Typecasting, Women & Weight

Typecasting, Women & Weight Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of typecasting, how to handle the repetitive nature of the biz, and the sensitive topic of actors and body weight. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Once again, hello and thank you to all creative advice-seekers. This week's column addresses the issues of typecasting, how to handle the repetitive nature of the biz, and the sensitive topic of actors and body weight. I invite actors of all ages to continue write me with any problems encountered at auditions, in class, or anything you feel could be standing between you and your talent. Make sure to check the previous columns to see if your question, or one like it, has been answered already!

Question
Dear Blair,
I've got two practical questions. My first question is that I've been in every production (now going on 11) at school and in all but three I've played an old character. The best being Nonno in Night of the Iguana. Well this is classified as a character actor. But I believe that I can play straight drama. I've tried to get into the roles. But the director keeps having these "perfect roles" for me. And they're great and memorable roles that everyone loves, but I don't think that they push my potential. How can I get noticed as an all-around actor?? I am extremely committed. I've the bleached hair to prove it. I just think that I can do so much more!!
Okay, my second question is that we do our show for about three weeks for a total of 16 shows, and about the second week I'm sick of it. More lately, I'm just bored of the same rut of the casting, the rehearsals, the late rehearsals, the yelling director, and the uncommitted extras. The performance is great, I love every single one of them. But how do professional actors, who do shows 8 times a week for about 2 years or more, keep the character fresh every time?? How do they overcome the boredom and monotony of it? I mean I love it all, but I'm not too enthusiastic about it anymore. Right now I'm on like a two week vacation that my director instructed me to take from the theatre. So i'm just finishing my first week and now I'm dying to get back and rehearse!! Is this a good thing to take time off?? What are other solutions that may help??
Thanks,
Austin Alvarado

Hi Austin,
Thanks for your two very rich questions.

It's great that you're facing the problem of being typecast now. What happens to many performers is that they become famous for a certain role, and then they have even more trouble breaking out of it-- because everyone wants to hire them to play that same or similar roles because it makes money, and no one wants to risk losing money on the actor trying something new.

Have you explained to your director how important your artistic growth is to you? Talk to your director about where you want to go. You can simply communicate that you won't play a character role in the next play. I would also recommend you begin an acting class outside of high school, where you can start to stretch yourself in a safe environment. In order to play characters closer to yourself, you have to be more vulnerable.

Keep envisioning yourself playing leading roles, picking some of the ones you want to play someday. Work on those characters. This should move you in the right direction.

As for your second question, well, you yourself saw the benefits of taking time off. You fell back in love! That's one of the reasons why actors who do long-running shows take vacation. As great as the stage may be, everyone needs a break from the intense professional schedule.

Furthermore, I'm not sure that actors who play the same roles for two years do overcome the boredom and monotony of it all the time. Some begin to see it as just a job. Recently, in case you hadn't heard, a large percentage of the cast of the long running Broadway Les Miz got fired. I think it was felt that their performances suffered not from lack of talent, but precisely from the monotony and lack of skills for how to stay fresh. I've also heard several reports about how sick and tired the actors of TV's "Seinfeld" are from working on their show.

Some performers try to keep their performances alive by searching out the identity of their character, believing that there is always more to learn, always a deeper connection with character to be acheived. Many challenge themselves to find new things about the character by being fully present each night--noticing what is new and different about each performances, and reacting to the nuances. This is how they break free of stuck blocking and forced reactions.

Mary MacDonnell suggested that if you are, for example, sad one night -- bring that feeling along to the performance -- see what your character is like when she or he is a little sad, as people sometimes are.

Betty Buckley's remedy for repetition is to make each performance into a ritual. She views the ritual as a means to attain what she calls a "meditative" state, so her performances elevate her , her acting and the audience to new levels. I saw her in Sunset and her performance was spell-binding, so her method seemed to be working.

When you have scraped the bottom of the barrel in a certain show, and none of these methods relieve your boredom, I believe it's time to move on.

As far as yelling directors and late rehearsals, sometimes those factors of the theatre are trying or boring or uncomfortable in a variety of ways. The best you can do is stick it out, or try and occupy yourself in another way. If you notice you are feeling sluggish and irritable, take a break, get some fresh air, do some stretches, work on your lines or another monologue (if you can).

And when you get older, if you are working with different casts and companies--the director won't always yell.

I hope this helps.

Question
Dear Blair,
I do have a question and I was hesitant to ask because it's a sensitive and difficult situation with me, but here it is. I haven't done a play for about four years and in that time I had some health problems. The medicine I took was a major factor in a very large amount of weight I gained (about 60 to 70 lbs) (!). I am no longer on that medicine, thankfully, and the side-effects are gone but the weight is still there. I've just started a new program, joined a gym and hope to lose it safely and for good.
HERE is the problem : Since moving to NY, I'm taking two acting classes and getting back gradually. My headshots are from when I was the Old Me. My boyfriend thinks I should get new headshots as I am, but I'm hesitant because I don't want people who audition me to think this is how I will be forever and it is a lot of money. Do you think it's foolish to wait? I'm committed to working on it but I'm scared of "presenting" myself right now - scared of comments from folks in the 'biz. (When I was a teen and quite fit, I *still* had teachers on me to stay in shape or get more in shape. I dealt with comments even then but now the situation is a little different.)
Thank you so very much.
-Vicki

Dear Vicki,
This whole issue of women and weight and identity in the biz is kind of touchy, is it not?

Vicki, I want to address a change in thinking that I think may help you. You said, "I'm scared of "presenting" myself ...scared of comments from folks in the biz. " I want to recommend that, as tough as it may be, you NEVER hold back your talent and your joy because of what you are scared people are going to say. If you love acting and performing, please follow that love--no matter what the weight, height, skin condition, whatever. People can always find something negative to say, and actors of all different shapes and sizes have realized their dreams in spite of it.

If you are simply scared of rejection, well--no matter what the weight, that happens in this business anyway--so I recommend you find a way to face your fear and put your focus elsewhere. I am not prescribing that you become "tough stuff" in a day--you may choose to take some time off to get ready to face the biz. If acting is what you really want to do, you'll need to, in whatever way and however long it takes, get stronger.

In order to help you support yourself, as you are and for who you are, I recommend you do get headshots now. Then, if you loose the weight and change radically, you can get new ones--I'm sure you'll raise the money somehow--maybe with all the work you get with the current shots and your self-confidence!

Please don't take anyone's badgering to heart. Look at all the talented women who have made it with their weight being different than the ridiculous and accepted norm. I bet you are beautiful and from what you say, you're working on enhancing that beauty even further.

Thanks for allowing me to put your question in the this column, Vicki. I hope it helps the many other women who struggle with similar issues.