My heart is pounding my chest as I leave my seat and make my way to the small, black stage. I feel everyone’s eyes on me, so I armor up with a faux confidence that belies the knot in my stomach. I’m pretty sure I know what my type is, right? I know what my classmates are going to say. Or at least, I can guess their ballpark answers.

And as I’m scrutinized under the lights, I’m not too far off. My classmates rattle off what they think my ‘type’ is for casting situations. They are encouraged to ‘be honest.’ I’m not terribly surprised by what they say:

“Young, naive.”
“Yeah, she could play teens for a long time.”
“Sweet, innocent.”
“The good girl.”

There are a handful of curveballs. Suggestions that make everyone crack up, like: “She’s the good girl that’s secretly CRAZY.” My classmates are running my look against each of their personal consumptions of TV and movies, and so some of the references go over my head. “You’re like a young Parker Posey!” Ok. Great. Guess I’ll go look her up when I get home and pray she’s not a terrible human being. (she’s not, love a Parker Posey.)

Having collected fodder for determining my ‘type,’ I am allowed to go back to my seat and the next student takes the stage. As I sit back in my chair, I’m deeply relieved. I know I’m not supposed to take my ‘type’ personally, I know I’m supposed to be thinking of myself like I’m a product I need to sell, but at the end of the day, it’s still me under those lights. And I become increasingly concerned as other classmates take the stage, and less-than-kind types are thrown out: “The villain” and “the bitch” and “the slut.” I’m relieved because these types were not assigned to me. And I realize that my relief suggests that there’s something about me, some essence, which evokes my ‘type.’ How can I not take that personally?

For the first time, I begin to question this whole ‘typing’ thing. What are we doing here, exactly? There is something in my gut that feels distinctly wrong about sitting safely in these cushioned, audience seats, throwing out reductionist stereotypes at our classmates. ‘Branding’ them. Today I think of the burned brand that cattle receive in order to identify them in the herd. I think of the sizzle of skin and hair against a hot iron. Ouch. The reductionist label hurts.

In this blog, I am going to make the argument that you are NOT a product. You are not a type, a brand, a reductionist label. I will explain why thinking of yourself and your work in this way is harmful and sustains problematic cultural narratives, but also why it is so appealing and hard to ditch. And finally, I’ll offer a way of moving through the industry that does not rely on typing, branding, or otherwise product-izing yourself.

Text reads: Part Two: The Problem with Typing. Image is of a mountain reflected in a body of water.

Part Two: The Problem with ‘Typing’

If you search online for ‘how to determine my type as an actor’, as I did, you’ll get articles with advice like this:

“As you watch other actors, think about which roles you could play. Make a list of actors who play the same roles as you, and think about their type”.1

This type of advice may not immediately appear to be harmful. Reflecting on your identities, the roles you’d like to play (notice I did not say the ‘roles you could play’), and who you’re seeing in particular roles is a useful exercise in contextualization. Meaning, this kind of reflection may give you a sense of: Ok, this is the playing field (the context) I’m entering as an actor who holds x,y,z identities.

“If you want to be taken seriously in the film and television industry, and—more importantly—book jobs, you need to know exactly who you are and where you fit in”.2

This seems to make sense, right? Again, I should know something about the playing field I’m moving into, so that I can position myself to fulfill the needs of that field. In doing so, I’m more likely to book work.

The problem with this advice is that it holds a number of problematic, underlying assumptions:

ASSUMPTION #1: The industry is static. The industry works the way it works, it is the way it is, and there’s no changing it. Therefore, if you want to ‘break into’ the industry, you need to change or adapt in order to fit in.

But the industry is not static. It changes, and it is capable of change, because the industry is not some impenetrable permanent thing we can observe objectively at a distance – the industry is us. It is you. It is me. I am not permanent or objective, and neither is the industry.

