Shopping Cart

- or -

Advanced Search

5 Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis: On Writing Small Parts

Posted by on

Welcome to our series of Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis! These mini-lessons about Don's process adapting How To Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play will help you create your own work both on screen and on stage.


In any show with 40+ actors, there will be some parts that don't have a lot of stage time. In most shows (lookin’ at you, Shakespeare) these are usually just boring spear-carriers. People come on, they stand around in a crowd, they leave.

When I think about a small role, though, I think about who I'm writing for: Most playwrights, (and I certainly thought like this at the beginning) are writing plays for an audience. They want a play to be well-received by the people paying money for tickets and plopping their butts in the seats. 

What I realized, though, is that I don't write plays for the audience: I write plays for the actors.

“When I think about a small role, though, 
I think about who I’m writing for.”

— Don Zolidis

This all makes perfect sense—when I started writing plays for young people, I was writing them for my theater classes. I needed roles for all my students, and I needed them to have a rewarding experience, learn something, and most of all, be excited about being in the play. And each kid mattered. Sure I had some students who were more talented than others and could handle more challenging roles, but every kid in my class needed to have something exciting to do. (As much as you might want to, you can't cut a kid from your class!)

So my writing grew out of that. And that's where the small parts come in.



I generally have a rule that the smaller the role, the bigger the personality of the character. If someone is just on stage for a minute, they better have a memorable minute. Because I want EVERYONE excited to be in the show.

In HOW TO SURVIVE BEING IN A SHAKESPEARE PLAY, it’s relatively easy to make sure that the smaller roles stand out. Essentially, unless you double-cast the show, all the roles are fairly small. What’s important then, is to make sure whoever is playing Soldier 2 or Iras or the Bear has their moment to shine. I leave in a lot of room for interpretation there—you can chew the scenery as Soldier 2 just as much as you can if you’re playing King Henry.


More Playwriting Principles from Don Zolidis:

We'll link to them as they're published. Check back weekly!


How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version) – Stage Partners

About the Play:

How to Survive Being in a Shakespeare Play (Virtual Version)
By Don Zolidis

Some day it’s going to happen: You’re going to find yourself on stage, wearing tights, and saying things in iambic pentameter. Face it, you’re in a Shakespeare play, and that means it’s a pretty good bet you’re going to DIE. The Bard is out for blood, but this play is here to stop him! How could Romeo and Juliet survive? Julius Caesar? A nameless soldier in Henry the Fifth? What if King Lear had an emotional support llama and didn’t need to make terrible mistakes? Join us in discovering how a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays could’ve turned out differently! If only they listened...

One-act, 30-60 minutes. 10-50+ actors, gender flexible.


Don Zolidis holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in playwriting from the Actor’s Studio Program at the New School University, where he studied under Romulus Linney. His plays have been seen at numerous theatres around the country, including The Purple Rose Theatre, The Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Phoenix Theatre, the Victory Theatre, Stage West, The Williamstown Theatre, and many others.

Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries. Don received the Princess Grace Award for playwriting in 2004 after having twice been a finalist. His plays have received two Edgerton New Play awards and multiple NEA grants among other honors. His plays for young people are among the most-produced in the country and have received more than 12,000 productions, appearing in every state and 66 countries.


Older Post Newer Post