(I want to say that I finished this a 5 am and wasn’t able to proof read it before it turned it in for a grade but here is a research project I did for an Writing Class)
Type Casting and Stereotypes In Theatre
November 22, 2016
Have you ever had a rumor spread about you? Have you been on the negative end of a stereotype? Do you get that feeling of being othered? The feeling of constantly being boxed into a category. Well that’s what it’s like being in theatre. There are amazing things about theatre and then there are some shifty things about theatre. I want to deal with the over generalizations in theatre. Instead of just harping on what non-theatre people say about theatre people, I wanted to dig a lot more deeper. Under the surface of what people say from the outside I want to go from the inside. I have been involved in the theatre world for over a decade now and wanted to know if other people along in my field have been through the things that I have been through. This paper will deal with aspects from both the stereotypes of theatre people within the theatre world and out. Starting with stereotypes in theatre, and ending with stereotypes outside of theatre. Some of the cases vary and the stereotypes posed in theatre are based off of things that happen outside of theatre. I have conducted interviews with theatre actors/ performers to see what their experiences have been like along with mine being a theatre actor/ performer. Out of the interviews I choose two interviewees that best encompass everyone’s answers. What is the impact of stereotypes in theatre on performers?
Just what is the meaning of stereotype? It’s quite foolish as to continue to go along with a subject if you don’t know what the subject at hand actually means. Thank you to the The definition of a stereotype is – a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or being. While some of the characteristics of a group of people can be true it is not okay to cast those characteristics upon the entire group of people. This is where the beginning of ignorance typically occurs in most cases. Later I deal with LGBT+ and how these acts of overgeneralized characteristics are played out in theatre.
What is a type? In this field everyone has a type, but just what does that mean? You could be a leading man, the love interest, the female ingenue, or the fat guy, the comedian, or a combination ex. “The funny fat character.” The list goes on, but essentially it’s a way for directors to cast people essentially on how they look. Being in theatre there is a high chance that someone could be typecast. Typecasting is giving an actor a role because they look the role, not based on talent. In my interviews they have all admitted to being skipped out on a role because they were not tall enough or a muscular as the others.
The first interviewee is an African American, straight/heterosexual, cisfemale college freshman who is a musical theatre major and has been involved in the theatre community for a while now. Her name is Malynne. My second interviewee is a White, gay/homosexual, cis male college freshman who is a performance major and has also been involved in the theatre community for years. His name is Noah Zaken
I asked the pair the question of what their type is? “The best friend type,” Malynne said, “quirky.” That’s funny because that’s actually my type the plucky side kick. Noah’s type is usually a child or a character type. I asked the pair if they liked their types and both of them said “no.” To be exact Malynne had said “No I wanna have a lead,” she began to laugh. “The best friend’s are best friends to the lead so literally we can never be the lead only supporting actor.” Are types harmful to an actor, I had questioned? “ Yes! Having a type is really destructive. It limits an actor’s ability,” the two had agreed. Noah feels that it is very important to break stereotypes while at the same time it’s important to adhere to what the playwright wants if the role calls for something specific. Noah did add the fact that when casting a show it’s hard to break types. “When you think of a fairy tale you don’t think of a plus sized woman. It’s also harder to market.” While that may be, representation matter because we are showing people that people who “look different or are different can never get ahead” (Pletzer, Jan Luca). He does understand that of course white people shouldn’t play black people. This is widely known because scripts usually state if a character is black.
Being in theatre I’m obviously going to talk about sexuality. A huge debate going on in the theatre is “Can members of the non-LGBTQ+ community be able to play LGBTQ+ people? The movie The Danish Girl was under scrutiny because of the fact that the movie has a Trans character in it and yet again Hollywood picks a straight white cishet (cis, heterosexual) male. It’s not okay because the “generalization of trans people is very damaging” (Carol Grant). Another incident where this has been a problem is an interview with Noah Galvin. The interviewer ask Galvin about his portrayal in The Real O’Neals. Galvin responded by saying that his character was more of an accurate representation of gay people than the stereotypical and offensive fem (feminine) portrayal that is done, as he calls out Eric Stonestreet who plays Cam a very flamboyant gay man who is married to Mitchell in Modern Family. Malynne and Noah had responded to the question with a resilient “Yes!” They both believe that you really have to do your research first because often times she has experienced people portray members of the LGBTQ+ community as wild stereotypes and it come off as offensive. I, myself have seen this take place. I have seen this take place at Seton Hill. The upperclassmen were trying to say that this school is a no-judgment and accepting environment but when it came to LGBTQ+ things they didn’t know what they were talking about and were saying things that were untrue and we literally had to basically explain a lot of things to the upperclassmen. Based on the logic it is wise to do your research.
