What is my [stereo]type?

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ste·reo·type

noun

: something conforming to a fixed or general pattern

especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment


I recently implemented a rule in my life and at the studio. Whenever someone talks to me about "type", I replace the word with "stereotype" and I ask them to do the same. Because, let's call it what it is. Painful but true.

So instead of someone saying "I went to the audition, and they were typing,” I ask them to change it to:"I went to the audition, and they were stereotyping."

Or when an actor asks me, "What is my type?" I clarify and reply, "What is your stereotype?"

This makes for quite a few uncomfortable moments and awkward conversations. And I'm ok with that. The world I want to live in is one in which we defy stereotype, open our minds to all possibilities, and look deeper than surface level when we are creating art.

But Jen, when we say “type”, aren’t we really talking about “archetype”?

No. No, we are not.

Archetypes were described by Jung as “deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity." Experience is the key word here. It is fair to argue that the characters in our plays and musicals are archetypes. We can identify those archetypes because we have access to the nuance and richness of those characters’ stories, their experiences, their human condition.

But right now we are not talking about the characters. We are talking about the actors who play them.

“Typing” in an audition scenario is about stereotype, not archetype. It is not about the skill set you use to tell a character's story. It is not about the artistry you bring to your interpretation of a character's experience. It is not about your ability to empathize with and then portray a character's human condition. It is about what you look like, what your resume says, the assumptions that the people behind the table are making about you, and the biases they hold about people who look like you. That, my friends, is stereotyping. Call it what it is.

It would be very easy to point the finger toward the auditors and blame them for this generally offensive casting procedure. How dare they?! Let's take a breath for a moment before we decide to get angry at someone else. Instead, let's point the finger at ourselves and recognize that our complacency is the real problem here. Have you read our union's audition procedures recently? I'll give you a quick review:

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Actors, we must accept our responsibility in this. We are allowing ourselves to be stereotyped. Why?

Fear.

It is time to find our collective courage. What a sad state of affairs if we allow the future of our theatre to be determined by our inability to reject “stereotype.” What a disservice to our audiences. What a missed opportunity to make a positive impact on our world. Isn’t the whole point of making theatre in the first place to shine a light on the human condition? Humanity, friends. That is what it is all about.

Humanity.

So, I dare you - I implore you - I support you - stop using the word “type”. Replace it with “stereotype.” Call it out. Let’s change the conversation.

This post may ruffle some feathers. Good.
May the bridges I burn light the way.

Are you willing to change the conversation?


A post script and an invitation:

My goal in writing this blog is to keep the reading time to 5 minutes or less per post. That being said, I have a lot more to say on this subject. If you are someone in a position of leadership and/or have the authority to make change in our industry, I would love to chat. To be clear, I am looking to engage in a meaningful dialogue about progress rather than an argument about justifying the current system. In the 21st century, when we know more than ever before about the science of human behavior and peak performance, we must give up the need to use the 20th century argument of "That's the way we've always done it." The most recent science says that there is a better way. We can (and should) build an inclusive, efficient, and forward-thinking audition system. If you want to talk, you know where to find me.