So what’s your type? No, I don’t mean who you check out at the gym. I mean, as an actor, what little box do you end up in most often? I’ve been thinking long and hard about which boxes I fit, and which I don’t. Frankly, I’ve had a hard time categorizing my strengths and weaknesses to fit just one of them. It might a reason why I come close to landing the role with regularity, but get the nod only sparingly. I was not petite enough, even at 20, to regularly be ingénue material, yet I’m often an odd fit for the character roles that are supposed to be second banana to the lead. I can play a lot of different types, but “spunky sidekick” usually isn’t one of them. So for the 25% of the time I don’t make it through to the callback for a role I want, look is certainly a factor. If you don’t match the director’s vision of the age and physical look of the character, there is not much you can do to change their mind.
In real life, I’m blonde, and I’m nice, and not particularly edgy. Thus, in my history I get a lot of consideration for “nice blonde” roles. I joke I can’t get called back as a brunette. Many years ago, I went to an audition for Jekyll & Hyde, dressed in my trashiest outfit, got honks and wolf whistles on my way into the theatre, and belted my face off. I was called back, but not for Lucy (the brunette prostitute belter), but for Emma (the nice, blonde soprano). Last summer, I auditioned for Wizard of Oz with one of Ursula’s songs, dressed in black. I was called back for Glinda, not the Wicked Witch. Sigh. I think it was one of the reasons I was so excited to be wigged redhead in my most recent role (Princess Puffer in the Mystery of Edwin Drood). It was the VERY FIRST TIME I had ever appeared on stage without blonde hair (if you don’t count the two times I’ve been a nun with a full habit). But I think I’m ever so much more flexible than just “nice blonde”. My resumé is literally all over the map. Wait, she was Guinevere (Camelot), but then she was also Lily St. Regis (Annie), and the Fairy Godmother (Cinderella)? Is she a belter? Or a soprano? WHICH TYPE IS SHE?!
As I age, I have to believe my ability to play a wide variety of roles will come in handy, as is my lower register, and frankly, now I’m glad I’m not a sparkly soprano used to playing the ingénue that suddenly finds herself with few roles to play in her age range. I can do so much more! But I have I’ve thought about narrowing my focus on roles. Should I give up trying for anything romantic when I know it’s hard to match me up with an appropriately sized/aged man? Avoid anything with a significant dance call (the poorest of my skills)? I’m leaning no. I’m going to continue to cast a wide net, and hope that flexibility is a plus rather than a minus. I see a lot of “self-limiting” amongst talented friends of mine. “Oh, they’d never consider me for that…they only see me as ensemble…but I’m not *insert certain type here*.” It may protect you from some rejection, but YOU DON’T KNOW UNTIL YOU TRY!
I thoroughly enjoyed a callback about a year ago, where I was called back for a role that I was probably too young for (Mrs. Harcourt in Anything Goes), but the director told me “let me see what kind of flexibility you have”, and let me read not only Mrs. Harcourt (rich, social climbing matron), but Reno (sexy, belty nightclub singer) and Erma (vapid, sexy gangster’s moll). It was a blast, and I was proud I could give each role an entirely different quality/accent/demeanor (the silly, broad comedic material helped immensely, of course). And after the readings I was so pleased that he said, “well, you certainly are flexible!” I didn’t get cast, but I was mightily encouraged by his willingness to see me outside of the boxes, and his invitation to keep him posted on what I did next, and to come and audition there again. And I will.
So, I almost did a whole post on looking the part and barely mentioned my physical stature. Let’s face it –there’s a big “body type” elephant in the room. Frankly, no one gets ruled out for a part faster than a fat actress. I know both my height and weight hold me back. At 5’9”, I often tower over many of the men I’m called back opposite, and as a size 12/14 I’m not fully plus-size, but by most assessments, I am considered fat. I estimate it’s a factor for me a whopping 80% of the time. Close enough to be considered, but if there is a thin person with talent, who looks better as a couple next to a smaller guy, it’s an easy way to help make the decision for one actress vs. another. I won’t use it as a catch all excuse, however, quite a few times I’ve lost roles to actresses similarly sized or larger than me. What do they have that I don’t have? My best guess: talent of course (which I have, too), better résumés and direct experience with the theatre/team.
So, since I can’t get shorter, and I like ice cream too much to get much thinner, directors will just have to keep an open mind and take me as I am (OMG, I just quoted Jekyll & Hyde). I promise to tell you EXACTLY which roles I think I can slay on right on my audition form, you don’t even have to guess. And if I think I play that diva or that vamp or that mom or that mistress of an opium den, I probably can, so you might want to see what I can do. And actors, PLEASE do not limit yourself before someone else does! If you think you can kill the role, I better see you at that audition!