So, the last time I talked about typecasting (and how it doesn’t really exist. Or shouldn’t), I covered the three centers of gravity: head, heart and groin, and how different characters use head tactics, heart tactics, or groin tactics to get what they want. (I didn’t make this up. I was taught this.)
I also said that you as a human being, and as an actor probably have your own essential center of gravity, and that center of gravity, that essence of self that you bring to the stage has much more (or should have much more) to do with casting than what you look like.
Here’s how it works (again, this is just my experience every director does and should have a different style of working, but this is the best way I’ve found): The director reads the play - several (hundred) times and notes… well, a lot of different things. But I’m talking about casting, so she reads the play enough times to really get to know the center of gravity for all the characters before casting.
I’m going to use “No Exit” as an example, because that was my biggest and most recent project, and I’m proud of my casting choices.
[Quick rundown: three strangers - Inez, Estelle, and Garcin - find themselves in a room together in hell, where they’ll stay for eternity torturing each other psychologically. The action of the play involves them trying to figure out why they’re there, and secrets are revealed about their lives, and the horrible things they did on earth.]
Sometimes you get characters that think they’re one thing but are something else deep down. That’s when it’s really fun. For example:
- Inez thinks she’s a head person but is really a heart person - in the end, all she wanted was love, but she couldn’t quite believe it when she had it.
- Estelle thinks she’s a heart person, but is really a groin person - evidenced by her willingness to do anything to keep her freedom
- Garcin thinks he’s a groin person, but is really a head person - which we know by his excessive over-analyzation of his every moment on earth (was I hero, or wasn’t I?)
So how do we cast this? Do we cast a head person, or heart person for Inez? Groin or head for Garcin? Should Estelle be played by a heart, or a groin person?
For the ladies, I went for what the characters thought they were, rather than what they were deep down. My reasoning being this: Inez shows the world a head person. That is the face she wears all the time. I need an actor who can effortlessly portray a head person, and when the heart bits show themselves, we can work to make that happen. What might be a struggle to portray a heart person will read to the audience as a struggle not to show a heart person.
Same deal with Estelle. The girl I asked to play Estelle is the sweetest, lovliest, heart-est heart person I think I’ve ever met. So when she got to the very groin-y [SPOILERS!] baby-killing monologue, it was a genuine shock to the audience. I didn’t want them to be like. ”oh, well, yeah. Of course she frickin killed her baby.” I wanted them to be wondering up to that moment what she was doing in hell with these two other, horrible people.
For Garcin, on the other hand, I went with a head person - not for any particular reason other than that I personally really wanted to work with that actor, and he was available, and totally game.
And honestly it was a struggle to get him all the way there with the groiny-er tactics, but it was so worth it simply because he was so great to work with and willing to try anything. I knew he had it in him, and in the end, he gave the performance I as a director was most impressed with, because I knew it was more of a stretch for him than the other two. (not that the girls didn’t work hard. I was very proud of all three)
So there you have it. That’s how I approach casting as of right now: A mish-mash of essences, and personal bias. But you need both. If I had personally not liked the actor that was perfect to play Estelle or Inez - if she was an asshole, or lazy, or annoying - I would never have cast her; I would have cast the second best. But not only was she perfect, I also really liked her personally, and wanted to work with her.
There are other ways to play with this;
- Cast a head-actor in a heart role, and you’ll get a performance that looks like the character is pretending to be dumb.
- A groin person in a heart role and suddenly! everything’s an innuendo!
- A heart person in a groin role somehow feels really tragic, like they’re covering up their true longings
- A head person in a groin role (or the other way around) makes for a great villian
Until next time
(Jeeze. Writing these is so self indulgent, but really fun. I guess having a blog at all is self indulgent. What are you doing but shouting full voice into the abyss of the internet and hoping someone will read it?)
Once you’ve tasted really good Ramen, it’s difficult to go a long time without it.
The greater Boston area does not really have much to offer if you really need a Ramen fix, but I finally found a pretty good place in Cambridge. It’s in a food-court that serves only Japanese food.
The Ramen was pretty good. It must have been, because if I get to the last quarter of the bowl and it becomes woman vs Ramen, and I still want to finish it even while my insides are begging me tearfully to stop, it’s probably pretty delicious. But what really made the trip was the one waitress working there.
After brashly demanding me to sit anywhere, she then rolled her eyes as I sat at a big table, “um. how many people are you expecting?” “just me,” “then can you sit at a small table?”
The great thing is, I think she was trying really hard to be polite. She also asked people their orders from across the room, wandered off to chat with the waitress from the restaurant across the way, and muttered comments about people under her breath (“there are four items on the menu. if you can’t decide, then what the hell are you doing here?”) which, while wildly amusing, made me wonder what she was saying about me.
In any case, I left her a really good tip.
Then on the walk home I found a box of free books! Yes. Good Day turned up to eleven.
I’ve been told all my life that I have an overactive imagination. I’ve always scoffed at the accusations, saying that imagination is a good thing, and that there’s no such thing as having too much.
But now I think I know what people have been trying to tell me all this time. I’m still not sorry.
