Don’t Act Your AgeBy Ty Unglebower • Jan 5th, 2011 • Category: An Actor's Advice
I always thought it was unfortunate that most community theatres tend to only cast actors that are near the same age as the characters in the play they are directing. I had a very lousy experience once of going all the way through two nights of auditioning only to be told at the end I was too young for any of the roles being offered.
“Didn’t you read our audition notice,” the rude director asked me. “It called for actors in their 50’s and 60s.”
I corrected her, because the audition noticed had actually said, (and I had proof), “We need 5 actors who can play characters in the 50’s and 60s.” A significant difference that seemed totally lost on her.
Yet it is true. That is what it said. And I knew that, with rehearsing and direction I could of course play someone in their 60s. It is, after all, a role, like any other. Why should I be any less able to play a 65 year old man convincingly than I am able to play a murderer, a priest, or Bob Cratchit? (All of which I have played, though none of which am I in actual life.)
The need for heavy make up has been cited by some theatre directors and managers with whom I have spoken. It takes more work to make someone up to look old, when there are people out there who actually are old.
People who do not often turn up for auditions, and have to be tracked down, and given their own personal readings in order to get cast, when 4 perfectly good actors read beautifully for characters much older then they are. My response would be, “find us a make-up artist today!”
But alas, it usually does not work that way. Much to the disservice of the theatre, and to amateur players as well.
Playing different ages is something I encourage every actor to do at some point, however they can, be it in a scene in a class, a one-person show, or in a far more open minded community theatre than the ones I have described. Nothing quite opens you up to the potential intricacies of the human condition than studying and reproducing the nuance of various ages. Especially if those ages are not near your own.
I once tried out for a play called Miss Nelson is Missing, based on the children’s book. Nearly all of the roles are those of 4th graders. But it is written in such a way that most true 4th graders couldn’t play them. Too much adult nuance. But it was vital to the role to portray a child-like quality. And the director asked me, and all those trying out to ad-lib about 60 seconds of child level conversation in response to what she said. I got the role, but not before I had to dig down rather deep, rather quickly, and call upon the subtle, and not so subtle qualities of your average 8 year old. So far removed from my norm was such a thing that I consider it today one of my more challenging auditions, and at first, one of the more challenging roles.
Now I do not recommend that adults very often be cast as roles that are written for child actors. But such an experience will broaden your theatrical repertoire.
Also jump at the chance to play an elderly person before you actually are one. Unlike children, there is, as I mentioned, an ability to make someone young appear quite old, if your director puts a little time into it. Playing children, we remember where our humanity comes from. Playing elderly, we get a chance to see where it is going. And greater knowledge of those two extremes, when it comes to acting, cannot help but make you even better at giving life to any number of roles in between.
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Ty Unglebower is a Maryland native and has been acting for nine years, having studied it at Marietta College in Ohio. He has been schooled in Shakespeare, improvisation, public speaking and voice articulation throughout his career. His credits to date include over 30 plays and readings as well as 2 films. You can also read his blogs offbook.blogspot.com (for theatre related thoughts) and tooxyz.blogspot.com (for thoughts on personal success from an outcast). Follow him on Twitter @TyUnglebower.