Sometimes you have bar-stool man talk with your buddies, other times you have monologues and loud conversations with yourself in the bathroom about how you’ll nail your next acting role. Most of the times, we keep these ‘interventions to ourselves… But on this very occasion when I got interviewed on a Sanaa Talks episode that aired recently; I made a statement concerning knowing one’s type as an actor. Melissa Kiplagat had a very interesting point. I will put the conversation in script-ish form as below :

ISAYA: As an actor it’s important to know your type and shape yourself as per your type. The easiest way to know your type, as I learnt from Neil, is to have a group of actors then let them write on paper what roles they think you can play. Shape yourself towards what others think of you as a character.

MELISSA : I kinda don’t agree that you should shape yourself according to your ‘type’. You never grow as an actor doing that. And people can play roles no one would think they could. Jared Leto doesn’t look like an HIV+ drag queen but he played it. And played it well.

ISAYA: Melissa has a valid point. However, for beginners, you need to know your type to get into the door then eventually you can be versatile. You need to be specific to land first gigs then branch out. What do you think Peter Kawa?

That is where it sort of all started… then a couple of friends thought it would be important that we have this online class on facebook… to discuss and help each other. These are your views/opinions

Does ‘Knowing your type’ limit your chances in acting?

F Simiyu Barasa

“An actor should believe themselves first. Then go for scripts that they believe in. Versatility is also about knowing your strengths in skills and physique if the description fits your ability”

Karanja John

What is true is this, when you remember the depth of your fear, you distinguish the strength of your personality and you are able to face the character at hand. What is important for the actor is the ability to know what the ‘limiting third person’ wants… acting is not a limited company, it is a trust and the person who wants to become an actor on a given set must be ready to be known by the universe and his or her personality as an actor, then move into the spirit of things without baggage, luggage of bondage… this freedom is exercised from the threshold of true-self and diaspora of professional approach…
For the director to be satisfied with you… It is about what you bring to the set as a person, personality and human being, then convert and control this into the new born expectation of the actor, You and this new person must work hand in hand to create the character, which yourself must be ready to give without reservations and it must quiet that fear… go beyond the restrain, smash the thresh hold and create new… when you keep on a method, it will work for a very limited time, then it will become a bore to you and stereotype characteristic that others will use to define you, it will make you look like somebody who is hell bent on retaining a rhythm while misconstruing the essence of what lies beyond the glass ceiling… an actor must be versatile… and like a crumb, be able to move in all directions depending on the journey and obstacle benefits ahead…”

Shirley James

“I don’t think one should limit their talent based on “your type” as going out of your comfort zone actually helps you grow and learn more about your capabilities as an actor. I may think my type is one thing but after venturing out from “my type comfort zone” I could actually unlock even greater acting skills that I probably would have sat on for a while with the perception of I can’t do anything outside of what I have set my mind to.”

Isaya Evans

“Don’t you think telling a beginner to be versatile may be setting them up in an already competitive industry? What if they try what they look like first then perfect it, get in the door then they can be anything else?”

Melissa Kiplagat

There should be nothing that stops an actor from trying EVERYTHING. No one is stopping anyone from going to auditions. A casting director might see something in them that their friends don’t. Try everything. Just be prepared for a lot of NOs.”

 Shirley James

Not at all setting them up it’s actually gives them a better chance… as you say it’s already a competitive industry so try, try, try in all possible ways until you find your various capabilities and just as you say they might try and perfect it cuts both ways they could try and fail so being versatile from the get is still very much okay.We figure ourselves out as we move we don’t figure ourselves out then move.”

“I also do understand the point of knowing where you fit (in terms of a role)so as to get you through the door then discover more about you and your capabilities but without limiting yourself to what you can actually be is what am saying.”

 Lorella A. Jowi 

Different trainers have different methods all of which have proof of truth. However the universal truth lies with the actor.  

