Student blog: Just my type…
Young performers are preparing for summer work and many are starting to get overwhelmed with what professional work entails: cleaning up resumes, getting new headshots, auditioning for festivals, and looking for new job openings that fit us. This prep time sparked a conversation among my peers, in my classes, in my classes. I ask myself: do I even know which jobs suit me? Is the elusive concept of “suiting” a role even real, or are the actors malleable enough to take on anything with enough effort?
People sneak around the label of “type” as if it’s something distasteful or taboo, and maybe for some it is, or maybe for some, it is security. There’s consistency and stability in being extremely good at creating the type of personality associated with your look. However, a person’s type can also lock them into similar roles, limit them, and determine the course of their career. Many famous actors, both on stage and on set, are associated with a particular acting style or character traits. Yes, they are given many roles because of this association and act beautifully, but not all of these actors may find all of these characters too fulfilling artistically.
Personally, I believe there is a duality in the concept of “type”. I find a type to be a representation of skills, characteristics, and aesthetics that an actor can create very easily. I recognize that stereotyping is easily caused, due to preconceptions about gender presentation, body type, height, behaviors and other overt physical characteristics. Yet I also find knowing one’s type to be a useful tool in challenging the immediate assumptions made to show the diversity and breadth of their craft. This opinion comes from someone who is not very offended by the guy he is associated with. I’m petite, which easily makes me look younger, but my figure can be accentuated with age. I’m a comfortable mezzo-soprano, with access to high notes, which slips right into the pocket of a Golden Age ingenue song. My features can easily show romantic youth, naivety, and purity, so I fit the girl-next-door type and have often been picked on as such. I’m comfortable with the way I present myself, and who doesn’t like to sing a good “Princess” cut here and there. More importantly, my type has no negative implications for who I am. It doesn’t highlight qualities that I don’t like or that don’t represent my personality. So, of course, I have a biased opinion on the usefulness of a type, since I’ve barely seen the consequences of being limited to a type that I don’t necessarily adore.
For other artists, discovering and being cast into their “type” has sparked animosity towards their casting history. Amanda Townes has mentioned that she started resenting her relationship with her guy after her college career started. She used to be cast as the young girl, often naive or stupid, where “the character’s ignorance was the punchline”. Despite how fun these characters can be to explore, she noticed the limitations of her type. She said she only seems to be considered for comedic backup roles, although she is “able to do more than play the silly girl”. The most important reason for his resentment towards his type came from a recent revelation, due to a class discussion on the subject. Amanda found that she didn’t like the way her guy made her feel like “the world constantly seen [her] as unintelligent. “While I can confirm that the trend in Amanda’s roles speaks nothing of her genius, the long-standing association has influenced her understanding of how the world perceives her. Nonetheless, it has driven her to identify her feelings around the subject and build a separation between her characters and her true individuality – a skill that makes her talent all the more valuable.In a current production of Godspell, Amanda has the opportunity to play a role that is not not based on her type, and she’s grateful for the chance to “build [her] character from scratch.” Her type may have given her a list of similar characters, she has both the tools to play those roles with ease and the growing ability to know that her type is not a definition of ‘herself.
Type casting often bleeds into stereotypes, which can guarantee an actor access to a certain type of role, even if it easily becomes problematic. Morgan Bruewer notes that “being a plus-size artist is challenging because you want to follow the type and go where it’s safe and find work like everyone else,” but the associated stereotypes are “more harmful to you.” [her] community than anything else. “She says she’s automatically considered ‘strong, quirky, comedic, belter’ whether she’s one of those things or not. To kick a box that serves me well? Or is that a lazy excuse for me to be comfortable and for others to perpetuate stereotypes about people who look like me?” Morgan deeply described the pitfall of being a perfectly “appetizing fat”: not so fat that people don’t look like me. you in the eye, but not so small that the creative team gets blamed for calling those diversity points.” His problem with slipping into that box is that complacency can breed, because it can discourage actors to push themselves and see how much more artistically they can do. Morgan’s are nuanced, sophisticated and, above all, completely unrelated to the fabricated qualities the cast “attributed” to her.
Type casting has valuable aspects for both the creative team and the performer. The team can assign very specific qualities to characters to create a particular energy, tone, or attitude in the show, and can rely on type casting to achieve that image. A performer can learn all the skills necessary to perform a type of character and be hired in those roles consistently for as long as possible. At the same time, the stereotypes that types are tied to can negatively shape a person’s impressions and view of themselves. A guy can smother the art to build consistency in a typical role as easily as he can guarantee the job. Yet “type” is a fascinating label with double-edged complexity and a powerful influence on an actor’s perception.