Bull In the China Shop Acting

“Acting is not being emotional, but being able to express emotion.” – Robert Quillen





We’ve all heard the idiom “you’re like a bull in a  china shop”, meaning a person has no tact, etc.  I would like to postulate a new meaning, in regards to acting.

This of course, is a life lesson learned in large part because of my participation in the aforementioned Shakespeare class.

People, the theatre world is by and large the exact opposite of the film world.  With some exceptions, film is about the spectacle: 3D, surround sound, explosions.  Theatre is about the spoken word, the emotion, being there with the audience while you discover something new about your character.  It is because of that difference I was surprised, and admittedly angry when a director said in a group of people, referring to myself, “there are no roles for…heavy women.”  I let it go the first time (the man might have suffered from bull in a chinashop syndrome, no?), but when he repeated it a few weeks later, I had to cry foul.  You see, in theatre, unless someone’s line explicitly says, “hey [insert name here], you’re fat/skinny/black/white/hispanic/tall/short”, then the character representation is at the prerogative of the director/casting agent.

Theatre is not about the spectacle.  Unless we’re talking Wicked, Beauty and the Beast, Phantom – but they are on a completely different scale than, say, Mamet, or Shakespeare.

It all comes back to The Bard








Understandably so, such a comment (and made twice!) does a couple things to a person. 

  1. They wish to prove the director wrong.
  2. Somewhere, deep inside, they can’t help but wonder, “what if he’s right?”

He’s not right.

For the longest time, I had been cast (and contented to be so) as supporting roles.  There’s really nothing wrong with it.  Supporting roles (or sidekicks) get some of the best lines, they get some of the best laughs.  But they very rarely get to show emotion aside from comedy.

And here’s where the bull enters the china shop.

For so long, I had convinced myself the sidekick, the supporting role was all I ever wanted; I had also convinced myself I was incapable of being anything else.  Incapable of feeling the grand emotions that accompanies a larger role.  Because if the sidekick breaks a piece of china, it’s funny.  The sidekick doesn’t know any better.  And quite frankly, our society has become so comfortable with “heavier people”, or “black people”, or “hispanic people” (and other stereotypes that haven’t been mentioned) in the supporting character role, seeing one of them as a bull in the china shop is comforting.  It’s status quo.  It’s safe.

Well screw that!

Shakespeare has taught me I can have all the emotion of a leading lady.  “For ere Demetrius ever look’d on Hermia’s eyne/He hail’d down oaths that he was only mine”. (Midsummer Night’s Dream Ii).  When I say those lines, I feel the hurt, the pain, the loss of Helena because the man who swore and swore he loved her pushed her aside for her best friend, her other pea in the pod.

How could I feel that if I were a bull in a china shop?

Let’s leave the china shop, fellow bulls!  There’s a large world out there, full of color, and range of emotion and we are all capable of experiencing it, and bringing others to the same experience!

The theatre is not about limiting emotions.  It is about drawing them out, making each and every person sitting in the rows feel them, and draw those same emotions from their own selves.  There is no shame in supporting characters, but shame on you if you, Directors, don’t let them out of the shop every once in a while to let them surprise you, and shame on you, Actors, if you don’t break out from the shop yourself. 


Images taken from here and here.


1 Comment

  1. EXCUSE ME!? What the hell is wrong with this director? I guess it’s “his vision.” Josh’s cousin played an awesome Juliet and he (yes HE) is built like a solid oak door.

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