Last week was sweltering in Boston, and I woke up entirely too early with a sandpapery throat and a thin layer of sweat encrusting my entire body. The need for water overpowered my need to sleep so I got up and happened to glance in the mirror; There I discovered a large painful spider bite on the side of my nose, right next to my eye.
Five monologues down. Five more to learn. And my rep book…
Typecasting; Head, Heart, Groin.
What I mean by the title is that while typecasting (which I define a director trying to get an actor that will best imitate the performance of the actor who originated the role) does happen, it’s not a problem in a truly creative director, and if one really is passed over for a role simply because one does not have red hair, then be glad that that director is not in your life. Typecasting is lazy and uncreative.
If you’re short, and not getting cast as the leading lady, or if you’re a curvy girl in high-school (or, as I’ve come to find out, college), and you’re constantly cast as “the mom,” you probably think that’s typecasting. And it’s probably not.
(Everything I’m about to say is an approximation of what I’ve learned in class, and my own personal experience in casting).
There are three major centers of gravity, or essences that people have. Head, Heart, Groin, and (like all theatre) these essences have to do with how the character goes about achieving his or her objectives.
- Head people tend to reason, or trick their way to their objectives.
- Heart people get what they want by making everyone feel better.
- Groin people barrel their way through for survival.
And of course, characters exhibit different centers depending on who they’re dealing with. For example (in my reading of McB) Lady M is a groin person with shades of head when talking to her husband, while her husband is a heart person with shades of groin.
This is mostly because it’s really awful to watch two people using the same essential tactics at the same time.
- Horrible, stilted Oscar Wilde happens when everyone onstage is a head person.
- Two heart people onstage results in a sloppy, soppy lovey mess.
- Two groin people onstage ends in incomprehensible yelling.
The great thing about these, is that people in real life have these essences as well! Of course we all have the capacity for all three, but there’s usually one that people lean towards. Think about the people in your life, and try to figure out what their essences are. My mom is a heart person with groin shades. My favorite teacher is a groin person with shades of head. One of my very best friends is a heart person, but also a groin person - almost interchangeably - but slightly more heart.
As an actor you can figure out your own essence by taking a look back at your favorite tactics:
- If you frequently choose “to reason,” or “to jab” or other such things as your main tactics, you might be a head person. (I’m a head person)
- If you’re choosing tactics like “to implore his sense of humanity” or “to comfort” You’re probably a heart person
- “to seduce,” or “to shame,” it’s likely you’re a groin person. (I also have shades of groin. ”to emasculate” is my favorite, favorite tactic.)
(Another weird thing, in gesture: head people tend to use their fingertips, heart people their palms, and groin people their fists)
Hm. This is already pretty long, and doubt anyone’s actually going to read this, but it was fun to write. And I didn’t even get to casting. Maybe tomorrow.
After weeks of nothing, suddenly I have two job prospects, rehearsals for “Into the Fog,” No roommate prospects, and senior directing proposals. The worst thing is, a lot of this stuff I can’t actively do anything about. I just have to do my bit and then wait for other people.
So I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey for the first time today (yes, I know, I’m an abomination for never having seen it before now), and, I think it might be an unintended reaction, but it really made me want a HAL9000 in my apartment.
It would be great! He’d keep me on track, and the odds of him trying to kill me are slim to none, as I have very little intention of ever traveling to Jupiter!
I’d probably change the color of the light though… to match my decor.
I just watched you beat up Saxton Hale. I don’t want to fight you. Do I look crazy?
YOU LOOK UTTERLY MAD, SIR AND/OR MADAM.
THAT NEVER HAPPENED.
MAYBE I NEED TO DO IT AGAIN FOR IT TO COUNT?
(it’s madam). OK. I might be crazy. But I’m not a fighter. There would be no challenge or honor in defeating me in battle. My crazy is more likely to manifest itself in trying to teach a dinasaur/human hybrid to dance.
(And Saxton, babe. We were all here. We all saw it.)
I just watched you beat up Saxton Hale. I don’t want to fight you. Do I look crazy?
Let them think I’m working on a novel.
My earliest memory is of being onstage. Seriously.
When I was 4 I was in the Sacramento Opera’s Production of Madam Butterfly. I played the little son, “Trouble.” I don’t remember the rehearsal process, I don’t remember if knew I was playing a boy. I vaguely remember an itchy blonde wig, and kneeling perfectly still for a full three minutes of slightly boring music.
But the most vivid memory I have is from the very end of the show. Butterfly is about to kill herself because the man she loves (and was kind of married to), has finally returned after something like five or six years away, and has since married someone else.
So she’s about to kill herself when her son happens to run in (that was me). She stops, and calls him over, an explains what she’s about to do.
In our blocking, I had to kneel right in front of her as she sang her final aria.
She had to put her hands firmly over my ears so that her big opera voice wouldn’t destroy my four year old eardrums. Somehow I knew the song was about suicide. I was in complete awe of her, and every performance, every time I looked up at that face sweating through the white makeup, I was reduced to shuddering tears.
When she finished singing and sent me away (the words are something like “go play”), my blocking was to stand up, run three steps stage left, turn back around to look at her, then run all the way offstage.
Since growing up I have learned that the entire Madam Butterfly story is kind of sexist, and cringe inducingly racist, and yet I am still utterly moved every time I hear that final piece.