Brian Mandela

When other actors are writing what they think you can play well, they are also in that situation where they think, you can either be on their side and they play along with you or they are in a scene with you and they think you can be the other character, in a situation best perceived by them at that moment, with them. That’s “PLACEMENT”.
I would advise one to take an advice of 1st, what do you think of yourself? Then, can someone else justify (confirm) it just by looking at you? The 1st casting qualities that will land you a role are your looks/appearence. The outward image. That would be primarily what it means by “Knowing Your Type”.
If you know not yourself, you cannot play someone else. There are characters you can easily pull and make believe to an extend people might think that is your daily life, while others, we always do our best to fit in. Characters that challenge you. Now these are the real ‘exposes’. They will tell of your range and ability beyond the comfort zone where, you are used to “Your Character Type”.
Always start from the known to the unknown…. That’s the journey you need to develop further into mastery.”

Brian Ogola

Showbiz is fickle and vain. One needs to find a fitting typecast role that will get your foot in the door.
Being typecast is usually how you get your foot in the door in my experience. Once your foot is in the door, then you can start being selective with your scripts and seek growth opportunities. From this point onwards it’s usually your ambition that sets you apart.”

Melissa Kiplagat

I agree to a certain extent. I’ve definitely been typecast most of my career thus far. But where I didn’t agree is that an actor should concentrate on their typecast. I think that’s dangerous for an actor.
If you’re cast based on your typecast, cool you have a job. But when you start saying ‘I’m this kinda actor’ referring only to your typecast then that REALLY limits you. I kinda feel like you should be aware of your typecast but not concentrate on it. Leave that to the casting directors.”

Rose K. Njoroge

As much as we say an actor ought to be versatile, I know some roles are easier for me to play than others. I do sad better than drunk and rowdy so I go for those if there’s that option.”

Ebby Weyime

3 words. KNOW. YOUR. TYPE. Then be as choosy as you want after you’ve done your time. I know my type. I’m the African woman/girl. From there I can dig deeper. Am I sexy? Motherly? The funny one? Boss? Reserved? Etc. I can can explore all that but I know anytime they need an “African look” I’m in. Not just because I’m African but because my face can represent many African countries.”

Terry Ombaka

As an actor I realized I get roles of a strict lady, no nonsense woman, no matter how much I try to giggle at the audition, befriend judges or wear soft pink, those are the roles I get 99% of the time. I think that’s what they see, as my strength. They don’t know how I have grown to hate it. But I also blame our scriptwriters/casting agents/judges. They confine us to their own borders, no room to experiment, they limit our acting range so it’s the boring same old same old cycle where we already know what every actor is gonna play and so we also tend to conform to that pattern. I once told the script writers of a drama I was acting in to at least give me some interesting storyline. I was bored and predictable. I had no life. I was bored I wished I could write the script myself. I wanted to be something, like a serial killer, a witch, a strong woman, a prostitute, something interesting. I hated even the costumes. Most scripts have the regular man and woman… (we need a tall slim,sexy lady ,we need a fat, dark guy bla bla bla… same old boring shit.) nothing interesting.”

Jack Chege 

Through my experience, you’re typecast from what you played last. After Highschool (after doing Brutus from Ceasar) I was cast as pontius pilate, politician, Othello…characters with authority. And I thought that was how it was gonna role. I came back home in 2012, nobody knew me, auditioned for a funny/crazy teenager and boom! I’m ‘typecast’ as the funny guy and did Puck, crazy taxi guy etc. I think typecasting is about perception of you from your audience/casting director. So don’t stick to one lane hoping to get character other people think you can do well in.”

Anthony Mbithi

All said by everyone here makes real good learning for all actors reading it… We all have gained our different experiences based on our different paths and that is a good thing… I also think that every actor must know what it is they are selling from the word go… May be that is what Isaya Evans Refers to know your type in my understanding… Actors play make believe… Knowing what you sell to the viewer gives you an edge… It’s possible to have many things to sell too… Know them by discovering yourself as an actor… There are many ways to discover yourself as a product… When an actor knows this, I think they Will confidently know which auditions to go for and which not to… And when they get a role it will definitely be the right role to pull the best out of them… That way their relevance in a competitive space is assured… Let me remind us of a parable told by one Son of man… There were three men given to talents… One was given one, another two and another five… Of all it was expected to increase their talents… And yes you know how the story goes… As actors it’s important to know what you have or better still how many… Then work it up… By skill, experience and knowledge…”

