Embrace Your Musical Theater "Type"

March 22, 2017

“As a teenager, I auditioned for Spring Awakening, only to realize it was a lot of blonde girls,” says Skyler Volpe, a performer with brown, curly hair. This experience taught Volpe to research characters that would best fit not only her voice but also her look—such as her current role as Mimi in the Rent National Tour.

Not fitting certain character types, especially those based on looks or physicality, might feel limiting. But understanding your type makes you a smarter auditionee and helps you pinpoint which natural skills you should continue to home in on.

Ask the Right Questions

Understanding your type requires self-reflection about your look, personality and dance strengths. “The components of an actor’s type are age, physicality and skill set,” says casting director Benton Whitley. “What age can you read for? Are you serious or comical? Do you look sweet or quirky? Are you a tenor or pop-belting soprano?” Ask your teacher, choreographer or friend to help you identify your type. “My senior year of college, my professor helped me pick out audition outfits, talked about the dance styles that fit my body and gave examples of roles I would fit,” says Mallory Nolting, who then landed a gig on the 42nd Street National Tour.

Kent State University students performing “Footloose” (photo by Bob Christy, courtesy Kent State)

Do Your Research

Nolting researches choreographers before auditioning to see what type of dancer they usually cast. “I took Randy Skinner’s class before the 42nd Street audition to get a feel for his style,” Nolting says. “I could picture myself fitting into the show. At the audition, Skinner recognized me from class!” Jo Rowan, dance chair at Oklahoma City University, advises taking as many different Broadway choreographers’ classes as possible to figure out whose styles best fit your body and skill set.

Your overall look at an audition will be your first impression, so be sure your appearance

matches your vocal, dance and acting type. For example, Nolting, who sees herself as more of a showgirl, found a 1930s-style outfit for her 42nd Street audition. Terri Kent, the musical theater coordinator at Kent State University, encourages her girls to get makeovers to reflect their type: shorter, edgier hair and dramatic makeup for the powerhouse dancer, or soft curls and brighter makeup for the ingénue. Look at headshots from other Broadway performers to see how they let their personalities and types shine through.

Kent State’s “Jane Eyre,” directed by Terri Kent (photo by Bob Christy, courtesy Kent State)

Use Professional Help

Acquiring an agent will open up more audition opportunities, and can also help you figure out your specific type. “My agency and I discussed my strengths, then they started broadening my horizons by putting me up for gigs I wouldn’t have felt confident enough to try myself,” Volpe says. She trusts her agent to find her jobs where she fits in both her looks and her talents. “They know I look right for West Side Story, but I just don’t have the voice for it,” she says.

A casting director can also be a great tool for helping your audition success. Reach out to casting directors after an audition for feedback. But remember, “we hire people, not performers,” Whitley says. “Don’t apologize for what type you are, because if you’re

honest and authentic, we can figure out where to place you. So do your research about what shows and characters are your type—but also make sure you’re sharing you.”

A version of this story appeared in the January 2017 issue of
Dance Spirit.