by Abigail Mowbray, Guest Editorial, Onstage Blog
The theatrical industry is, on the surface, seen as an inclusive environment full of openly accepting members who desire to experience the same kind of public appreciation an eighth-grade version of myself so desperately craved. As a young artist, it has only taken me less than a handle of auditions and feedback to realize that theatre was not the fat girl’s sport.
If you speak to the choreographer, they’d say that it’s visually unappealing to have an uneven amount of “heavier” people on the stage than the other. If you speak to the costume designer, they say that it’s more difficult to create flattering costumes for the “common figure” a fat girl carries. If you look in the ensemble of a majority of running musicals, you will rarely find anyone that doesn’t fit an “average” body type to the production staff’s discretion.
The mentality that fat girls are not an acceptable “type” of a performer not only infiltrates the professional and community circles but has now trickled into high school theatre as well.
During my high school’s production of Thoroughly Modern Millie, where I was playing Miss Dorothy, we were learning the steps for the “Nutcracker Suite,” and the choreographer mapped out a lift in the middle of the dance break involving myself and Millie where we both sit on our male cast members’ shoulders. After multiple attempts to master the lift, the choreographer looked at me, in front of the entire cast, and says “Can we get a smaller girl over here?”
Because two high school boys couldn’t carry a 175 lbs curvaceous junior in high school, the choreographer chose to replace me with the smallest female member of the ensemble cast.
After experiencing similar treatment with the costuming department during measurements and costume fittings, I was fed up. Once the choreographer ran the lift with my replacement, I looked at her and said “Replacing me with the tiniest actress in our company does absolutely nothing for my confidence. I hope you’re happy with the decision you’ve made of compromising the integrity of your actor’s performance instead of your choreography.”
Once I made such a bold statement, I walked out of the rehearsal space into the dressing room where I was tracked down by the director and calmed down to re-enter the stage.
While the aforementioned example seems like petty high school drama, situations even more extreme happen every day in conference rooms surrounded by production teams of people that don’t live up to the external expectations they hold their anticipated cast members to. I feel like the theatrical industry is no place for a fat girl because a fat girl isn't what the public wants- at what least the paying public wants. Well, I’m sick and tired of it.
I’m tired of being typecast as the “fat best friend”.
We, the “fat girls” of the theatre community no longer desire to be quieted by being thrown roles like “Tracy Turnblad” in Hairspray or “Bridget” in Bring It On. We ask for the opportunity to portray every actress's dream role. Here’s to fat “Elphaba’s” in Wicked, fat “Christine’s” in Phantom of the Opera, and fat “Reginas” in Mean Girls.
Is that asking too much?