Making Typecasting Award-Winning

Typecasting can be a plight for any actor. You are stuck within certain parameters for most of your career. Yet, there is a certain kind of typecast that allows for more freedom, more imaginative acting choices and also offers many wonderful intriguing layers to a performer.

I am an Italian actress who moved to London sixteen years ago, to pursue my dreams of a musical theatre career. I was lucky to get a place at the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, on the Postgraduate Musical Theatre Course led by Mary Hammond and Karen Rabinowitz. Many teachers, during that wonderful time, advised me that because of my nationality and accent, I would probably find it very difficult to get seen at auditions, let alone be cast in decent roles - a notion that was later confirmed by some casting directors, when asking their opinion.

What we all failed to consider, is that there is a certain type of role that is just perfect for people who are different, sound different and look different. For some reason, I had a quality that inspired directors to give me the roles of mad, unstable, or, at their sanest, over-the-top, quirky women. And while typecasting is often considered restrictive, this particular typecasting has actually proven to be quite liberating.

The madwoman is a very common character in plays and musical theatre, an archetype that goes back centuries, and yet, no madwoman is like another. She can be an angry, completely deranged madwoman, like Mrs Bertha Rochester in Jane Eyre; the lascivious, crude, nutty Beggar Woman, or even her daughter, the ethereal birds-talking Johanna in Sweeney Todd; a mad queen who is jealous of her stepdaughter in Six Swans, or an asylum-confined devout lady with homicidal tendencies, like the real-life character Violet Gibson in Violet and Mussolini. She can be a prostitute, cunning and lethal, whose purpose in life is to gleefully spread syphilis to all her clients, like Mam'selle Syphilis in the song cycle Femme Fatale, or a very shy secretary called Polly Flinders in Nursery Crimes, the Musical, who never utters a word for the whole show, to then reveal herself as a hardcore S&M mistress during her one and only song. This madwoman typecasting offered me a huge array of characters that, although having in common a penchant for insanity, allowed me to explore many different aspects of the human psyche.

It is because of these findings, that I was inspired to put together a cabaret, a collection of all the wonderful and mad songs that I had the pleasure to sing throughout my career, as well as many other songs from the musical theatre and cabaret repertoire that have a connection to mad women or psychotherapy.

After channelling my inner madwoman, I wrote a script that Freud himself would probably be very eager to lay his hands on: the journey of an asylum inmate, who, during the recreational hour, decides to entertain her fellow inmates, aka the audience, with an hour of delightful cabaret: unique songs that represent the light and quirky as well as the dark and murderous; multiple personalities, connected by choreographic costume changes, and some poignant message of emotional empowerment, hidden here and there.

This show has taken me to various fringe festivals around Europe, and even got me a little off-Broadway debut and a Best Cabaret Award at New York's United Solo Festival. Not bad for a difficult-to-be-cast foreign madwoman, right? 

Related Listings

Mad Women in my Attic!

Mad Women in my Attic!

Typecasting and a theatre career drove our heroine to insanity. 

Articles by Monica Salvi

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