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What’s the greatest example of an actor playing multiple roles in one show that you’ve ever seen? Tell us here!

Have you ever been delightfully surprised when looking at your program at the end of a show to discover that two different characters had both been played by the same actor?

That’s called doubling.

It happens all the time. Many a production of King Lear has doubled Cordelia and the Fool, for example. Tony Kushner’s Angels in America calls on eight actors to play two dozen roles in total.

That’s in part because stage actors are talented folks who love to show off their versatility. A performer who plays both Mr. Darling and—surprise!—Captain Hook in Peter Pan might see doubling as a breathtaking stunt, or no big deal. Even if they shine in two roles, they usually only get to take one bow at the curtain call, so it’s up to you to decide which part of the performance you are clapping for. Or both.

And then there is tripling and quadrupling, when a performer really shows his or her range by taking on even more roles in the same show. The waiter in the first scene, an ex-boyfriend in Act II, the waiter again, a long-lost uncle who shows up just before the finale, and so on—you get the idea.

When a leading man or woman plays many characters in a single show, the result can be a tour-de-force display of virtuosity.

For example, the 2013 Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder stars Jefferson Mays as eight different heirs to the Earldom of Highhurst, who are picked off one by one by an obscure relative, a nefarious schemer who happens to be ninth in line to the title. Alec Guinness pulled off a similar feat of octupling in the 1949 film comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets.

Of course, performers are often called on to double out of economic necessity. And in some instances, an actor may not want you to know he or she has doubled (see “George Spelvin”).

On the other hand, letting the audience in on the doubling is part of the fun. Think of the film of The Wizard of Oz, with Margaret Hamilton playing both the cycling sourpuss Miss Gulch and the broomstick-borne Wicked Witch of the West.

Bottom line: Seeing a performer do double duty can be twice the fun.

Ben Pesner

This video was made by Theatre Development Fund.

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Theatre Development Fund is the nation’s largest not-for-profit service organization for the performing arts. Through a variety of programs and services that promote education, access and conversation, it ensures an enduring appreciation of and engagement with live theatre. In addition to operating the TKTS booth in Duffy Square and the satellite booths at South Street Seaport and in downtown Brooklyn, TDF’s theatre education, accessibility, affordable ticketing and audience development programs help to make the unique experience of theatre available to diverse audiences while supporting New York’s theatre industry. Since it was founded in 1968, TDF has provided over 80 million people with access to performances at affordable prices while returning over $2 billion in revenue to thousands of productions.