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Actor's View: "It's Not the Size of the Stage…"
by Joshua Nicholson

In 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".

The 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.

Well, I might have already said too much. Let's get to the battle, shall we?…

THE SET:

Big 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 the show.
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 killed.

Small 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 BAD!

THE 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.


THE CAST:

Big 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!

Small 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.

THE WINNER: Big Stage-Huge casts doing things properly leaves the audience awestruck…plain and simple.


THE ACTOR/AUDIENCE CONNECTION:

Big 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.

Small 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.
Small 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.

THE 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:

We're 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.


THE RESULTS:

Well, 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.

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