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Inside the actor’s studio: typecasting

By Arielle Kaplan

Section: Arts

February 13, 2009

diverse-city-2-13-09_page_2_image_0002Columbia in “Rocky Horror,” Roberta in “Quickies,” Mallory/Avril in “City of Angels,” Louise in “Gypsy”… it seems that if you need someone to be onstage in little to very little clothing, I’m the girl to cast. Typecasting is often one of the more trying parts of being an actor—being pigeonholed into a certain “type” of role and then being the first person people think of when searching for an actor to fill it.

At rehearsal last night, when I was talking with a friend about this idea, as in my current show, I again lost my shirt. “You do seem to get a lot of those parts,” she said. She then went on to describe her “type” at Brandeis—the jovial, not-taken-seriously best friend roles. As I looked around the room, I realized most of us were cast in type: Another friend of mine is currently playing a 12-year-old and last semester was a little girl. A guy in the cast is the dark, brooding character, which he’s perfected in the last year. I could cast an entire show from amongst my friends: the dashing male hero, the innocent ingénue, the femme fatale, the clown, the mother, the geriatric—we’re all really stock characters.

I’m not saying that type is a bad thing. But after a while, it begins to get a little old. Some actors try to “break type,” by changing something about themselves physically or vocally. My personal attempt to break out of the type of “dark lead” is why I’m currently a blonde.

But especially in a small community like Brandeis, you’ll still find yourself nudged towards the same roles. Again, not a bad thing. The theatrical world here is a microcosm of what we’ll find when we graduate to the bigger stages in New York, Boston, Chicago. Don’t believe me? Take Johnny Depp. He’s always the slightly off, quirky antihero. Nicole Kidman? Beautiful, fragile, and somewhat tragic roles.

The thing that bothers me about it here is that once you play enough parts in a certain type, some people begin to believe that you are that character in life. Here’s a secret: we’re not. In reality, I’m not a huge fan of taking my clothes off. For one thing, it’s often very cold onstage! In all seriousness, I’m not really that comfortable doing it. But it’s a job, and I’m an actor, so I do what needs to get done.

Another positive about type is that if a performer keeps getting cast in the same roles, they’ve got to be doing something right. And that’s gratifying. So the next time you see a show, look at the actors and ask yourself, “Have I seen them do this before?” The answers might surprise you.

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