Can you book more acting roles just by understanding how people perceive you?

by | Dec 5, 2019 | Actor Websites

“Know Thyself” – “image by mkooiman licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Are you feeling frustrated because you seem to doing plenty of self-tapes or auditions but just not landing the roles? That’s probably a silly question, because if you’re auditioning at all you probably feel that way. After all, it is said that 90% of actors are out of work at any given time. With that statistic in mind it’s only logical that the number of auditions you do will far outweigh the number of roles you land.

But at some point, we all wonder “what could I possibly do to improve my booking ratio?” So I want to talk to you about getting clear on your type, so that you can consciously go after the roles that you are most likely to land.

It is worth bearing in mind as you read this that a lot of stage work allows you somewhat more latitude than screen work, as discussed in the following video.

Casting director Erica Arvold, CSA, and acting coach Richard Warner discuss what it really means to know your type and the incredible importance of knowing how you’re perceived

What is “type” anyway?

Do you know your type? Do you even know what ‘type’ is? I didn’t. Not until I read Bonnie Gillespie’s book Self Management For Actors and learned how knowing my type could help my acting career.

So what is ‘type’? Here’s how Gwyn Gillis from Backstage defines it:

Your type is a combination of the five criteria found on any breakdown when a role is being cast: sex, age range, physicality (Race or the basics: short, tall, thin, heavy, light, dark), job title (mom, lawyer, cop, spy, teen, criminal), personality trait (quirky, serious, intellectual, sexy, loud, innocent).

My type might look something like this: 43-47 year old, middle class man with a slight build—intelligent, responsible and honest and working in art, education, office work or IT.

What good is knowing your type?

Now you’re probably thinking to yourself ‘I am way more versatile than that, I don’t want to paint myself into a corner by reducing myself to that niche.’ Good, nor should you. 

BUT it’s really useful to be aware of your type because if you research it properly you will develop a type that is based entirely on how people perceive you. If your type matches with how people see you, then you make a better fit for roles that fall within that category. So essentially you are booking more roles just by having a laser sharp understanding of how people see you.

Here’s how Bonnie Gillespie puts it:

Casting directors put out character breakdowns to agents and managers asking for specific types of actors to fill roles from the script. It’s always good business sense to know, as an actor, what your type is. That way, when you see a casting notice or hear about a role, you’ll know whether your type has a chance of meshing with the type called for.

Bonnie calls this ‘your bullseye’. It’s a good word because it implies there’s a whole target available for you to hit, but right there in the middle is your sweet spot. 

Photo by Pablò on Unsplash

If your type includes ‘friendly doctor’ does that mean you turn down the role of ‘psycho-killer racing driver’ you’re being offered? No, of course not, it just means that if you put yourself forward for two roles—one ‘friendly doctor’ and one ‘psycho-killer racing driver’, you’re more likely to land the friendly doctor. Especially if your materials are in alignment with your type. Over time, the more roles you go for that match your type, the higher your success rate will be.

Just the other day I was working with an actor who was getting lots of self tapes but not booking as many jobs as she would like. We worked on defining her type and then we examined the last eight to ten self tapes she had been called for. Of those, she had booked one (not a bad ratio at all). The breakdown for the role she booked matched her typing statement exactly. If she had known her type would she still have taped for the other roles she was asked to tape for? Of course she would have! But from now on she is now going to pay very specific attention to any roles posted on Spotlight that match her type, because her likelihood for success increases for those roles.

Keep it to yourself. But communicate it.

I personally wouldn’t recommend plastering your type everywhere—your type statement is for you to use to identify the roles you are most likely to land. So you don’t have to publicise your type statement but you do need to lean into your type. For example, if you do the work to find out how you are perceived, and you find out people see you as ‘quirky’ then make sure you don’t iron out that quirkiness for your headshot. 

If you are seen predominantly as ‘serious’ then make sure you have footage that reflects it in your showreel. If you’re the type who looks like a manager, consider adding photos to your website that show you in a suit looking businesslike—that kind of thing.

There’s no need to put ‘I play office workers’ on your website for example (yes, that’s pretty much a mistake I made in the past), however look for opportunities to communicate that vibe in your photos, your bio and other materials. 

When you are looking for opportunities, for example browsing the listings on Spotlight or other job postings, anything that matches closely to your type statement is more likely to be a fit for you.

Knowing your type doesn’t mean you have to simply play the same thing over and over either—there can be massive range within a type, but it gives you a clear understanding of how you are perceived generally and therefore what broad types of roles are the closest match to your type and they are the ones you are most likely to have a higher booking ratio with.

How to research your type

In short, you want to poll people about how they see you. And ideally it should be people who don’t know you, in order to remove biases. A lot of people advise simply asking strangers. Tell them you’re doing research and ask them how old you look, what job you look like you might have and what adjectives they would use to describe you.

Here’s Bonnie on how to research your type and here’s Jason Broderick’s blog post on type (and here’s another post from Jason on the subject).

Personally I would not be comfortable surveying strangers like this—so I use the power of crowdsourcing. I create a Google Form to collect the data and then I create a job on Admittedly Microworkers is tricky to use so it takes some getting used to. Every time I go to put a job on there I stumble around a bit until I remember the process! There are other similar sites but I haven’t tried them out yet. 

Using crowdsourcing allows me to get feedback on my type by surveying a silent video (as recommended by Bonnie) before getting headshots, and then I can survey my headshot to see if it’s in alignment with the video feedback.

Once you have the research completed you look at the patterns in the data. Jason has a handy formula for age range:

To find your age range get the average of all the answers to find the middle or ‘median’ answer. Then add up all the answers that were below that figure and average them to find the bottom of your age range. Add up all the answers above the median and average that to find the top of your age range

For the others simply look at the most common job titles and adjectives used. 

What has all this got to do with actor websites?

Doing this work is invaluable in creating a cohesive actor website that tells the story of who you are in a way that is alignment with how people see you—and getting that right can help increase your success rate in booking work.

By the time you read this post, watch the video, and read all the links I’ve included I feel pretty confident you will be an expert on type and understand it’s value—but nonetheless, if you would like help in identifying your type and aligning your materials as part of getting an actor website just contact me directly and we can chat about how I can help.

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