How To Determine What You Do Best

“Who am I?” Now there’s an age-old philosophical question.

Well, once upon a time, in an alternate universe, I was the perfect Peter Pan type: a sprightly, high-spirited tomboy who was both physically agile and able. And, if it wasn’t for a few frighteningly high notes in the “Little Lamb” solo, I was once the ideal Louise in Gypsy: a character that does a complete 180, going from a shy, awkward introvert to a sexy, confident sophisticate.

Fast-forward twenty-some odd years later and it would be safe to say that identifying me with either of these two characters is not only a stretch—it’s flat-out comical!

Okay, so what does that tell us? Your type can and will eventually change. Age range alone will see to that.

Certainly there is a germ of that sassy Peter Pan in me still that now plays out commercially as the fun mom. That awkwardly bashful girl–turned–sexually confident sophisticate that was Louise now reads as the confident authority with a trace of vulnerability. All these elements translates into who I am and how I’m perceived in an instant. I’m referring to type.

Type can be elusive in this business for a number of reasons. For instance, you may discover yourself growing into a type you’ve never played, or graduating out of a type that once felt the most comfortable to you.

The bottom line is: How you look speaks volumes before you even utter a sound. Your face, your build, already has an entire performance built into it. Your presence, whether you realize it or care to admit it or not, says so much. Hopefully, it’s saying what you intend it to say. (Now there’s the rub.)

As stage actors we’re generally taught we’re supposed to be everything. You’re expected to be as well versed in Shakespeare as Arthur Miller, as comfortable with comedy as you are with pathos, able to tackle Euripides’ Medea and, just as easily Tyler Perry’s Madea. How’s that for a stretch? For what it’s worth, each of these tasks demand a formidable skill level from you as an actor, yet we’re told that’s what being versatile entails, and that’s the job. It’s simply what’s expected of us.

No wonder so many aspiring young talent are confused as to how they’re perceived. Start by studying the medium you intend to work in—television, commercial, and voiceover. Record the shows you watch religiously, commercials and all. The commercials that play during the shows you never miss are already geared to your demographic. It’s more likely you will book jobs that are within your frame of reference, what you know best.

If you don’t watch much TV, do a quick search of the top 25 shows you may have heard of but have yet to see. This is important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which: pop culture references are used most at auditions to give talent a better idea of what those casting are looking for. (“We’re looking for a Jon Snow meets Don Draper type.” To which I have to say—so am I!)

If you’re at a loss, watch a good eight hours of programming a week for a solid month. For instance: the Today Show, The Big Bang Theory, Ellen, NCIS, The Voice, the evening news (as depressing as that may be), The Simpsons reruns on Fox, something on HGTV, something on the Food Network, TLC, History Channel, Animal Planet, and maybe a little something on IFC (Independent Film Channel), like Portlandia, or Comedy Bang Bang. The idea is to record a good cross section of material. Look for commercial examples that cover nearly every demographic.

When you play back what you’ve recorded, whether you’re viewing familiar programs or not, have a pad of paper and a pen handy and make note of the following:

  1. What is the spot for?
  2. Is the commercial for a product or service you’d find nationwide? Or is it local?
  3. Do you use the product/service the commercial is promoting?
  4. Do you wish you used/had the product/service (but maybe can’t afford it—yet)?
  5. Are you personally opposed to the product/service?
  6. Would you appear on-camera in the commercial, film, or TV show?
  7. How many voice-overs are on the spot? Is there more than one?
  8. Is there an unusual character affectation in one or more of the voices, or is it a more natural delivery?
  9. What is the overall emotional tone of the spot? Is it solemn? Hopeful? Sarcastic? Playful? Stoic? Confident? Is it edgy? Is there an attitude? Is it witty?
  10. Does the delivery seem realistic, personable and conversational?
  11. Is this a commercial voice-over style you feel you could easily play?
  12. Is this spot airing during a show you watch frequently? Or a program you’ve never seen and maybe might never watch?
  13. If you’re pursuing on-camera work, observe what the principal actor(s) in the commercial are wearing. Do you have these styles in your closet to wear to auditions?
  14. Observe the commercials you got lost in more closely. Make note of what drew you in.
  15. Does the voice talent’s age seem to coincide with the age the commercial, film, or program is geared to reach? Or is it the opposite?

And if you don’t have cable and a DVR, check out iSpot.TV. Of course, you won’t readily discover which commercials play during the shows you prefer, but you will be able to view many current commercials and have the luxury to observe some of the details above.

You will likely discover being yourself is what is required of you a bulk of the time, and far more interesting than watching you desperately try to be something you’re not. An actor shoehorning themselves into something that doesn’t suit them is an effort to watch and ultimately counterproductive. And why I’m fine with the fact they gave Peter Pan to Allison Williams instead of me. I can live with that. œ

Copyright © 2016 by Kate McClanaghan  All rights reserved.