5 ways to determine your type as an actor By Molly Mahoney
Helping students to realize that they need to understand and accept their “type” as an actor is one of the most difficult things I work on as an acting and vocal coach. It is also one of my most favorite challenges to conquer. So often, as performers, we have a hard time knowing how others see us. We want to play the sweet Ingénue or Leading Man when we would be better suited to play the hilarious side kick. What we forget, is that accepting and celebrating the type for which we are best suited will allow us to stand out as total rockstars and hit success that might never be possible if we went against our type. If you are brave enough to follow these steps you’ll find a new sense of freedom knowing you have a more focused plan as an actor who knows their “actor type.”
First, since this is a “Terminology Tuesday” post. Let’s define Actor Type.
ACTOR TYPE –
The characteristics that others most easily connect to an actor upon first impression. This is less about the layers of who you are as an actual person and more about how you are perceived. Actors like to fight this and say, but I’m so much more than my type! You can explore the depth of your talents in a class, and once you have established yourself with a company or a director… but it is important to make it easy for casting directors that you’ve yet to work with. Most audition postings have breakdowns that explain the “type” they are looking for and it’s smart to know where you fit, and sell the heck out of it. In literary terms you can think of an actor type as a stock character. Here’s a lengthy list via wikipedia.
1. RESEARCH –
There are literally hundreds of “types.” They range from broad to specific. Some breakdowns will include specifics such as age, voice type and sex. Some will be a little more broad. Here’s a few examples –
QUIRKY INGENUE, NERDY HERO, LEADING MAN, OLDER CHARACTER ACTOR, SPUNKY ELDERLY SOPRANO, HOPEFUL YOUNG EXPLORER, SWEET SENSITIVE OUTCAST…
It’s difficult to define your type without knowing what possibilities are out there. Think of all of the shows you’ve seen and start to notice how you would describe the characters in just a few words. If you’ve not seen many shows in the theatre, hop to it!!! There are many shows available online for little to no cost – or take Jes DeGroot’s advice in her most recent post and go to the library. As an actor it’s your job to be as informed as possible.
2. KNOW YOURSELF –
This is often INSANELY difficult. But, if you don’t know yourself, how can you expect casting directors to know anything about you. Especially when they only have your headshot/resume/audition to go off of. Start by answering these questions…
- What age range to I play? (not how old you actually are)
- What is my physical type? (This can be hard to asses without worrying about issues that we often have with our physical appearance. As an actor, you need to do your best to pull yourself outside of yourself (yeah right) and take this seriously. When people look at you who do they see? Ingenue, Vixen, Leading Man, Quirky Side Kick, Young, Old, Thin, Heavyset, Curvy, Toned, Trendy, Upperclass, Sloppy etc.)
- What type of personality/energy to I give off? (We all give off a certain type of energy when we walk into a room. It’s important to be aware of the type of energy you give off and what it says about your personality. Are you energetic, kind, serious, playful, shy, quirky, friendly, spontaneous, funny, introverted or extroverted, strong, powerful, delicate, humble, sophisticated, egotistical, confident, vulnerable, contemporary/modern, classic, lower class, middle class, upper class, etc?)
- What is my vocal type? If you are unsure about how to answer this question a great place to start is in this post about finding your vocal range. But remember, your voice type is about so much more than how high or low you can sing. Are you a big brassy belter like Sutton Foster? Do you have a high pitched nasally soprano voice like Kristin Chenoweth? Is your singing voice more about the choices you make as an actor than the beautiful music you are creating like Josh Gad? Are you more of a pop singer/rapper like Lin-Manuel Miranda?
3. ASK YOUR FRIENDS, CO-WORKERS AND TEACHERS –
I know it is INSANELY difficult to try and separate yourself from your craft. Because you are what you are selling in this business. So, once you have gone through the grueling task of trying to answer the questions in #2… put your answers aside and ask your friends. Here’s the most important aspect of asking your friends, co-workers and teachers. After you ask them – LISTEN!!! Don’t disagree or argue. Listen and take some time to really think about what they say. It’s true that some people might be way off, or some might give the answers that they think you want to hear – but you are sure to get a few really great answers if you take the time to actually ask a handful of people and really sit with their answers. ***If you feel funny asking for advice, I suggest you suck it up and do it anyway. : ) BUT if you really need help getting up the courage to ask for help try www.typecastme.com. I’ve not actually used this service, but it looks pretty sweet. You upload a headshot and then strangers typecast you. Scary, but awesome!***
I often say it’s bad to compare yourself to others… but in this case you have to start somewhere. Find a successful actor who has a type similar to yours. Then take the roles they have played and become familiar with them. Would you be most likely to play the same parts as Sutton Foster, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Chita Rivera, Annaleigh Ashford, Norbert Leo Butz, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Billy Porter or Josh Gad. ***If you are a kid/teenager start by looking for actors who are your current age, and then also do this for actors who are older than you. In children’s theatre you’ll sometimes play parts that you aren’t right for yet… but that you will be right for eventually. You might as well get a start on those roles now!!***
Ok, so here’s the hardest part of this whole “Actor Type” thing. Once you figure out your type, STOP FIGHTING IT! Accept your actor type and CELEBRATE IT! If Josh Gad thought he was a leading man and only went in for those roles, he would NOT be cast. And, then we’d not have his goofy voice charming the pants off of children all over the world as Olaf in Disney’s Frozen.
Here’s my current example. I really, really, REALLY love the show In the Heights. The Chance Theatre is holding auditions for their production of the show in early April. I can try and pretend that I am right for it because I have dark hair and I’m married to John Dominguez… but, I don’t speak spanish, nor have I spent any time working on a spanish accent, and The Chance Theater is located in Southern California where there are clearly several other hispanic actors who would be better for the show type wise. If I wasn’t super pregnant, I might go to the audition for fun or for the off chance that they are looking for an Irish/Italian type. However, I’d be better off auditioning for a show that I’m the right type for than having my heart set on a role that isn’t really for me.
I recently found this video of Brian O’Neil, an NYC business coach for actors with advice on finding your type and I LOVE it!