Fat accessibility in the theatre is meager, at best. There is too little representation of fat characters, and those that do exist often fall into caricature-esque types. Not to mention, many theatres themselves are not fat accessible- specifically seats on Broadway. Fat accessibility has a long way to go across the world, but there’s no reason it couldn’t begin with theatre, an art form that has long taken in the outcasts and “others.” It’s time theatre accepted that audiences are not as small as the dancers in their show, and make its spaces fat accessible both off and on stage. Now, there’s a difference between the body positive movement and fat acceptance, even though the body positive movement was created by truly fat people looking for the world to treat them simply as people. Theatre has worked to be more body positive, in some ways, and smaller stages in communities across America have welcomed many different body types onto their creaky wooden stages, but fat people are still being excluded in the grand scheme.
When I say “fat,” I’m referring to people who are fat in the truest sense of the word- above a size sixteen, above a size twenty-six; people who are already horribly neglected by other communities and disregarded simply because of their size- which shouldn’t matter anywhere. Theatre, however, is an especially difficult point to access for fat people as patrons and participants.
Some of the most beautiful talents I’ve ever worked with have inhabited fat bodies. In fact, the three most phenomenal voices I’ve ever heard have come from bodies who fit only personally tailored clothes- their costumes built by hand or ordered from specialty stores. One of whom, I must detail just a bit more, sings like an angel. Her voice could end battles, her pitch-perfect, her stage presence absolutely stunning, and to top it all off she’s a dream to work with. However, despite her award-winning gift, she has to fight constantly to get cast in shows when she should be taking the pick of the lot. I often wonder and have heard her muse, how her roles would be different if her talent was in a smaller body. I know of countless other men and women with phenomenal voices, or brilliant timing, one is a great tap dancer, but they’re all fat, so the amount of pushing and pleading they have to do to be seen or heard on stage, just once, is exponentially more than anyone of a straight size.
Now, when a fat body is allowed on stage, (I say allowed because fat bodies are constantly catering to smaller ones which can feel like asking permission) the character the fat body is portraying is likely a mom or dad, some other maternal figure, or Tracy in Hairspray- but even that role is often cast with a size twelve. It’s rare to see a fat body in love, loudly laughing, or moving in a dance. This creates an exclusive space because we’re then telling exclusive stories.
When we tell exclusive stories, we welcome an exclusive audience. Although it’s not blatantly said, when we limit our stories and casts to a certain size or weight, we send messages to the fat community that say a fat story isn’t as important. We need to open our eyes more to scripts and shows that feature fat bodies, very fat bodies, bodies that have just as much a right to exist as their smaller counterparts.
Then, as we open our stages up to more bodies and different people, we need to open our doors, our seats, and our arms. Spaces in the world are getting smaller, on planes, in aisles, and theatre seats- many of which have always been small- but our people are getting bigger.
Evolution has shown us that people are only taller and wider than they used to be. This means we need to adapt. Seats in theatres are way too small, I’ve seen people turn away from shows because they can’t fit between the tight armrests, or because their legs can’t rest, but must fold up into the seat in front of them. I myself have sat through shows and walked away with red dents in my hips- which had never happened until I sat in this Broadway theatre. If we can’t welcome all audiences to the theatre, and all kinds of people who want to be there, then we don’t have nearly an inclusive or open environment in the theatre as we theatre-makers wish to think.