"Reading" the Label
Captain's Blog - Stardate 60408.5
The issues of sexuality, race, religion, privilege, and equality have been on my mind and in the forefront of the political landscape for a while now. Especially in Chicago, they have also been at the center of a number of artistic conversations on many different sides of the coin.
At some point, when I feel I can adequately express my thoughts on these issues, there will likely be a blog or twelve about it. But today, I am interested in exploring my personal identity as it relates to my work. Most of the work I've been doing on Shaun Baer the "product" or "brand" has been about getting to know my best self and making that clear to the "buyers" who I hope will be interested in collaborating with me.
Let's start with the physically obvious. On the surface, I am a white male with enough money to afford housing, food, fashion, and time to keep a blog about arguably trivial topics. I have a youthful look, only compromised by those who are in the know as to exactly which birthday I had yesterday. Based on my primary headshot, people have used words to describe me such as "leading man," "All-American," "lawyer," "young dad," and "possibly gay."
Let's deal with that last one. I had a local acting coach warn me away from a monologue I loved because "it reads to gay. Once they read you as gay, they'll never call you in for anything else." My father's biggest concern is that I will get typecast as gay. He's worried it will limit my cast ability elsewhere. I keep reminding him that the word "cast" is part of the word, and I would happily play a gay character on Chicago Fire if it meant getting the opportunity to film a scene on one of our local NBC procedurals. That said, I understand their concerns. These concerns have been echoed by some in the business and has led to "are they or aren't they" pondering by the media.
Then, let's consider my work to date. Of all the film projects I have done, the only one where I play a straight person is, ironically, the web series I wrote for myself. In three short films I played the gay lead character "Scotty," and I was one of the leads in the first season of the gay web series "Dudes." Most of my reel footage, comedic and dramatic, are as a gay man.
Add to that my writing. While I love "Humane Resources" and am continuing to work on developing our second season, the new projects I find myself developing are focused in the gay community. I find myself drawn to writing stories about issues in my community that I think need to be addressed, presented, or talked about. I also look for places in "mainstream" television and film where I feel our representation is sorely lacking.
What does that mean for me as an actor? Should I add "possibly gay" to my primary wheel-house? Will that preclude me from playing a straight character? Should it?
On one hand, there is no way that my experiences as a gay man can be separated from me, the actor. An individual's life experiences, which many actors draw from to create characters and extract emotional sense memory, can't help but shape how we interpret our material. In that way, my experiences of being bullied, teased, and ostracized from certain circles throughout my life because of my sexuality inform how I interpret the characters I play.
But, on the other hand, my personal energy does not read as many would interpret as "gay." What they mean by that is that I do not come off as "feminine." Now, the "femme/butch" conversation and "femme-shaming" is a whole separate issue from this one, but suffice it to say that the general assumption made, as we learned from my headshot, is only "possibly" gay.
So, do I steer away from writing projects that speak to the gay community? Should I avoid being cast in further film projects where I portray homosexual characters? For that matter...should I downplay my sexuality in my social media and public persona as well?
Today. Right now. I say no. As I continue to learn what it means for me to be a content creator and actor in the worlds of film and theatre, the one thing I am sure of is that I need to be true to my authentic self and make sure that honesty in my storytelling is paramount. That's where my focus needs to be. I'm perfectly happy letting those viewing the content worry about how to compartmentalize me. Shaun the actor, Shaun the writer, and Shaun the artist are only "labels" I'm concerned with.