Last summer, my friends and I started a new theatre company called The Millennial Theatre Company. This company came about for a multitude of reasons, but one of the main reason was the idea of being cast non traditionally - based on talent rather than a defining physical characteristic. The show we chose to experiment on? Heathers the Musical.
As Chris Peterson mentioned in his article, Broadway Needs to Re-Think Their Size Issue, Martha Dunstock is often thought of for a fuller-figured actress. But what if Veronica was also a fuller actress?
We’re big fans of the vlogs that Broadway.com produces in partnership with shows open on Broadway. Inspired by this, we documented our rehearsal process as promotional pieces for Heathers, and as we started introducing costumes to the vlog and viewers became aware of who was playing Veronica, comments started rolling in.
We expected the common YouTube comments that often degrade or belittle actors of a different portrayal than the script calls for.
“Why does the Veronica look like a Martha?”
“Why is Veronica not...the correct body type for her character?”
“This takes place in the 1980s. Veronica may not have been one of the hot girls, but she was skinny and pretty.”
What really warmed our hearts, though, were the overwhelming number of comments thanking our production for giving bigger girls the opportunity to see themselves in a role they wouldn’t normally be offered.
“I’m a bigger girl and I’d love to be Veronica someday.”
“Especially love the idea of making Veronica a wider woman. I think it suits her character, honestly.”
“I love how you casted her for the talent and not weight.”
“I was so worried that the comment section was going to be a regular body bash, but it’s so positive!”
“Veronica wasn’t what I was expecting…BUT I LOVE IT!”
This provided a unique platform where a dialogue could begin to happen; a dialogue about what we choose to emphasize as producers and directors. Also what limitations we set for ourselves, and for people who differ from us. It challenges us to analyze the script to see if it matters if the character is a particular “type,” and forces us to answer the question, “Why not someone like me?”
Specifically for Heathers, our director saw it as an opportunity to show how Veronica’s skillsets made her valuable to the Heathers, and despite her physical appearance, she was offered a coveted spot with the queens of Westerberg.
In doing this, we demonstrated how bigger CAN be beautiful. So why shouldn’t Broadway try?
Yes, it is a risk, but after selling out three performances of Heathers with overwhelmingly positive reviews, we saw the importance of casting people based on their skill set. It’s a mission we’re striving to achieve in our current productions, and in productions to come.
Take the chance on the bigger girl. The guy of color. The person who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned at birth. The response might surprise you.
Change won’t happen overnight, but why not start today? And if it’s a millennial thing, this way of non traditional casting, that starts the trend, what are you waiting for, Broadway?
Cassie is a theatre major at the Ohio State University which she is also President of the Boo Radley Society.