The next question branch first. The question is, can LGBTQ+ people portray straight people? Again she said “Yes.” I asked her, “Why do you think people refuse to cast LGBTQ+ people as straight people?” Malynne had responded saying that we as a society have what we think makes a person masculine and feminine and they think that LGBTQ+ people will lean to the opposite side of the masculinity spectrum. Gay people being too feminine and lesbians being to masculine. Since this is so people have a hard time seeing them portray anything else even though it is okay for straight people to play LGBTQ+ people. Noah believes that sometimes “it’s hard for gay men to turn ‘it’ down.” While I don’t believe that’s true because most gay people have been playing straight their whole lives and have to come out for you to know that they are gay. Noah also believes that it depends on the “gay.” The relationship with theatre can be considered abusive. It’s a way for the LGBT community to connect and express themselves says Identifying, confronting and disrupting stereotypes: Role on the Wall in an intergenerational LGBTQ applied theatre project. The use of type casting isn’t all bad though Type-Casting In The Restoration Theatre: Dryden’s All For Love, 1677-1704 shows that type casting can be used for different effects and bring certain things about a show to light. The argument of should gay people be able to play straight people and vice versa is a debate that’s been going on for a while. Is ‘Transface’ a Problem in Hollywood?, an article from the “Advocate” says that basically yes it not okay only because straight people get awards just because they portrayed someone who is LGBT while people who are LGBT can’t even get jobs so unless that changes it won’t be okay. It all depends on the community.
Another question I had asked my interviewees is is they had ever felt “fat-shamed” in theatre? A lot of people feel shamed about going into theatre because of their type. Some people drastically change themselves to be different some people develop eating disorders according to Bulimia Nervosa: Professional and Lay People’s Beliefs About the Causes.She said not really. She has admitted to seeing it done to other people but not to her per say. She does admit that she has had problems with her body because of theatre though. She says that now she understands that she is who she is and that she can’t change that. My question is but what about someone who isn’t so sure about themselves? Some people try drastic changes in diets and exercise to have the right musical theatre body. Noah said that he has once. He said that once he had to wear a tank on stage which is more revealing and he was fat-shaming himself. He also felt that he wasn’t as muscular as everyone else or as tall as everyone else. There are millions of infomercials about how to get the ballet body or sites that tell you how rigours actors have to train to lose or gain weight or build muscle and that really messes with a person.
People do talk a lot about the theatre world. There are many stereotypes about people in the theatre world that outsiders has put on. It was actually thought that women in theatre were often prostitutes because if you expose yourself on stage you’ll “expose yourself” off stage (Wainscott & Fletcher). According to, Bullying Victimization Among Music Ensemble and Theatre Students in the United States, people who are involved in the arts are more prone to bullying than any other career (Elpus, Kenneth, and Bruce Allen Carter). I had asked them why the stereotype of everyone in musical theatre being gay came to be? She had said that “It appeals to gays.” Together they roughly said that, “It appeals because it’s really the only art form in which you can escape and be yourself and no one will care because the theatre community is accepting.” She also said, “It’s pretty hard to express yourself accounting,” we all proceeded to laugh.
Next is the mighty question, what has someone said to you when you told them that you wanted to go to major in college / pursue musical theatre as a career? She said that younger people think it’s cool. She said the opposite of older people. She said that she recalls the condescending “Oh that’s cute.” Noah said that when one of his theatre teachers asked him and he gave the response that he was pursuing this the teacher asked what was his backup plan. The truth in the matter is, we know as performers, what we are getting into this is our livelihood and we don’t need a backup plan. Malynne says that many people think musical theatre is just a hobby. I said “but if that were so why doesn’t everyone do it.” We all laughed. Noah says that theatre is for everyone but not everyone can do it.