ASSUMPTION #2: ‘Typing’ is an objective practice; it exists outside of cultural biases, racism, sexism, ableism, other -isms, and life experiences. Every actor has an objective ‘type’ that we can all agree on, and if I can just crack the puzzle of what my ‘type’ is, I’ll understand how to ‘sell’ myself as an actor to a static and unchanging industry.

But in truth, when we engage in ‘typing,’ we are drawing on our conscious or unconscious narratives about cultural norms. What kind of ‘type’ does this young, white, woman who is slender and able-bodied, and by normative beauty standards is fairly pretty, evoke? Well, she evokes youthful romantic leads. Sweet, innocent, a teen in love. ‘The girl next door.’ When we picture her love story, we might picture it with a cis-man.

But why does she (me) evoke these types?

  • Because white actors and white experiences have been (and continue to be) centered in tv, movies, and media in this country.
  • Because women have (and continue to be) objectified for the male gaze.
  • Because slender, able-bodied people have been (and continue to be) upheld as beauty ideals, and disabled and larger-bodied people have been (and continue to be) marginalized and shamed.
  • Because queer relationships have been (and continue to be) invisibilized and persecuted.

When I’m trying to ‘crack the puzzle’ of what my type is, I may, in fact, be attempting to see myself through a culturally normative lens. Meaning: how would a white, cis, straight, able-bodied male see me? Where do I fit under this normative gaze?

The idea that there’s an objective type out there for you, agreed upon by all casting directors, agents, and managers, and that everyone will see you in the same way is bananas. But that seems to be the assumption of advice like this:

“Try requesting 10 adjectives from friends of friends and cursory colleagues—that is, people who don’t know you well”.2

Sure, you might get a handful of similar or the same adjectives describing you – or you might get ten completely different visions of who you are. Their experience of you is not objective, and collecting ten subjective perspectives does not an objective ‘type’ make.

Most importantly, there is a vital perspective being left out of all this ‘typing’ advice: yours. What stories do YOU want to tell? What kinds of roles would you enjoy playing? Who do you want to work with, or learn more about, and why?

Typing or productizing ourselves keeps us focused on what casting directors want (or what we think they want), rather than clarifying our own goals and desires. This is convenient for folks holding the power to cast you; they do not have to challenge any of their cultural biases or assumptions, or imagine a more complex, diverse casting option, when your attention is fixed on how you fit in.

To be fair, and as evidence to support the notion that the industry is not static, casting practices are changing in some arenas of the industry. In this 2022 article from Backstage, “How to Brand Yourself as an Actor, According to Industry Experts,” there are a number of folks who reject the idea of ‘branding’ altogether. As Steve Braun and Risa Bramon Garcia of The BGB Studio write:

“If actors spend any time at all figuring out your brand or your type, that’s all you are…the real questions are: How do you put forth your unique voice? How do you attract the industry to you? Here’s how: You do amazing work. You express your bold and specific point of view. You’re unapologetic. People will take notice. People will want to know more. People will applaud you. And they’re applauding you. Not your label”.3

Hurrah! This is great news. In some parts of the industry, ‘branding’ is getting tossed. However, Braun and Garcia’s perspective is in the minority in this article. 10 out of the 15 experts interviewed maintain that branding is essential for actors entering the industry. Clearly we haven’t left ‘branding’ or ‘typing’ behind entirely….yet.

Despite the ‘type’ received from my classmates ten years ago, I have played a wide range of roles. I was cast as Tybalt in Romeo & Juliet. An English governess plagued by ghosts. A tortured teen (wait for it) who believed she gave birth to a changeling demon. A ten-year old boy high on drugs. I’ve played some straight, romantic leads, too – but those have been the exception, not the rule. What ‘type’ does this broad history of work make me?

To sum it all up: You are not a product, because you are a human being. Reducing yourself, or having someone else reduce you, to fit within capitalist consumptionist models is by its very definition de-humanizing. Reducing the complexity of someone’s humanity has been a tool used for thousands of years to oppress, enslave, and dominate.

