A few days ago, Chris Peterson had written and published the article “Broadway Needs to Re-Think Its Size Issue” and Cassie Smith had written, “Redefining the Physical Characteristics of ‘Heathers’”. Both articles are amazing and I highly recommend. As a bigger actress myself, I absolutely love to read articles about how unfair overweight actors are being treated in the industry because it means the issue isn’t going unnoticed. But after these articles were published, some things have happened in regards to them. So now it’s my turn to write my own. Part three, if you will.
Naturally, because I’m such a huge fan of Heathers, I had to share Smith’s article with a Heathers Fan Group I’m in on Facebook. The reception the article got was mostly positive, even other bigger actresses like me commenting that they want to play Veronica one day and this gave them hope. But then I got a comment, followed by many others, that made my blood boil:
“So, do I get to play Tracy Turnblad?”
This comment was obviously made by someone who was upset that a fuller actress being cast in a role that was stereotypically thin was being praised and accepted. Judging by the comment as well, this girl is thin and trying to justify that she can play Tracy if this girl could play Veronica.
Unfortunately, the answer to her question would be yes. Because there is always a theatre company somewhere who decides to produce Hairspray or Heathers, and sometimes, they cast a thin girl to play Tracy or Martha. They will simply put her in a suit and voila. Here’s the thing: that thin girl will be able to take off that suit and go to another audition and not be judged for her size. She cannot know about the struggles of being overweight and having to dance with or be pestered for her weight like Tracy because she’s thin when she’s doing the choreography and in the back of her and the cast’s mind, she knows that she’s not overweight.
This girl went on about how the Heathers would never allow Veronica into their group if she were overweight while they make fun of Martha. Yes, Martha gets made fun of for being overweight, but everyone in Westerburg bullies each other, and also, there’s one line that Ram says to her that is also evident. In “Big Fun” he says,
“Why do you have to act so weird all the time? People wouldn’t hate you so much if you just acted normal”.
He never said that if she were skinny she wouldn’t be bullied. Veronica is the type of person who keeps her head down until she feels she needs to speak up. She just wants to survive. Martha is made fun of for being herself and it’s so much easier to pick on her for being overweight because it’s her appearance. Martha is probably not the only plus sized person in school either, even in the 80s.
Not only that, when the Heathers meet Veronica they tell her she has good bone structure, a symmetrical face, and could stand to lose a few pounds. They basically said she’s pretty (and you don’t need to be skinny for that!) and that last line alone proves Veronica could be any size because Heather Duke, the one who said it, is not happy with her own size as she’s a bulimic so she wouldn’t be happy with someone else’s either. On top of that, they use Veronica and her handwriting forgery skills for their own deeds. Maybe if Martha had the same skill she would be invited to join the Heathers too. The Heathers only care about their own personal gain and appearance, not someone’s weight.
This girl, and many others who disagree with this production and article I’m sure, clearly do not like seeing someone that isn’t the same body type as her being casted for something she could potentially be in. But when you’re thin and talented, you have options. You can play the love interest, the mean girl, you can play anyone including Tracy, Martha and Motormouth Maybelle. But when you’re overweight and talented, they only see the first thing until you open your mouth and sing, sometimes they won’t even want to listen. You get to play the mother, the unattractive funny girl, maybe a small male role, and Tracy, Martha and Motormouth Maybelle. Two shows isn’t a lot of options.
I know there will be some people who are paying close attention to this blog saying that I had just put up an article about my trying to lose weight for theatre. My opinion still stands. I could lose five pounds this summer and still look the same way I do now in the mirror and to my peers when going back to school. But my working out is not only for theatre, but for me. But my reason why I am for theatre too, despite what I just wrote: I’m sick of looking in the mirror and thinking to myself that if my school decides to put on Heathers, they will cast me as Martha or yet another supporting role. Because not every theatre company is as open minded as Cassie Smith’s. It would somehow be a risk to put a bigger girl, and a girl of colour, as Veronica. What will Winona Ryder think?!
Some people have no choice but to be the size they are. They have allergies, conditions, things that they have no control over and their weight being one of them. Which is why it pissed me off when after Chris’ article was published, someone had left this comment:
"Instead of trying to convince everybody else to conform to that ideology, why not encourage over-weight people to do what they have to to compete? If the role you want calls for someone skinny, make yourself skinny. If you choose not to be skinny, don't expect everyone to bow down to you and give you the role you don't fit in (pun intended). It shouldn't be the majority's responsibility to provide accommodations for the minority. That's not fair."
Unfortunately, “making yourself skinny” isn’t as easy as writing a comment on Facebook for some people. Just like it isn’t when auditioning or when performing. Healthy food and a gym membership as well as fitness gear can be expensive. Thankfully, I have a choice. Some people aren’t so lucky.
I have also been so blessed to have my voice and be able to go to school for acting and thankfully, people are starting to look past your pant size and see what talent you have. When I wrote the article “The Downside of Being an Actor of Colour (AOC)” I mentioned that I played the Gypsy in my school’s production of The Who’s Tommy. The Gypsy is supposed to be a drug and sex crazed prostitute, calling herself the Acid Queen and hyped up in the song “Eye Sight to the Blind”. A two hundred pound girl would never pop into your mind with that description and I would never have been considered for that role if someone else had the pipes to sing “Acid Queen”. If you recall in the article, I was called back originally for Mrs Walker: Tommy’s mother. I’m sure a lot of people would have preferred Gypsy to be played by a skinny girl and be able to show more of her body, but the creative team chose me because I had the voice (and possibly because I am also an AOC). If you were in the same dilemma as they were, wouldn’t you have done the same? If not, do yourself a favour and listen to the song. The whole song and tell me you still wouldn’t. Because the same goes for Heathers and any other production featuring a bigger and talented actor in a “thin” role.
I was so happy to watch Smith’s production of Heathers because it gave me hope of seeing other companies to follow suit. The world can’t change overnight. But as long as I and other people, big or thin, who see this injustice have a voice, we’ll keep fighting until one-day actors can play any role. Where the number on the scale doesn’t equal how many more or less roles you can book. Where size only matters to a seamstress fitting you for a costume. Where whether or not I lose weight this summer or ever, I can play Veronica or any role I put my mind and voice to. When casting and watching a show, size really shouldn’t matter. Because it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, talent gets you through the door, character keeps you in the room.
Aly is a University student in Canada majoring in Dramatic Arts. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do with her degree, but she doesn’t care as long as she stays involved with the love of her life: theatre.