A lot of people think that people who pursue the arts are running away from responsibility, they don’t know what they want in life, and are usually dumb. I had told Malynne this and she had rolled her eyes. Noah had let out a huge sigh of anger. She answered by saying that theatre is extremely educational. It’s actually the better form of education. People learn stuff from theatre everyday. “Take ‘Hamilton’ ( a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton) it’s literally a two hour history lesson that many people know all of the words to. Some teachers even play Hamilton in their history classes. Noah had said that you can be smart in many different ways. He said that the way he feels in a math class is like the way people feel outside of the arts feel in a theatre class. Being in theatre is like studying people and speech. For instance voice and speech we have to learn phonetics, which is literally why letters mixed with other letters make that sound, also who accents are they way they are. We depending on what role we play have to do research on living conditions on where the play located and what time period it is in. Most of us who are dancers have to learn another language since no dance except for hip hop or tap are in English. While some theatre people don’t take liberal arts seriously it is important to know that people who have been performing from a very young age in school schools have to keep their grades up. In just about every student handbook it is important to remember that students with a C are on probation or anything below that are not able to participate in extracurriculars. I had asked how long had they known that they wanted to be in theatre and she had said since 4th grade and he had said sixth. A lot of people think theatre is a hobby but the majority of people have been training in theatre than other professions. This concluded our session.
In conclusion even though theatre is an accepting community it still has room to grow. There is a lot of pressure being thrust down upon people in theatre that it unjustified from both communities from theatre and apart of it. Altogether we need to accept and be respectful of each other.
- The interviewees are stated by their real names
- The interviewees and myself have been involved in theatre for years now
- The interview was held November 12, 2016 Saturday morning beginning
- Any direct quotes are written from their original form
- There is little to no paraphrasing in the interview answers
Elpus, Kenneth, and Bruce Allen Carter. “Bullying Victimization Among Music Ensemble And Theatre Students In The United States.” Journal Of Research In Music Education 64.3 (2016): 322-343. Academic Search Elite. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Dryer, Rachel, Graham A Tyson, and Michael J Kiernan. “Bulimia Nervosa: Professional And Lay People’s Beliefs About The Causes.” Australian Psychologist 48.5 (2013): 338-344. Academic Search Elite. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Houseal, Jennifer, Kevin Ray, and Sherry Teitelbaum. “Identifying, Confronting And Disrupting Stereotypes: Role On The Wall In An Intergenerational LGBTQ Applied Theatre Project.” Research In Drama Education 18.2 (2013): 204-208. Academic Search Elite. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
Mora, Maria José. “Type-Casting In The Restoration Theatre: Dryden’s All For Love, 1677-1704.” Atlantis (0210-6124) 27.2 (2005): 75-86. Academic Search Elite. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.
“Is ‘Transface’ a Problem in Hollywood?” Advocate n.d.: n. pag. Print.
Pletzer, Jan Luca, et al. “Does Gender Matter? Female Representation On Corporate Boards And Firm Financial Performance – A Meta-Analysis.” Plos ONE 10.6 (2015): 1-20. Academic Search Elite. Web. 21 Nov. 2016.
Grant, Carol. “Regressive, Reductive and Harmful: A Trans Woman’s Take On Tom Hooper’s Embarrassing ‘Danish Girl.’” IndieWire, 26 May 2016, www.indiewire.com/2015/12/regressive-reductive-and-harmful-a-trans-womans-take-on-tom-hoopers-embarrassing-danish-girl-213499/.
BUILD Series. “Noah Galvin On ‘The Real O’Neals’ | BUILD Series.” YouTube, YouTube, 12 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp-4CB42DpA&t=8s.
Wainscott, Ronald Harold, and Kathy Fletcher. Theatre: Collaborative Acts. vol. 4, New York, Custom Pub., 2010.