Does Height Really Matter on Our Stages?

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I believe we are at the beginning of a tipping point where long-held audition standards are going to be challenged. From actors of color to accessibility, the marginalizing factors that used to close so many opportunities for various people, are soon going to be wide open.

At least one can hope. 

However, for the time being, there are more factors that disqualify a performer being cast aside from their talent. These are factors they have little to no control over such as their height. 

I've seen and heard many casting professionals dismiss performers based on whether or not they were too tall/short for a role, even if it's just a couple of inches. While I agree that there is sometimes the need for height requirements for certain roles, costume budgets, etc. But when it comes to those that don't, it seems a bit ridiculous to excuse the most talented actress in the room just because she's too tall/short. 

Yes, I do think the Beast and Gaston should be taller than Belle. I do think Big Julie in Guys and Dolls should be an accurate nickname rather than ironic. Three Tall Women should have three tall women. But is it that much of a problem if Eliza Doolittle is taller than Henry Higgins? Or if Alexander Hamilton is shorter than Eliza? Apparently, in the eyes of many creative and casting teams, it is. 

Why is that? Well, I believe it has to do a lot with social norms and our perception of how height matters. But there isn't a lot of evidence out there to support that. A journal published in the National Library of Medicine stated,

"Although some previous studies have shown that perceptions of status or dominance are related to height, and are therefore consistent with such an explanation, there is surprisingly little research testing whether height actually has any influence on the behavioral outcomes in real-life social interactions."

So, if this is the case, why are so many actors being told that their height is an issue for characters where height doesn't necessarily matter? I spoke to both actors and dancers who have been told their height was problematic. 

The first was actress Bethany Kay, who told me about an audition she had where the fact that she was wearing heels, became an issue. 

"I’m 5’9”. I was once ridiculed at a callback for wearing heels to my audition for Fat Pig.

So let’s get this straight: this is a play about a woman who is deemed too “other” to date the conventionally attractive man who IS actually attracted to her, and my height was a problem. They had me read with every single guy there and then a female producer just sat there staring at my 2” heels for a bit too long so I asked if she wanted me to put on flats. Her response was “ya think?”

Yes. I do think. I think you’re missing the very thinly veiled point of the play you’ve chosen for your reason."

I also spoke to a dancer who has faced similar issues for being too short. She told me, 

"My former agent reached out to some casting directors for feedback as to why I wasn't getting callbacks and the response was, "We love her, she's such a great dancer... But she's so short." It's incredibly frustrating when you're doing everything you can as an artist to better yourself and the one thing you can't change is what's holding you back. There's nothing actionable I can do to grow a few inches."

So what's the solution? Well, unfortunately, it's going to take open-minded casting and creative teams to become more inclusive when it comes to such marginalizing factors. But as we all know, waiting for that is like watching grass grow. So in the meantime, I hope columns like these help raise awareness that if height doesn't matter to the character, then it shouldn't matter how you cast it.