Recruiting for a position or casting for a part?

Tom Remlov

Why is typecasting considered negative, when a matching cv, relevant experience and a clear motivation are ideals in the job market?

A playwright colleague of mine is also a poet, and a few years back she sent me a short poem to illustrate a point she had watched me trying to make at a meeting with the corporate sponsors of the theatre I was running at the time. This was it, in my translation:

Now, don’t put peas

Up your nostrils,

Mum said,

As she left.

We hadn’t thought of that.

So that’s what we did.

In elaborate – and, indeed: corporate – terms I had been trying to describe the fundamentals of a creative approach in dealing with limited resources, and perhaps most essentially: in dealing with a resident company of actors and a technical and administrative staff on permanent contracts. My point, of course, was that all artistic endeavour is to create shape where at the outset there is none, and to channel the efforts of everyone involved into a meaningful experience for an audience. “Artistic work,” I said, “is a process of exploration, driven by a need to discover something new – and most importantly this means uncovering, or better still: releasing, the unknown in your fellow performer. Or fellow anything, for that matter.”

For the most part, at such gatherings, the sponsors will be represented by people from their respective HR departments. They are the ones believed to be the most interested in what we do, given that their professional focus is people. Back at the office they are also the ones entrusted with the task of bridging the gap between “us” and “them”, and making sure that their company and its employees are getting their money’s worth – be it access to shows, tours of the theatre, special backstage do’s, or a tailor made appearance by select artists at their Christmas party.

At this particular event, I did in passing mention the phenomenon of casting against type, really only to illustrate that limitations are there to be overcome. But somehow this caught their imagination, and they wouldn’t let go. The ensuing exchange took me to a point where I hadn’t been before. 

A job is a role

In the theatre so called typecasting is frowned upon as either cynical or cowardly, or both. It means exploiting obvious characteristics and talents, at the expense of creating something unique. And, incidentally, in ordinary life the term also has an odious ring, in its reference to somebody being stereotyped, or locked into a specific – and hence limiting – expectation. For an actor it is of course important to feel suited for a part, whether it is a matter of age, gender or physical appearance – or being able to dance and sing, for example. However, individuality is often something quite different, and indeed – most often it is what sets the character off from type.

In recognition of this, in the theatre we often take our rejection of typecasting one step further, and cast against type. And this not only ensures uniqueness – it also adds a bit of excitement: will the unlikely actor manage the leap and become unforgettable?

My audience were intrigued by this thinking, and corresponding practice – and that spurred me on to deliver a challenge:

“Why,” I asked, “do you not, when you recruit for a job, seek out the unexpected? Why do you set your sights on the safest candidate, rather than go for a genuine discovery? In other words: is the perfect fit the best suited?”  

Similarly, I might have added: When organisations have to restructure, and new business areas have to be developed – why isn’t the instinct to look for new and original combinations of people and jobs, rather than redundancies and replacements? And this is where sustainability comes in. In a serious way.

A job is a role – it can be played in innumerable ways. Take the most famous character in world drama – Hamlet. Shakespeare’s tragedy has been produced approximately 200.000 times since it was first performed. That means the world has seen two hundred thousand different Hamlets. The job description – his lines and accompanying stage directions – are the same, but the way the actor plays the part, i.e. does the job, varies with the actual player. 

Ever since that meeting I have been wanting to explore the potential of this approach in a corporate culture and context. If anyone’s interested, please let me know.

Published 1. March 2024

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