“There are no small parts, only small actors.” Constantin Stanislavski
I’ve been on both the receiving and giving end of that line. As a director I’ve said those words to many students who just found out they didn’t get cast as the lead and are feeling disappointment. With all of my heart I believe those words to be true. There are no small parts. Every part in every production serves a vital role. I know this to be true, and because I believe it, I have often quoted it.
I’ve also been on the receiving end of that line. In High School when my drama coach said that to me I immediately responded with “yeah, right” (eye rolling might have also been involved). I still feel that way sometimes. Sometimes life seems so small and so unimportant that I find myself questioning whether my part in it matters at all.
The season when I was parenting four kids under the age of five was the worst. I was a stay-at-home mom who was overwhelmed with every aspect of life. For days on end the only adult conversation I had was with Steve on Blue’s Clues. I’d often find myself sitting on the couch in the living room folding laundry and carrying on a full blown conversation with Steve, only to look up and discover the kids had all left the room and were no longer watching television with me. And since I brought up laundry… it’s pretty depressing when an intelligent creative woman’s highlight of the week is that she got 2 (of the 20 or so) loads of laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away.
I felt so small. So unimportant. So overlooked. So unnecessary. I was invisible and my life contributed nothing to the world around me. Thankfully these were the days before Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest, so the comparison to the other who were actually accomplishing something with their life was limited to church and school events.
Recently my daughter and I drove by the house we were living in during that awful season. I slowed down as we both looked out the window and were flooded with memories. I instantly felt small and unimportant all over again and I felt regretful of that time that was wasted.
Then my daughter piped up, “I loved that house.” “You did?” I questioned. Why had she loved that house? It was small and unimpressive and our time there had been boring. “We were so happy there.” she continued, “remember all the fun we had together? The picnics and the bedtime stories, and the dress up games? You were home all the time with us then and we were always together. We laughed a lot there. When I think back over my childhood, those were my best memories.”
Same house, same memories, completely different perspective. In that house I had felt like my role was so small, so unimportant. But to my daughter, my role was huge and impactful. I never once received a paycheck during that season of life. I never got a promotion or a pat on the back for a job well done. There were no accolades or standing ovations for my role as a stay at home mom. But there was joy. There were precious memories made. There was a little girl who was made to feel loved and special, because she is.
Dabbs Greer was never famous. At least not as far as Hollywood-famous actors goes. In the 54 years of his life that he spent on the screen he was never cast in a lead role. IMDb credits him with 310 acting roles, and my guess is you’ve never heard his name before. His official bio states, “With his plain looking face, wavy hair and mellow, distinctive voice he was a solid supporting actor.” Not the most glamorous review. And yet, when he was asked about his career Dabbs’ response was profound, “Every character actor, in their own little sphere, is the lead.”
Dabbs Greer dedicated his life to bit parts, and television and film was greatly impacted by his small role.
You and I have a role to play too. It might seem small and insignificant to us, but it’s not. To the people in our sphere, it is the lead.