Student Blog: Character Archetypes and What They Might Mean for You

Think back to the last show you auditioned for. If you auditioned for a certain character, who was it? Now think more broadly about that character: who are they in the story, how do other characters see them, how does the audience see them, etc. You’re probably auditioning for roles you do want, but you may want them for a reason that isn’t as lighthearted as “it would be fun”, and not getting those roles could be having a negative effect on you that you don’t even notice. It happened to me, and it drained some of the fun out of theatre until I realized what was happening, so now I want to explore it with you.

***Disclaimer: This is speculative and based on my own experience in community theatre. You may want to play any of these types of characters just because it really is fun for you. Good! Go for it!***

The Girl: It seems like no matter what audition you go for, there are a million girls vying for the same role. She’s beautiful, sweet, and everyone loves her, which is usually the reason the catty antagonist girl hates her. Examples include Christine Daae, Wendy Darling, Sandy from Grease, G(a)linda the Good, and Dorothy. For a long time, I was one of the many who would carefully pen the name of The Girl on my audition form… But then I started to wonder why. Why would I want to play the character who only sits around and looks pretty? Why would I want to pretend to be in love with some random guy who just happened to be a tenor? It didn’t take me long to figure out that I wanted to play The Girl because I wanted people to see me as beautiful and sweet and likable, so when I didn’t get those roles, I felt ugly and bitter and unwanted. If you’re always auditioning for The Girl, take a step back and consider why. There’s nothing wrong with playing The Girl, and someone has to do it, but do you want to play the character because you would enjoy it, or do you want to play the character because you think it will affect how people see you?

The Hero: Generally in community theatre, fewer people audition for The Hero than The Girl for one primary reason: there aren’t many guys. Still, there’s the inevitable competition. The Hero is handsome, strong, and powerful. People look up to him. He’s usually smart(ish), and he makes decisions on the fly. Of course, he’s generally the main character as well. Examples include Jean Valjean, Hercules (honey you mean HUNKules), Aladdin, and Phoebus from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. What is the appeal of The Hero, and why is it so strong that it calls to even those who are less than interested in theatre? I believe part of it has to do with the idea of masculinity and what constitutes it. The Hero is a man’s man. He saves the day (assuming he isn’t tragic), gets the girl, and relishes the praise of the people. I would definitely posit that some of the people who chase The Hero roles are looking to experience the jubilation of being, like The Girl, someone everyone loves, and more than that, being seen as powerful and strong. It stands to reason that one of the reasons boys tend to want to be The Hero in theatre is to remove themselves from the negativity encased in stereotypes and divisiveness about theatre and homosexuality. Presenting as hyper-masculine on stage could be a way of dodging those ideologies as a way of self-preservation while maintaining a hobby they enjoy.

The Power Woman: The Power Woman is almost a counterpart to The Girl. She is what many people today would call a Girlboss. She is confident, smart, and works hard even though people may see her as overbearing or bossy. A prime example is, of course, Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, but she is accompanied by Bea from Something Rotten, Jo March from Little Women, Katherine from Newsies, and many more. Their ranks will grow (ha, Newsies) as women continue to push for more independent and complex female characters. If you’ve followed my reasoning so far, you’re ahead of me. Women who audition for Power Woman roles likely want to be seen as strong and competent, and in most cases, these are the characters people think of as Feminist characters. Power Woman is one of my favorite character archetypes. Playing a Power Woman is inspiring for me, and I love the feeling of portraying someone who really believes in themselves. But wanting to play a Power Woman doesn’t make an actress any better than an actress who wants to play The Girl. Therein lies the problem. Sometimes, progressive people get so caught up in making progress that we leave people behind who are supportive of the progress but don’t need it for themselves. Working women sometimes look down on Stay-at-home-Moms. Power Women sometimes look down on The Girls. That is one of the many issues we need to resolve both on stage and off. The whole point of progress is that everyone gets to be exactly who they want to be, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. Some people want to be a Power Woman, and some people want to be The Girl, and both are perfectly valid.

The Sidekick: The Sidekick is usually a comedic character with (sometimes questionable) advice and a whole lot of friendship to dish out along with their jokes. Sidekicks are endearing, funny, and supportive, and they are among the best characters to play if you’re looking to have fun. Examples include: Le Fou from Beauty and the Beast (yep, villain sidekicks are included here), Ilona from She Loves Me, Timon and Pumba from The Lion King, and Donkey in Shrek the Musical. I have heard before, and I quote, “Why would anyone want to be the sidekick?” To that I say, “Why not?” In my opinion, getting a laugh or several is one of the best feelings in the world. The script makes it that much easier for the sidekick, and usually, it means getting one of the best songs in the show if it’s a musical. I understand why those who aren’t comedically inclined would shy away from the opportunity to be just stage left of the spotlight, but it’s an amazingly good time. So why don’t more people audition for The Sidekick? I would say it’s because they don’t want to look silly or foolish. The Sidekick can be the butt of a lot of jokes, and for a sensitive person, that can be difficult, especially if you see your character as an extension of yourself. Nevertheless, I will always be happy to be the comic relief, and I can tell you that once you get a taste, you’ll be looking for laughs everywhere.

The Villain: Last up (for now) is the character everyone loves to hate or loves to love: The Villain. The Villain can be a lot of things, which gives them more room to be an interesting character than any other archetype on this list. You can generally rely on the Villain to be against the good guys/main characters, at least somewhat evil, and either really unlikeable or super likable. The Villains list includes Velma Von Tussle from Hairspray, Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors, Miss Hannigan from Annie, and Macavity from Cats. Now, if people want to be seen as a strong Hero or a beautiful Girl, why would they want to be seen as The Villain? Surely there are no qualities of a Villain that a person would want to carry over into real life. But there are. Mysteriousness, risk, and darkness can be applied to both a villain and the brooding guy in a romance novel. Some people want to be associated with danger and a level of evil. And why not? Villains are all the rage right now. Loki of Asgard has an entire series dedicated to him. Disney is (almost) redeeming Villains left and right with new movies. People are starting to like The Villains. Without them, where is the plot? If there’s no problem, there’s no story. Of course, sometimes the Villain is not a person but a situation or a thing. You can’t exactly play an illness or a circumstance as a character unless you’re going heavy on the creative interpretation. But Villains make everything happen, and sometimes, we hate to see them go. So maybe actors are catching on to how people are loving Villains now. Or maybe they just like being mean. Nonetheless, it’s an important role, and I’m glad it’s getting more attention. (Note for all of my former English teachers: I am sorry that I started so many sentences with conjunctions, but I am not necessarily sorry enough to change it. It’s about the cadence. And dramatic effect. Maybe I’m the Villain.)

This is clearly not an exhaustive list of character types, and I could honestly talk for hours about my speculations and pseudo-psychology on the subject, but hopefully, this short version can help you evaluate why you want the characters you want. Are you prioritizing enjoyment or image? At the end of the day, you need to do what is most important for you, and every role has to be filled. Most of all, understand that the roles you play do not determine who you are in life. You have the power to be who you want to be, and I hope that you get there someday if you aren’t already there. I’m working right alongside you.

Stay safe, healthy, happy, and hydrated,

Jana Denning



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