  5. Have Fun. Bit parts offer endless joy. THis is the time to step away from the over-analytical actor brain. This is the time to trust your training and play. Take full advantage of the lift in pressure and expectation. Make it your own and have fun.

 

I am currently playing the smallest role in a Neil Simon production and I am having the time of my life. The comedic freedom this role has afforded me is so fulfilling, and it is all because I have put the time and research into knowing how to approach this kind of role. It is the only time I have been handed the script in the audition room, and it is creatively challenging and a true joy. Don’t underestimate what you can learn from small roles if you’re a big actor.

 

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Rachel Rachel Frawley is an actor living in Atlanta. She holds a B.F.A. in Theatre from Michigan State University (with cognates in Music and Professional Writing) and is an Apprentice Company graduate from the Atlanta Shakespeare Co. She also works as an education artist for local theatres, which have included the Shakespeare Tavern and Aurora Theatre. For more information, visit her website at www.rachelfrawley.com

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