So, this begs the question: Here in 2024, why haven’t we left behind ‘branding’ and ‘typing’? In the next section, we’ll unpack this question, and explore why ‘typing’ can be an appealing framework for actors.

Text reads: Part Three: The Illusion of Control. Image: A mountain reflected in a body of water.

Part Three: The Illusion of Control

Why is the pitch to think of yourself as a product, to figure out your ‘type’ and your brand, why is this appealing to actors? There must be something that this narrative does for us, otherwise, I suspect it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has.

“To decide how to define your brand, ask yourself: What do you want those hiring you to see? How do you want to be perceived by the public?”4

What I notice about advice like this is that there is a real need to feel in control. It suggests that perhaps the reason I haven’t been getting work is because casting directors are seeing me in the wrong way, or they are seeing me in inconsistent ways. The advice suggests that I have control over this. That by choosing a consistent image for myself and not deviating from that decision,4 I can feel in control of how others’ perceive me, and therefore, in control of my own success.

Control is appealing because goddamnit, building a living in this industry is so freaking unpredictable. Getting work relies on timing, networking, how the casting agents are feeling that day, how you are feeling that day, the budget, the producers, who else auditions – there are an infinite number of uncontrollable factors which could result in you not getting cast (or, you getting cast). The point is, most of it is out of your hands.

There’s more. Not only are we, as actors, acutely aware of just how little control we have over whether we get work or not, there is also a pervasive narrative in the industry which says: There’s not enough paid work to support everyone that wants it. So if you want to ‘make it’, you better do whatever it takes to get to your slice of the pie before anyone else does.

This is an example of a scarcity narrative, and narratives like this one can be fueled by a scarcity mindset. Scarcity mindset is “a collection of beliefs, stories, and meanings that we’ve created based on real or perceived scarcity”.5 In other words, if we believe ourselves to be operating in scarce circumstances (i.e., an actor in an oversaturated job market), our perspective, perceptions, and the decisions we make will be influenced by this belief.

Importantly, scarcity mindset tends to give us ‘tunnel vision’.6 This means that we get so focused on solving the immediate scarcity in front of us that we neglect to see the other resources and opportunities around us. When I experience scarcity mindset, it feels like there are no other options in front of me. For example: Waking up unwell on a work day, I find myself thinking: I MUST work this 9-hour shift, even though I am burnt out and sick and exhausted, because this is the only way to solve my scarcity of income. Wrapped up in scarcity mindset, I neglect to see the long-term impact on my health that working while I’m ill will have on me.

There’s a lot of privilege at play in the example I’ve given above. The intersections of systemic marginalization and economic inequality can make it impossible for some folx to have any decision-making power at all in circumstances like the one I’ve described. I’m privileged to have a partner who can contribute to our income. My white and middle class privilege carries generational wealth I can rely on. I am privileged to be at a job which will not fire me for taking time off for my health. I will not pretend that my privilege plays a huge role in my ability to easefully circumvent scarcity mindset.

And. AND. In addition to the reality of scarcity that systems of dominance have imposed, we must also pay attention to how scarcity narratives reinforce compliance with these systems. Activist, performance artist, and self-deputized ‘Nap Bishop’ Tricia Hersey writes:

“The desperate and valid question of “How can I rest, if I have to pay bills?” is the beating heart of this work. It is evidence of the trauma endured by the hands of grind culture and evidence of our need to reimagine rest”.7

When scarcity mindset captures our attention, what’s lost is our imagination. We can’t imagine alternatives, other options, or other ways of being. So the status quo is upheld.

Ok, let’s pause for a moment and come back to acting. I started this section with a question: Why, given the issues we discussed earlier, are we still stuck on figuring out your ‘type’ and defining your ‘brand’? What’s appealing about ‘typing’ and ‘branding’ for actors?

