WHAT’S YOUR TYPE? I’m not talking about your dating preferences but rather your performance profile. Every actor has a few categories they naturally fit. Some are based on physical appearance, others on technical abilities or personality. Though you might have heard terms such as “ingénue,” “leading man,” or “character actor,” actors must be more nuanced when considering their types, especially for college auditions.

With thousands (yes, thousands) of potential students auditioning every year, you must understand and package your type — while remaining authentic — so schools can easily identify and connect with you. If that sounds overwhelming, there are ways to make this part of the process easy and even fun.

So, what exactly is type? First, let’s talk about what it is not. Because auditioning for college is different from auditioning for a show, you’ll have to think about type in a new way. Don’t try to fit into an antiquated box someone else created for you.

Many young actors have a skewed view of their type based on roles they played at school or in local youth theatres. In educational and community theatre, a limited pool of actors must fit all the casting requirements of a show. This means student and community actors occasionally play roles outside their age group or natural acting strengths. For example, you may have fallen into a pattern of playing an elderly person or child, but for a college audition, you should play your natural age. The goal for college auditions is to find who you authentically are as an artist, then craft everything around that. Past roles may help you decide, but they should not be the sole data.

Because there is no lack of talent, programs must narrow thousands of student applicants to a handful of offers. This is where type fits in. If a school has a good sense of who you are and what you bring to the table, the faculty can better assess if you are the right fit for their program. The material you choose should show your personality and allow schools to get to know you.

Brian P. Sage, director of the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Ohio Northern University, thinks the most important consideration when preparing college audition material is that it excites you.

“If you select material you have fun doing, it will inevitably give me insight into who you are as a human being, which is more important than whether you are capable of playing a certain type of character,” Sage said. “Selecting material you think we want you to do is only going to put you in your head rather than in the moment. We want you to be at your best in the audition room, and choosing material that gets you excited will make you exciting to watch.”

Ali Stroker breaks the physical mold of the sassy, flirtatious comedian in her portrayal of Ado Annie in Broadway’s recent revival of Oklahoma!
Ali Stroker is the sassy, flirtatious comedian in her portrayal of Ado Annie in Broadway’s recent revival of Oklahoma! Photo by Teddy Wolff.

You may bend toward a classic type, such as the comedic sidekick or misunderstood antihero. Just because this concept feels dated doesn’t mean you must ignore those traits completely. Use them as a springboard instead of a box. Ask yourself, in 10 years, whom do you want to replace in the industry, or what performers do you feel naturally reflect your “essence.” What are your dream roles? What theatrical character do you feel is most like you as a person? These questions should help you identify what roles naturally fit you.

How can this help with type? Let’s say you feel like a Sutton Foster, meaning you not only share some personality traits but also possess a similar acting style and technical abilities. Now, look at Sutton and the roles she has played during her career. This can help you find material, or at least lead you toward similar material that could work for you. That doesn’t mean you should include only Sutton Foster material in your college audition package; again, don’t place yourself in a box or limit your options.

Joe Deer, who chairs the Wright State University Department of Theatre, Dance, and Motion Pictures, looks for three factors during auditions: “What you do best, what you love to do, and the essence you bring into the room. The first two are a little easier to wrap your mind around, and they’re sometimes different from each other. What you do best are the songs, roles, or monologues you’ve gotten consistently positive feedback on.”

For example, Deer explained, you may absolutely nail “I’m Here” from The Color Purple, moving your audience to tears — but you may not love singing it. Meanwhile, you may love singing “Run Away With Me” from The Mad Ones but not get much of a response. “Your job is to find the songs and monologues that score for you in both areas,” he said.

“The third factor is a little harder to assess on our own,” Deer added. “We’re looking for a sense of who you really are. If you’re a new-styled hippie girl, we want to get that from every aspect of who you are. If you are a super-nerd, calculus brainiac, we want to have a sense of that. If you really are a romantic at heart, we want to sense that.” Deer says the concept of type has evolved, but consistency remains important. “It is very helpful if the big three factors I mentioned above fit together in a comfortable package,” he said.

Now it’s time to find material. It can be hard to find songs and monologues that best showcase your talents. To start, revisit those questions above. Your answers should give you clues. If you relate to Sutton Foster’s acting range and style, look for composers and lyricists who wrote shows Sutton was in. What else have they written? Need Golden Age songs? Who inspired Sutton in her career? What shows did they do?

As for monologues, there’s no magic wand you can wave to find the perfect material. You’re going to have to read plays. Find playwrights with the same style and voice as the shows you identified above. Ask teachers, coaches, and peers if they know shows or characters from shows that fit your personality. Find plays with subject matter that appeals to you. The objective is to find material that fits your type, is appropriate for your age, and with which you connect. Then, make that material your own through character work. You must make the material work for you, not the other way around.

George Salazar (right, with Will Roland) embodies the lovable, comedic sidekick Michael in Be More Chill. Photo by Maria Baranova.

The next step is to ensure you let all the work you’ve done finding your type filter into your audition appearance. Remember, if you use who you are as a person to determine your type, your style should flow from what you naturally would wear.

Be yourself. Girls do not have to wear a dress. Guys don’t need to wear slacks and button-ups. Gone are the days of boring, neutral audition clothes. Instead, focus on individuality. Wear something you feel great in that lets you present your material best. You want your clothes to complement you and your type, but you don’t want to fight your wardrobe for attention. Be yourself but present the best version of yourself. Leave the old T-shirt and ratty joggers at home.

“I think a student should wear something they feel comfortable in, that makes them feel good about themselves,” said Bob Westenberg, professor and coordinator of musical theatre at Missouri State University.

“If a student almost never wears suits or ties and does so for the audition, it can make them behave in a way that is not natural for them. The same is true if someone never wears dresses and does so for an audition. If it’s something you don’t normally wear and that feels slightly foreign to you, don’t wear it. This is especially crucial with footwear. Excessively high heels can completely change your balance, posture, and sense of self. It’s OK to be funky and casual, as long as it is natural for you.”

The most important advice: Be yourself. Take time to discover what kind of actor you are and what roles you feel best playing, then find material that reflects those traits and preferences to colleges. Don’t settle for just any song or monologue, and don’t try to guess what other people want you to be. You deserve material you relate to and love. And if you want to know the secret to what every program wants, it’s this: They want you to be you.

Stock Characters

Stock characters have been around since the beginning of theatre (think commedia dell’arte). These days, many such tropes are considered stereotypes to avoid, from the evil stepmother to the gay best friend or manic pixie dream girl. However, core trends remain.

There’s often a leading man or woman. Comedic scenes frequently involve a noncomedic role to land jokes. Many complex, multilayered characters exhibit unmistakable attributes of the antihero (Jesus Christ Superstar’s Judas Iscariot or Wicked’s Elphaba), grande dame (The Prom’s Dee Dee Allen), or relatable Everyman (Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird).

As an actor, it helps to be aware of a natural capacity to embody a flirtatious femme fatale or Shakespearean wise fool without letting this awareness define or limit you. Explore different roles, never stop expanding your horizons, and develop what resonates with you.

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