Always Ensemble, Never the Star

The struggle and gaslighting of the theatre industry

Rachel Wayne
6 min readOct 10, 2021


Theatre and film are necessarily collaborative arts, encompassing a wide range of technical, creative, and performative roles. If you’ve ever watched the credits of a film, you’ve gained a glimpse into just how vast a production can be. But of course, you don’t recognize 95% of the names in the credits — only the celebrity actors (if any).

Recognizability is scarce in the world of entertainment. That’s one reason that unscrupulous producers will sell “exposure” as sufficient compensation for creative work. (Pro tip: it’s not.) Yet exposure is certainly enticing. How many people bust their ass only to fade into oblivion once the credits roll?

There is a saying that every theatre and film student has heard: “There are no small roles, only small actors [or crew members].” The idea is to not let your ego get in the way of your performance. Rather than wallowing in disappointment, you must fulfill your role because, you know, the “show must go on.”

But let’s be real. We’re all replaceable. Heck, they even replaced Johnny Depp in Fantastic Beasts. The idea that you shouldn’t act “small” because every role is equally important is both ludricrous and true.

If you’re an ensemble actor, you can be replaced in a heartbeat. If you’re a star, you’ll be replaced with just a little more consideration. That’s the harsh truth.

As someone who has frequently been relegated to supporting cast/crew roles rather than stardom, I’ve wrestled with my passion for the performing arts. Is it worth it if you can’t fully express your talents?

The Invisible Girl

In high school drama club, I heard that “small actors” line way too many times. In this case, it was borderline gaslighting. This was an educational environment in which everyone was supposed to gain a chance to grow and thrive. Yet our teacher, who was vicariously living out her glory days, declined to give most of us a chance to shine. She wanted to see the vivacious, extroverted kids who reminded her of her showgirl shenanigans.

I was particularly invisible: the girl who showed up 110% of the time to hang lights, stitch costumes, and take…



Rachel Wayne

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: