An Actor’s Love Letter to the Role She Needed
Photo Credit: Andrea Klohn
For me it was Gluttontoad.
One of the seven deadly sins in a production of The Ash Girl my sophomore year in college. Gluttontoad only had a handful of lines and I wasn’t thrilled. I’d gotten called back for all of the roles I had my heart set on and didn’t get any of them.
I was frustrated by the casting. Not a first in my history of performing, but that one hit me especially hard. I asked the director (also my theater advisor) why I’d been cast that way and one reason he gave was that he knew I could make something of it.
Now if you were to ask me about my time on stage in college I bring up two shows. One was the largest and final role I had in undergrad – Nat in Rabbit Hole – and Gluttontoad.
Sure, I only had a few things to say, but I learned more during that show about performance than I ever had. Playing Gluttontoad challenged how I viewed myself as a performer as well as what I was capable of.
For one thing my lines were incredibly bloated—shout out to the playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker on that one.
I had to learn to deliver wallops like: “whoever called this meeting had better provide some glowing globules of gloaming honey for the voluminous, libidinous, cavernous stomach of this gluttonous Gluttontoad or I’m going. Who did call this meeting? Is it about food?”
Unruly language aside my biggest challenge was how to be on stage for a large part of the show, remain interesting, but not divert attention. All of this while still being—well—a toad.
I’d never had such a physically demanding role before.
I squatted, hopped and meandered. I tried to envision how a toad would try to stand on two legs if it could. I had muscle aches, long term knee problems and had to do all the physicality while wearing a fake belly to make me more “toadly.”
Throughout the show I kept remembering the phrase “there are no small parts, only small actors” which was never a phrase I particularly liked.
Thinking on it now, however, that’s really the best way to describe that experience. Sure, the role wasn’t a lead by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn’t a role I wanted.
It was the role I needed.
I had always been proud of my character acting. I was always the mother figure, the comedic friend, etc., etc. My enemy from the get-go when I began my theatrical journey in undergrad was disseminating that type I built for myself.
So my advisor threw me into a role I didn’t even think I would enjoy.
And I ended up having the time of my life playing Gluttontoad. I learned so many things about myself as a performer I never would’ve known. There were gestures, movements and vocalizations I could do that I had no idea were in me. Gluttontoad became less of a foreign being and more like my sense for my own brand of physical comedy.
Fast forward to now and Gluttontoad became my symbol for taking tasks head-on.
In anything I do I firmly believe that things happen for a reason. Any job I undertake, a project, a new friendship or role in an organization, all of these things helps build the “me” for the future.
Whenever I’m feeling down about something not going the way I expected I find a photo of myself as Gluttontoad. I remember how sour I was compared to how the memories seem to me now.
There are always going to be disappointments. Especially for artists—it’s inevitable. But I don’t see the obstacles as failures anymore.
They’re all Gluttontoads and they’re hopping towards something even better.