Types have been a vital part of story telling since the art of story telling was conceived. The phrase "Type" comes from the word "Archetype", a concept developed by the ancient Greeks, who are also considered to be the forefathers of the Theatre itself. "Archetype" comes from the greek root "Arkhetypon" which essentially means "original model or pattern."
Over the many years, Archetypes have evolved to fit the realm in which story telling takes place. When the first plays were written, there were more simplistic types such as "Heroes", "Villains", "Innocent Maidens", "Servants", "Royalty" and "Gods." These types may have been put into place in a way to reinforce peoples roles in society talking of people being punished for disobeying the Gods or Authority.
As society evolved, there came more variety in the types of characters portrayed, this shift may have come from the introduction of Comedies to the stage. Playwright Titus Plautus was one of these first comedic playwrights, who created some of the first Farces, including stories that would later be combined and adapted to create the musical, "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" by Sondheim. These stories introduced characters like "The Trickster Servant", "The Braggart Warrior", "The Courtesan," and "The Foolish/Lecherous Old Man". From that moment on, the character types of the theatre were fleshed out in new ways. From Ancient times to the Modern centuries, playwrights have used archetypes in their stories, from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller. Over the years of course they have become far more complex.
In the early 20th Century, Psychologist Carl Jung developed a theory involving the significance of Archetypes, later known as the "Jungian Archetypes". He believed there were 12 common archetypes in all stories, myths, and art, split into three type categories, Ego, Soul and Self, and created a wheeled diagram which had these 12 types to face near and in between 4 orientations, Freedom, Social, Order, and Ego. Read more about the Jungian Archetypes at http://www.soulcraft.co/essays/the_12_common_archetypes.html.
Today, we don't typically use the phrase "Archetype" any more, but just "Type." While in many of today's contemporary plays you don't see as generic of a character type as in the past, many of today's characters fall into pieces and categories of the previous archetypes. This is why even today, you see plenty of actors "playing the same kinds of roles" over and over. It's because they fit into a specific "Type."
Understanding character types are vital when selecting your audition materials. Yes, everyone wants to be that actor that can transform and transcend their type. However, if you are going to a cattle call, where casting directors are seeing hundreds of actors through out the day, they are typically looking for a specific type for each role. If you can go into an audition and convince a casting director that you have the ability to play a role you may not be typically looked at for, more power to you. I guarantee it is going to be much more difficult to do so, however, and could in many cases could hurt your chances at auditions. Rather than let your type be your enemy, make it your friend, take advantage of YOUR uniqueness. There is only one you, while acting is typically being someone else, a creative team will hire you because they like you, not necessarily because they like who you are pretending to be.
Want to learn some ways you can learn your type? Check out my other blog here: http://www.jordansidfield.com/blog/whats-my-type