A few years ago a friend of mine suggested I propose teaching a course at the Guthrie for beginning actors all about playing the those tiny, almost inconsequential roles. Think "Guard 2" in Macbeth. We tossed around a few titles including Those Great Bits and No Small Parts, but the marketing department thought suggestive titles were a bit too cheeky and potentially unwelcoming. Pshaw. They countered with Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which made my job a bit harder, as it would seem that anyone taking this course would assume 1) that I have received such accolades, and 2) that by the end of the 6-week session they'd walk away ready to win an Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and maybe a Grammy just to complete the set.
Nevertheless, I set out to accomplish this mighty task. What I learned over the six-week course was that not only are small parts fantastic to play (think of the off-stage time you might spend learning a new skill--knitting, thinking, or other things we did before smartphones) but I also learned that small parts in plays, movies, and TV shows are the spices that give a piece its signature taste. We love watching for that one character who just makes us giggle. Or heartbroken. Or makes us wonder, "What is their life like?"
The upcoming performance of Romeo and Juliet by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo allows us to view this classic piece of drama from the perspective of the Friar Laurence. If any of you out there were wondering what R&J would be like from the perspective of that unlucky Friar, John, who accidentally messes up the whole chicanery concocted by Friar Lawrence when he can't deliver the letter to Romeo because of a plague, I will let you know when my one-man show is coming up! But seriously, folks, I wouldn't miss this one.
We know the story of the lovers. But what do we know about a man who has dedicated his life to serving his God and his community, who ends up accidentally causing the deaths of the two young members of his flock in whom he places all his hope and trust when he marries them secretly? How does it feel to witness and be complicit in such a tragedy? How do we help those we see on a path of self-destruction to find goodness and virtue? How do we trust another has truly found love?
I invite you to find out. Enjoy the performance!
Stuart Gates is a graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program. He teaches acting at the U of M, Guthrie, Ashland Productions, St. Paul Public School Community Education, and all around the Twin Cities. An actor and director, his upcoming show, Rocket Man, begins performances March 16 at Theatre Pro Rata.