BWW BLOG: What's Your Type?
Jess here. So recently, I've been reflecting on type-casting and marketing oneself as an actor. I have been struggling with the concept of putting myself into one specific category for quite some time because there are so many roles I'd like to be cast in; none of which ever seem to fall on the same list. And since I'm 18 years old, I honestly have no idea what people may see me as.
That being said; I think it's ok to not know. I really do. The idea of only auditioning/being cast as one character type seems limiting, and that's because it is. Our job as actors and storytellers is not to stick to what we know, but to push ourselves to, you know, act. Being versatile is such a wonderful asset, but it seems like no matter how flexible you are, many times cast lists will simply slot you as either "ingénue" or "comic relief."
As I mentioned previously, I have absolutely NO idea what I am seen as. While I feel that I possess many leading lady traits, I also happen to think that I have strong comedic instincts. My height is a good and bad thing, as I am taller than most ladies (5'8 ½") and depending on the day, I can pass for someone much older or younger than I am. Although the variables are endless, the one thing that is always unexpected is my style. This aspect of individuality is unique to each person, and is something an actor can call upon to help them stand out from the crowd.
This leads me to think about how a director (or anyone for that matter) can look at someone and immediately be like "Yep. That's a leading lady." We are all guilty of judging a person based on their looks and assessing their "type" even before they open their mouth. It's such a subconscious thing and it's not necessarily bad, but it can be limiting.
However, not knowing how people perceive you can also be quite liberating and can sometimes allow you to dabble and sing WHATEVER YOU WANT. Like, Mary Poppins? Sure. Adelaide? Absolutely. Not feeling stuck in one archetype is the key to stretching yourself, and not being afraid of taking a chance to do any and/or everything provides an ideal situation: it gives you the ability to change people's minds. If you go into an audition and someone is expecting you to be a legit soprano, and then you hit them with, "Today I will be singing Don't Cry for Me Argentina from EVITA," I'm almost positive you'll get a response. Whether it's a good one or not is fair game, but at least you'll have made an impression.
You will eventually figure out what people see you as/expect you to be. Although this information will definitely help you out A LOT in the future, don't let it hinder the adventurous side of you who yearns to push the boundaries and keep growing as a story teller. Plenty of actors have been successful in multiple categories. For example, Sutton Foster made her mark as an independent, brassy belting goddess. She usually is seen as "the leading lady" and has found great success in playing strong roles, such as Fiona in "Shrek the Musical," Jo in "Little Women," and Janet Van De Graaff in "The Drowsy Chaperone," just to name a few.
And then there are actors like Jessie Mueller, whose varying talents have won her a windfall of roles (all played to perfection, may I add) ranging from Carole King, to Jenna in "Waitress" to LITERALLY JULIE JORDAN IN "CAROUSEL." SHE DOES IT ALL. It is absolutely astounding that she is able to portray such an array of characters and because of this, she has pioneered the concept of what it means to not fit into only one box.
I strive to have a career like Jessie Mueller's. Her flexibility is truly admirable and is vital in the constantly changing business of theatre. Being able to adapt to whatever is being offered during any given Broadway season is essential in achieving success as a working actor. Of course, I may be wrong, but there's no harm in a little experimentation.
"Everything's different, nothing's changed, only slightly rearranged." -Stephen Sondheim