Keep an open mind: How to be a lead in a play

January 31, 2011 — by Ashwini Velchamy

As junior Penelope Burgess stands in the spotlight, center stage, all eyes are fixed firmly on her. She delivers her lines with ease as the character she is playing takes over her. To audience members, being the lead seems like something a person just does easily. Those involved, however, know just how much work it takes to be the lead of a play. But who becomes the lead in the first place?

“Basically, someone that can mold into their idea of that character, but that still comes up with original and creative ideas of their own,” said Burgess, who played the lead in the play “Our Town.”

Senior Jaemyong Lee, who is the lead in the spring musical “Jekyll and Hyde,” believes that the most important quality of a lead is the ability to keep an open mind and not be afraid to make a fool of oneself.

Drama teacher Kerry Mohnike said choosing who becomes the lead usually depends on the part itself.

“Obviously, it helps if one has some training and experience,” said Mohnike, “but sometimes directors see things in auditions, follow up on references or just have a hunch.”

She said leads in high school plays are typically determined by seniority, but that the same principle does not necessarily influence real-world directors.

“A lead has to carry a show, so being suited for the part, being responsible to their castmates and director and coping with a large number of lines, all play a part,” said Mohnike.

However, Lee stresses that being the lead is not the most important part about drama.
Lee also said how everyone’s input is appreciated in drama, no matter what role they come from.

“I’ve played many supporting roles and smaller parts, and having been on both sides of the spectrum, I don’t find that I get any special treatment strictly because I am the lead,” Lee said.

Getting into drama:

Lee encourages aspiring actors to not feel self-conscious or care too much what others think.

“Just do it! Not just in a ‘try it out’ kind of way,” said Lee. “Once you get a part and start to get the groove of things, make a fool of yourself! The more you experiment, the more foolish you’ll look. But in all honesty, getting comfortable in your body and feeling outrageous will take you a long way.”

After he is assigned a part, Lee learns his lines and always peruses the script to understand his character’s motivations in each scene.

Burgess offers similar advice about preparing for drama.

“I go back and think about my character,” said Burgess. “Why they’re doing what they’re doing, why they’re saying what they’re saying, why they are who they are. Then it’s a process of memorizing lines and songs and blocking and dancing━and once that’s done, it’s all about performing and having a good time!”

Love of Drama:

“It’s so much easier than you think and it’s incredibly fun,” said Burgess. “Where else would you be able to dress up as a prostitute, wear curlers all day long without any questions, or get murdered four nights in a row?”

Lee enjoys drama because of the freedom that comes with it.

“I love roaming some alternate world, exploring as someone else would, and finally giving the audience the opportunity to do the same,” said Lee.

Mohnike’s advice for being a lead is simple and straightforward.

“Practice, take classes, get to know people,” said Mohnike. “Walk-on stars are not unheard of, but drama can be a tough place for a weak ego.”

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