It was the start of our third year at drama school. We sat in a half-circle in a room in the old building on the lake, facing the two heads of department. Today was the day. Finally, we were going to be bestowed with our definitive actor "type". The anticipation mirrored that of the Sorting Ceremony from Hogwarts.
Some loved their sorting. Others did not. Either way, we all left thinking some variation of, "But I can do more than just this!" Which was true. By then, we all had two years of well-respected, theatre-based drama school training attesting to precisely that.
Typecasting remains an obvious feature of our industry. Our tutors weren't there to crush dreams, they simply wanted to prepare us for the reality we were about to face.
Essentially, typecasting acts as an insurance policy. It's a way for production to minimise uncertainty (of which there's a shed tonne). Reducing actors to a constellation of five criteria — age, gender, physicality, personality, and vocality — reduces risk overall. So yes, it's a policy that benefits production, not (necessarily) actors.
We're all about controlling the controllables at the Dojo. Industry-wide typecasting is not a controllable, but our response to it is.
Our Zone of Genius
We prefer to refer to typecasting as an actor's "Zone of Genius". Not only is the phrase itself more empowering, but it also points to how we can make the whole dance work in our favour.
For most of us, working — even when the work feels repetitive and unchallenging — is better than not working at all. Being typecast at least means we're being CAST. And being cast regularly means that industry peeps like what we're doing.
If we think of our fave cafe or restaurant, don’t we all have a drink or dish that we know we adore and therefore order all the time? Sure, there are other items on the menu, but that one drink or dish is our thang. In our eyes, that's the cook/chef/owner's Zone of Genius.
This is how it is for us too. We’re the chef, production are the diners. In a way, typecasting is a kind of compliment (albeit sometimes a backhanded one). Most importantly, we can manipulate the typecast tango to slowly but steadily bring more of our artistry to the table. Just as, over time, we may feel compelled to start exploring other drinks or dishes at our foodie destination of choice.
So how does one manipulate the typecast tango? Y'all know no Dojo article would be complete without a game plan to help kick things off. Here's our strategy to start winning the typecasting game today:
- Know. Awareness is 80% of the jam. Let's get crystal freaking clear on what our Zone of Genius is. It's likely we'll already know, but searching for patterns in the past year's auditions and bookings can provide insight too.
- Accept. Embracing our Zone of Genius makes winning the typecasting game possible. Let's save ourselves the unnecessary suffering and do this sooner rather than later. We may yearn for something else, something more, but first, we must accept what is.
- Slay. Here's where we smash every Zone of Genius audition, rehearsal, and performance out of the park. Yes, this niche brilliance may be boring to us but it will be GOLD to those watching. At the same time, get sneaky. Secretly engineer ways to keep the sameness fresh and stimulating for our inner actor and creative soul.
- Play. Having so impressively slain our Zone of Genius, we'll find ourselves with a growing fanbase of casting directors and producers. This is when we start to express our interest in other stories and roles. Initially, our fans may offer us opportunities in theatre or indie films before gifting us TV and features. Trust the timing. Continue to slay.
- Repeat. Before long, we'll be one of the rare few with TWO active Zones of Genius. If we're still after more, we can groove on back to step 1. After all, only we decide our limits. Only we determine what we're truly capable of.
Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.