Ebby Weyime

Another good point. If you know your type you will not waste time in countless auditions and get discouraged because you feel you’re not booking anything. If you’re a rookie then go for as many even if they don’t suit you just for network and the experience. You will notice with established actors you don’t see them at every cattle call. “Know thy self” time is a non renewable resource don’t waste it on jobs you will never book

Anthony Mbithi

I totally agree… Painters and other visual artists in the time they don’t have an exhibition or a gallery to show case their work are busy painting and developing new products… Dancers and musicians when they don’t have a gig are busy training for their next gig or learning new moves or songs… Actors… When we don’t have a show… What are we busy doing? This is the best time many don’t use to develop themselves so that when placed on a competitive platform they can thrive… As an actor the wheel never stops to bettering one self, that is if one intends to make acting a career.”

Van Phoenix

From the actors point of view, it’s good to know what you can do comfortably in your sleep and what you are still exploring. You need to start from somewhere (typecast) then branch out. However, trainers and directors also play that crucial role of belief and nature with your talent such that they may take that gamble with roles you are unfamiliar with to see what may come of it. The growth process is arduous and sometimes hinges on chance so one must be constantly willing to evolve from their typecast yet secure in it.

Charles J. Ouda

Knowing your type doesn’t mean you have to constantly play to it”

Olympia Owira

Typecasting yourself for a role you know you will deliver very well is the beginning to greatness. Then you slowly become versatile to different roles. Letting your friends decide for you is abit tricky some friends will never have your matters at heart. It’s easy to ask a director or someone you think you trust well enough not to protect your feelings.”

Peter Oruka Odera

The thing with being typecast is that there is a tendency to be comfortable with some roles and not others, this is a risk. An actor is safer while flexible.”

Benson Kamau Muigai

Do you fit the description as an actor? Then pick the scripts if you believe in them and give justice to the character. The next gig will sort itself.”

 Sammy Samora

KNOW YOUR TYPE, then grow into others as well. And good writers and casting directors take this to their advantage. They take a type, cast it as that type, then gradually script the character into something totally different. So that the funny social taxi guy ends up being the crazy, serial killer. Be the best at something. And be good at everything.”
SirStephens Cyengo “My maths teacher told me that for you to solve a mathematical problem, you have to start from known to the unknown. You can only climb a tree from the stem.”
Ellah Nimo “I think a real actor should be able to take any role given to them…..first one should believe in themselves before others do…its all about you and your capability….”

Sarah Mirie

I think sometimes we underestimate ourselves and our potential and scared of taking some roles that are too big or too different. Once you commit to a new role, you will be surprised how well u can play a role u never thought was to suit you. Personally I have played so many different roles that I still surprise myself every time I take on a role. See Tom Hanks who thought he could be serious after Forest Gamp”

The big Question is… how did you get to playing the different roles?

Sarah Mirie

By challenging your own abilities and having people like you that see potential a mile away and also seeing outside the box. Sometime others are the ones that can see your strength and weakness in a given role, e.g. Maria role, I would never think I could play that role while u thought otherwise. Same with Zuleika, I could not see myself as her but someone else did. Still an interesting topic. So it is good to be told what one is good at but also grow with time and experience to take roles that are very different from what they are used to”
Yes, talanta lazma then growth comes with commitment, hardwork, consistency and most important loving what u do and believing in yourself then others will too. But you are right as an actor u have to bring something in order to be acknowledged as an actor  I personally think most talented actors act for the love of the art.”
“… as long as there is room for development you don’t always have to stick to what you are comfortable with, growth takes time and experience.”

Isaya Evans

“basically as an actor you need to bring something to the table first. Lazma wewe mwenyewe ukuwe na kitu”

Douglas Muigai

Don’t typecast yourself the industry will do that for you 

Albert Josiah

“the essence of being an actor is the ability to bring a character to life. Typecasting yourself is an Actor’s trend which, honestly, I have only encountered in Kenya. As a seasoned, trained, director I look for actors who can be a vessel to channel my characters convincingly. I tend to steer clear of one trick ponies. I think that an actor who wholly embraces the art form will strive to develop a range of skills that can be applied to a variety of roles.”

Craig Wichman

As my teacher Stella Adler used to tell us, “NO actor can play ALL roles well – you’re a fool, if you think that.” But, balance in all things: of course we all have to stretch the boundaries.”
Lets keep this conversation going