If I were to say I was the star of every show I’ve ever been in, it wouldn’t so much be an exaggeration as an out and out lie. When I was eleven, I was cast as a rock in my school’s production of Macbeth. (Please, at this point, appreciate the fact that I did not just make a ‘rock bottom’ joke. I am above such frivolous matters.) I would love to say that this was me working my way from the ground up (okay, just one), but that would be untrue. In my final year at school, we put on the school’s version of Les Miserables, in which I achieved the notable accolade of every single non-speaking part in the first act. No, I lie, I got one line- I was the kid who shouts “look out!” during the Runaway Cart scene. However, this is not some pity party for a girl who isn’t even a single threat. I played Victorian Whore #55 in my university’s production of Jekyll and Hyde, and you know what? It was one of the best experiences of my life.
I’m not a leading lady. I never have been. I’ve never been the one who was going to end up on Broadway; I’m the one who buys the snacks. And that’s awesome. I’ve loved theater since I was a kid; I’ve been in shows since I could walk, and I found at an early age that being part of the chorus was a way that I could live in that intoxicating environment of sweat, dry-ice and hairspray. Any theater company is going to be close, but if your part is chorus work and crowd scenes (the staple of any good amateur production), then by design you’re going to end up feeling closer to a lot more of the cast than a principal with endless solo rehearsals.
Some of the best friends I have today I met originally in chorus lines, and there’s probably a reason for that. We’re all passionate about the shows we’re doing, but at the same time, we’re not bitterly resentful of the girl who got the main part. When I joined my university’s musical theater society in the first term, I was immediately presented with eighty new friends.
So what’s the point of this article? Well, I suppose it’s me trying to say that the theater is brilliant. But you’re on a blog with ‘Broadway’ in the title: I’m guessing that’s not news to you. Maybe what I’m trying to do is reassure that little girl who’s crying because she thought she’d be playing Lady Macbeth, or Eponine, or, heck, even the Angel Gabriel, as opposed to a rock, a nun, or sheep #4.
I want to tell her that it’s okay that her photo isn’t in the front of the program, and that her costume ended up being nothing more than a grey tabard made of a bit of old curtain. I want to say that she’s going to have a ball as a rock, peeping up from her pebbly position at the back to watch as other people say the lines she so carefully learned for the audition. That she’s going to stand up there on the stage, bright lights in her eyes, in front of a sweating director who is not looking left or right, three English teachers and a beaming mother, and she’s never going to want to leave.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that she’s never going to play Little Cosette on the West End stage, or Mimi, or Kate Monster, or any other of the parts she knows by heart. Instead, she’s going to meet people who know all of Roger’s or Princeton’s lines (and may end up performing them very late at night to an exhausted taxi driver after an inadvisable amount of cranberry juice) and realize that she may well be far happier than the Lady Macbeths who may have had the final curtain call themselves, only to realize that there was a whole cast of extras who were off having fun whilst they were having yet another one-on-one with the choreographer. Yes, having the starring role is great. But in the end, there’s also a heck of a lot to be said for crowd scenes.