And here’s my answer: ‘Typing’ and ‘branding’ offer actors a way out of scarcity. Or, they offer the illusion that they will get you out of scarcity. Because of course even the best-branded actor who has the clearest pitch for their type is still not guaranteed work. But you might be convinced otherwise when ‘branding’ is pitched as absolutely essential and as the only way forward for actors seeking success.

The only way forward feels like it’s coming from tunnel-vision thinking. What if we pause, and activate our imaginations: Is that true? Is it true that ‘typing’ and ‘branding’ myself as an actor is the only way forward?

We’ll explore another option in our next section.

Text reads: Part Four: Beyond Branding. Image: A mountain reflected in a body of water.

Part Four: Beyond branding

“So the best way to answer this question [‘how to brand myself’] is to reject it, and rather remind yourself that you are unique—that there is nobody like you in the universe. Sharpen your extraordinary, artistic voice. Bring it to your work, your life, and your marketing. Put it out into the world. Run in the other direction at the mention of that word. Branding is for cows.”3

Rather than looking externally to determine ‘how you fit in,’ I invite you to look internally, and with curiosity and care ask:

  • What stories are important to me? What stories MUST be heard?
  • Who do I want to tell these stories with? This might be specific people, but it might also be qualities (i.e., collaborators, funny people, people with heart, people who energize me, etc)
  • What past projects have been the most creatively fulfilling? What aspects of that project contributed to sensations of fulfillment, satisfaction, and/or pleasure? (i.e., the people, the environment, the story, etc)

These are questions designed to move you toward clarity with the type of acting work you want to be pursuing. As this internal clarity emerges, decision-making will become more easeful. Your headshots, your website, and other external aspects of your job can now reflect your internal clarity, rather than trying to assimilate into someone else’s idea of who you are.

This is not to suggest that you should only accept work which ticks all the boxes described above, although you might! But you might decide to accept a so-so script if it’s the director you want to work with. Knowing it’s the relationship you’re there to cultivate may help you find a sense of satisfaction from the project, even when you’re doing yet another toothpaste ad.

Years ago I auditioned and accepted a role in The Secret Garden. It’s not really a story that lights me up, but I hadn’t performed in a long while. I was itching for any opportunity to stretch my performance muscles again. When I accepted the role, I was clear with myself that the satisfaction I was going to get from this project was not from the storytelling itself, but from simply being onstage again. I ended up loving the experience, made life-long friends, and was able to ride the challenges the show faced with more ease because of this internal clarity.

Knowing with specificity what it is that you’re after also allows you to be creative with how you get there. An actor friend of mine in L.A. is currently working an executive assistant job outside of the industry, with the intention of eventually moving laterally into an executive assistant job within the industry. The assistant job is not the thing she’s after – it’s being in rooms where casting and story-making take place, so that she can better understand how to make the stories she wants to tell, with the people she wants to tell them with. In the meantime, her job allows her to live comfortably and participate in small projects that offer creative nourishment.

You can’t solve the scarcity of our industry. That task is much bigger and more complex than any one of us can tackle. But you can craft a creative life for yourself which is sustainable and nourishing. Doing so starts with remembering how deeply valuable and worthy you are, and trusting that your voice doesn’t need a ‘brand’ to make it so.

If you’ve read this far, boy howdy, I sure appreciate it! As someone who has made a lifelong commitment to sustainable creative living in a white supremecist capitalist patriarchy, I am curious to hear your thoughts, insight, and wisdom.

Please don’t hesitate to send any questions along to I love your questions!


1How to Find Your Type As An Actor (2015)
2How to Find Your Type As An Actor (2021)
3How to Brand Yourself As An Actor, According to Industry Experts (2022)
4Brand is Everything for the Actor (no date)
5The Space Beyond Scarce Podcast hosted by Kate Holly
6Scarcity: The True Cost of Not Having Enough by Eldar Shafir and Sendhil Mullainathan (2013)
7Rest is Resistance by Tricia Hersey (2022)