View: "It's Not the Size of the Stage…"
by Joshua Nicholson
my time as an actor, I've had the opportunity to act on big stages
as well as little ones (when I say little, I'm talking barely enough
room to take anything bigger than a baby-step). Each has its good
and its bad, and that's what I'm about to weigh out here in this
month's "Actor's View".
twentieth (and, now, the twenty-first) century has been all about
BIG, EXSPLOSIVE, MAKE-YOU-WANNA-SLAP-YOUR-MOTHER, GLASS-SHATTERING,
OVERLOAD-YOUR-SENSES bells and whistles. People are forgetting
about the little joys in life and that some of the simplest things
can bring the best out of life. Many times, when inexperienced
playgoers think about seeing a show, they instantly think about
all of the big flashy stuff, and when they come to a small community
theatre where they're so close to the actors on stage that they
can feel the heat of their breath, they think, "This is it?! It's
so small!" If they actually stick around for the show, they might
be in for a bit of a shocker.
I might have already said too much. Let's get to the battle, shall
Stage - the Good: Obviously, you can do more with a set on
a bigger stage. The director and set designer (which is, many
times, the same person when it comes to community theatre) can
make things to be (or seem to be, by the view of the audience)
true-to-life in size. This gives them a bit more freedom to let
their imaginations go wild and is great for the overall "wow" of
Big Stage - the Bad: These big sets can get pretty darn
costly! The bigger and flashier it is, the more expensive it
is…and the more dangerous! Just think about huge set pieces
gliding around during a blackout; the actors must, very meticulously,
move out of the way (or, in the case of community theatre,
help in move the set). If someone makes a wrong move or forgets
to do his/her part, someone could get seriously injured or
Stage - the Good: Smaller stage means smaller set, which,
in turn, means fewer chances of someone getting injured. It also
means smaller cost! The director/set designer also gets to put
their thinking caps on to try to figure out how massive Broadway
shows can be put together and effectively displayed with such
space limitations. (Imagine performing Titanic: the Musical on
a stage about as big as the inside of a two-car garage; we did
it, and it actually turned out pretty nicely! And, yes, the ship
did sink; explaining how is a bit tricky…you just had to see
it.) The small stage also offers the option of a very simplistic
set that won't distract the audience and will allow them to focus
better on the performers, rather than the bells and whistles
of the set.
Small Stage - the Bad: Manageable? Yes. Elaborate? Well,
not quite. Although you can perform anything on a small stage
(the above example of Titanic has made me a believer of that),
it, most of the time, won't give the audience the same jaw-dropping
effect as the bigger, more elaborate set. And, scene changes
when real furniture is involved can be murder! You not only
have to move the furniture around in the dark, but you also
have to find a stinkin' place to put it! I remember doing a
show where we had so much furniture that there was almost standing
room only backstage, which was terrible for the number of actors
we had! So, when it comes to small stages and furniture…FURNITURE
WINNER: Big Stage-Although small stages can be effective,
they still lack the ability to take the audience's breath away
when they see the overall massiveness and sheer elaborate nature
of a big, beautiful set.
Stage - the Good: Big stage means the opportunity for a big
cast. When the audience is hit by a wall of sound coming from
mounds of voices in a big, beautiful chord, it just sends chills
down your spine…in a good way! And, a bustling city street can
actually have the effect of…well…a bustling city street! I'm
not talking about a couple of people here, a few people there;
I mean masses of people doing their thing, making it bustle!
It gives the audience the jaw-drop factor.
Big Stage - the Bad: Having a huge stage and a small
cast just gives the stage such an empty feeling, and although
having a huge cast gives the jaw-drop effect, it also comes
with a big price. That's a lot of costumes you have to take
care of and lots of space backstage, too. And, if that bundle
of costumed people need props… This large of an undertaking
gets pretty expensive!
Stage - the Good: A small stage means a small cast, which
means fewer costumes and props to worry about. And, when you
have a minimal cast of about three to five people, the stage
seems just the right size; it's homey!
Small Stage - the Bad: You're sort of limited as to
how many cast members you can have when you have a small stage.
Usually, a small stage also means a small backstage, and fitting
a huge cast backstage when there are only a few of them onstage
can be kind of tricky. And then, finding a place for them all
to change during quick costume changes and all… Many funny
theatre stories come from situations like this.
WINNER: Big Stage-Huge casts doing things properly leaves
the audience awestruck…plain and simple.
THE ACTOR/AUDIENCE CONNECTION:
Stage - the Good: Because of the elaborateness of scenery,
the setting of it all, audience members can become more enveloped
in the story and what's going on onstage, but…
Big Stage - the Bad: …actors can't really feel that
individual connection with audience members. This is mostly
because the larger the audience, the harder it is to see individual
reactions. And, although the audience can feel involved by
the awesomeness of it all, they, too, lack that individual
connection…the feeling that the cast is singing or talking
directly to them.
Stage - the Good: With a small stage usually comes a small
audience. Connecting with that audience can be a chore for the
actor, but it is extremely rewarding because you can actually
see the expression on the individual audience member faces. You
can sing or play your part directly to them. That sort of "one
on one" performing leaves a very memorable impression in the
audience members. It's a very intimate experience.
Stage - the Bad: When you've got a small audience, it can sometimes
be an extreme challenge to make them react. Think about it this way.
Why do people go to horror movies and the like with lots of friends?
It's because they don't want to react alone. They want lots of others
to react with so they don't feel like the oddball. It enhances the
experience. This is the same with the theatre experience. A small
group might not react as uniformly as a large group, even when the
actor/audience connection is being made.
WINNER: Small Stage-Despite the smaller audience not wanting
to react alone, there is such a great intimacy between the actor
and the audience members that it just blows away the big stage
in this respect.
THE COST TO SEE A SHOW:
not going to do a "good" and "bad" thing here. I'm just going to
tell you that if you go to see a show on a big stage, you're more
than likely going to pay a bit more because you're paying for all
of the glitz and gleam. If you want to see a show but don't want
to put a big hole in your wallet, go see one on a smaller stage.
So, the winner in this match is the small stage.
it looks like in this competition, the big stage and the small
stage are tied 2 to 2. So, there's lots of nice reasons to go to
see a show on a big stage as well as on a small stage. They both
have their own charms, and each is a wholly different experience.
I recommend being in and going to see as many shows as you can.
It's just an all around great experience. If you disagree with
anything that I've said here and would like to speak your mind,
email me at [email protected].
You might just change my mind about something, and even get mentioned
in the newsletter.