There isn't a theater SE so this seems like the best place to ask, but feel free to suggest a better place. I'm producing a community play with a character who's believed to be dead, but turns out to be alive in the final scene. I don't want to give this away to the audience by putting credit for the actor and character in the program that everyone will read before we start and during intermission. Can I give the actor credit as a fake technical role like Assistant Producer or Costume Designer? Should I hide his credit on another page towards the end of the program? Should I put up a sign by the exits after the end with his crediting?

If it matters, he's a side character, not especially pivotal to the plot, just the partner of one of the main characters. He doesn't appear on stage dead.

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    I think I saw an actor credited as "mystery character" somewhere. Don't remember the details though. And of course, such crediting does reveal that someone is going to appear and be a surprise. Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 16:26
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    I don't know if community theater productions would necessarily run afoul of it, but credits for actors (in the movies at least) are a highly regulated business. If any of your actors are in a union or an actors guild, I highly recommend you consult the officials there regarding what you can/cannot do.
    – R.M.
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 18:10
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    Is this an original work? That is, is there anyway for the audience to realize that there's not going to be -- say -- a "flashback" type scene where the character is still alive? Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 20:52
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas: For that matter, would it be practical to have a flashback scene as an excuse for including an actor for the role? If the actor was also used in ensemble scenes or was listed as an understudy for some other part, that could allay any questions as to why one would hire an actor for a minor seemingly-unnecessary flashback)
    – supercat
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 22:46
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    Even if their body doesn't appear, you can still credit it as "John Doe's body" to throw people off... it won't even be a lie. Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 12:16

7 Answers 7


I would credit the actor but not their role if that's possible, credit them by name as part of an "and others" section for the parts with no lines. Or maybe disguise their role, instead of the character name use a title, like "roman guard number 4", adjusted to be materially appropriate of course.

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    Or, if the surprisingly not dead character is someone's father, credit them as "father". Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:44
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    Or "special appearance by..." Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:42
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    @RobertColumbia I think that would be a big enough clue for some people to guess the surprise.
    – Pharap
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 4:19

Give the actor multiple roles.

It's fairly common in small cast shows to have one or two actors filling all of the bit parts, as long as those parts don't appear on screen together (or even if they do appear on screen together – The 39 Steps (the play version) features a scene where an actor has to shake hands with himself).

Now you can credit the actor as "Courier and others" or whatever, and include the role you wish to hide among the 'others'.

Use a name the audience hasn't heard

Amadeus already suggested this, but it's a good idea so here it again.

If the audience knows that the good friend Shorty has died, then they will have no way of knowing that the 'James Thurgood' on the program is the friend 'Shorty'. If James didn't have a nickname, you can just call him 'Mr. Thurgood'. If both his first and last names are in the script, then use their job title (e.g. The Banker) in the program.


Even actors that play dead people in films get credit. A murdered hooker or mugging victim, for example, on a cop show. I am not sure about unnamed extras in a crowd scene, or shopping mall or street scene, but since your actor shows in the final scene, if there is an exception for extras, this doesn't apply. The character has name, presumably has lines, this is not an extra.

If a named character appears on stage or camera, dead or not, no matter how small the part, they get credit.

You aren't giving anything away, the person could be part of a flashback, a body in a funeral scene, whatever. Give them credit.

EDIT: A way to be open but keep the secret is to refer to the dead character by an affectionate nickname; like Skipper. In fact, make it a nickname they remember the character didn't even like, but they used it to tease her. Then, in the moment before it is revealed Skipper is alive, produce the real name.

"Sir, there is somebody at the door. She says her name is Skyler, and you know her."

"Skipper? She's a con, Skipper died when the plane went down. We had a funeral."

"Yes sir. I shall send her away."

"Wait. Skyler. I have to see this fraud for myself."

