When I began to lose my hair senior year of college, I knew my days as a leading man were numbered. But not because of my receding follicles! The diverse course schedule and departmental productions challenged me to discover who I was as a performer. I was more inclined towards bigger, comical choices, but found they weren’t always leading man appropriate. I did not know it then, but my type was at odds with the characters I was playing. College left me wanting those star roles but, glorious locks or not, my natural inclinations would lead me towards much more rewarding experiences.
To know your type as an actor is to understand your strengths and how others perceive them. To embrace your type is using this knowledge to power your career choices. Understanding your type is allowing yourself to be the best piece to fit in the overall puzzle. This sense of clarity and self-awareness is essential. There are several factors in identifying your type:
- Age: What is the range you can believably play? If you look 17, you’re more likely to play Natalie in Next to Normal than Diana. If you’ve an older look, you’re more apt to play Max Bialystock in The Producers than Leo Bloom.
- Gender: This is less definable as cross-gender and gender-blind casting is commonplace. If you’re a fella with the height and gravitas to play Miss Trunchbull in Matilda, then more power to you!
- Look: The creative team’s first impression carries huge influence. When you walk in the room—before you even open your mouth—you’re contending with the established character in their mind. Maybe you are too tall/short for the actor you’d be playing opposite. You might not fit into the current actor’s costume. They might be looking for actors with rounder features, yet yours are sharp. We find ourselves asking, what did I do wrong? These factors are completely out of our control. We can’t get hung up on trying to be what we think they want. Be your best YOU! Often, you’ll find the desired “look” stated in the audition notices’ character breakdowns (always triple check). Keep these in mind when auditioning for that dream role:
- Hair length/color
- Eye color
- Ethnic appearance
- Voice: Your voice goes hand in hand with your look. A tenor won’t sing the bass solo in South Pacific’s “Nothing Like a Dame.” This also applies to the speaking voice. If you’ve a higher, mousy type voice, you might reconsider auditioning for the sultry Chaperone in The Drowsy Chaperone. Are you skilled at dialects? This is a killer feather to have in your cap as so many great, zany character roles require fun dialects.
- Personality: The most important factor that identifies your type is…YOU! What kinds of characters do you feel completely at ease playing? Do you possess a natural smarminess or a brash sexiness? This kind of security and confidence could turn an entire audition on its head, despite missing some other qualifiers. The rest of the list means nothing if you’ve no connection to the character.
When it comes to our types, strive to strike a balance between outside and personal perceptions. Like a favorite pair of jeans, you know what kinds of characters fit you best. As our own worst critics, though, we often lack the proper perspective to judge ourselves fairly. We actors are a sensitive bunch and there’s always something we wish was better, thinner, tighter, etc. But, we must also be honest with ourselves. A couple years back I was slated to return to a theatre where I had done summer stock the previous summer. They were doing Kiss Me, Kate and I had my heart set on Fred/Petruchio. He’s in my vocal wheelhouse, and I knew I had the presence to pull it off. Alas, I was to play Gangster #2. Despite a bruised ego, I quickly realized that it didn’t matter how I saw myself, but how the director (generously) thought my type would best serve the production. In retrospect, I had a blast and sharing one of Cole Porter’s best eleven o’clock numbers is nothing to sneeze at either.
Being able to capitalize on our strengths is truly what mastering type is about. This is where outside opinion can be beneficial. Find people whose opinion you trust and get their read on you. You fancy yourself the ingénue, but is it time to consider the quirky best friend? Sometimes it takes that external dose of truth to set us on the right path and while we may not always agree, embracing your type is part of understanding who you are as an actor. The last thing you want to do is waste the casting director’s time (or your own) when you know you’re not right for something. What’s worse, you don’t want to be remembered that way.
Once you know your type, master it! Become the best ingénue, leading man, or character actor you can be. I’ll find a working actor of my type, see what roles he’s played and then learn bits from those shows. This is a great way to get new material for your songbook. Read plays! This is the source for new monologues of all types. Be a reader at auditions. This topic is worthy of its own article, but is a great way to get ideas from other actors. As they say, “genius steals!” Auditioning with pieces that truly compliment your type shows a level of professional ethic that is often overlooked in theatrical academia. Ultimately, showcasing yourself as a competent performer will put you that much more ahead of the curve.
This clear sense of self-awareness is one of the more important of the myriad tools an actor has in their arsenal. It will help you to narrow down your options and give clarity to your choices. Otherwise, it’d be like throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. However, we are not limited to one type over the course of our careers. There’s plenty of room for growth and discovery. After all, that’s what we strive for, right? To continue to grow and learn as artists.