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    It sounds like OP understands that credit must be given somewhere. They're asking what the best way to give credit without giving away the role is.
    – user91988
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:10
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    The actor doesn't play dead. I know that he needs to get credit and I want to give it to him. That's a good idea about disguising his name as something he does in the story, like "man at door".
    – user30789
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 19:48
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    @Amadeus You've misunderstood the question. This isn't "how do I credit someone who's dead by the end", it's "how do I credit someone when that credit would spoil a twist, like that the character appears in this play".
    – anon
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:17
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    This answer is just condescending. OP is clearly going to give credit, nowhere in the question is it indicated that skipping it is an option but you still have to tell OP in bold. Your edit answers the question though, so you could just remove the first three paragraphs.
    – pipe
    Commented Sep 14, 2018 at 21:34
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    In modern films, crediting comes at the end, after the plot twists. A play's program is liable to be read before it even starts.
    – J.G.
    Commented Sep 15, 2018 at 6:24

I would say there's actually precedence for not crediting an actor if it would ruin the story; in the stage production of The Woman in Black, the actress who plays the ghost goes uncredited. (I don't have a copy of the program but the website only credits the two actors and their understudies.)

She doesn't even take a bow at the end of the show; I assume this is to keep the audience immersed and to make her that much more otherworldly and memorable.

But if you want to give the actor full credit in the program, I'd say the best way is to list them as 'ensemble' - it's non-specific and implies a bit part or many bit parts. As long as you're not casting a huge, well-known actor in the role, it shouldn't give anything away.


The audience believes him to be dead from other characters mentioning it.

Would it be possible to not just mentioned his supposed dead, but show it in "cutscene" where the "other charater is metioning it?


Alfred: And how is Skipper

Betty: That is terrible - I was told, that he was killed last yer in Venice by some unknown assasin

New reflector lights up to (until now dark) corner, Alfred and Betty are standing still thru this scene (maybe even darkened as unimportant now),

we see Skipper walking there, then shadowy figure sneaks after him, cut his throat, lay his corpse on groung, loot his pocket and then sneaks away.

New reflector dims to dark, Old reflector lights Alfred and Betty (Skipper hides in dark, technicans cleaning the death scene in dark if needed)

Bety (start again moving and gesticulate): It was so terrible, I got goosebumps when I heard all the bad news.

Alfred: Poor Skipper, how drastical death for my young friend. And how about you, would you go to Roma this year?

Betty: Totally, Roma is soo wonderful ... blah, blah, blah ...

Then in titles


Betty - Jossica Rabbits

Skipper - John Doe

Maid/Gardener/Assasin/Young girl no. 3 - Janet Smith


and in final scene Skipper just came on podium

Alfred: Is it you? I thought, you died in Venice last year!

Skipper (shocked): I was not in Venice in my life, why should I be there? But most importandly - will you come this evening to the Bar? I heard, there will be new kind of beer today ...

Or something like that - depending, how supposedly Skipper should die - maybe bed and doktor helding his falling hand, then closing his eyes, or any simple short scene to ilustrate, how Betty described his death.

Audience would presume, that Skipper(John Doe) had only that one death scene, especially, if he is followed by some other actor, who plays his assasin (and maybe many other small roles) and then Skipper would appear again, alive and simply deny the "vision" as false.

(I made it looks, as it is nothing important in the flow, so nobody really much cares about his dead and him being alive, but dependind on your story it can have much harder influence on all acting characters and take more then two sentences to splash it away...


The character of Death in Federico García Lorca's Blood Wedding (Bodas de Sangre) is not supposed to be credited in the program. I note that she (Death being a beggar-woman in the play) is not in the list of characters in the script (see page 4) and this is a specific instruction by the author (page 50).

I can’t tell if the intention is to name that actress for one of the other small roles. I suppose that for a professional production some special arrangement must be made with Actors’ Equity or an equivalent union to have an actor appear without credit.


In the first act briefly put the character on screen in a flashback or dream sequence. (I know flashbacks are less common on stage than in novels or films.). So of course the character is in the credits.

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