Fat and lit
abhillel at hotmail.com
Wed Feb 5 04:15:56 EST 2003
When I was directing student theatre and trying to cast plays, I realised
how impossible it was to divorce oneself entirely from physical stereotypes.
Even when I did cast people with "non traditional" body types for particular
roles - or for that matter, non traditional skin color, age (no getting
around this one in student theatre) or gender behaviour (effeminate men,
butch women) - I was not being blind to the actors' features, but looking
for ways to turn them to the benefit of my interpretation of the play,
whether by going with stereotypes or against them. Authors and directors are
probably alike in this respect, of having no choice but to wield
stereotypes; as contemptible as we find them, they are truly unavoidable.
Except that authors have the freedom to make up whatever characters they
wish, whereas directors often have to make do with the pool of auditionees.
Which I rather think makes life easier for directors.
One of my leading ladies was noticeably plump. She was possibly my fifth or
sixth choice for role, chosen more for her singing voice than anything else
- she had not impressed me much in auditions, and to be quite frank, I
couldn't see a dumpy actress in the role - I suppose I am also prejudiced,
even though I'm far from thin myself. But a succesion of higher choices had
refused the role or quit, and I had to choose another actress or cancel the
project. In the end, she was phenomenally good. She lacked the attitude
problems that lots of actresses have, and rehearsals were a pleasure,
because she was SO pleased to get the role, and SO eager to prove herself.
And maybe she had to work harder as an actress in order to make the audience
perceive her character as beautiful. Whatever it was, she shone, and she
received nothing but compliments and rave reviews, none of which made any
mention of her physical appearance. The next time I was casting a play, I
had no hesitation in casting her - I knew what a pleasure she was to work
with. This time it was a comedy, and I went all out, casting her in the role
of a famous beauty about whom everyone is talking for the entire first act,
but only comes out in the second act, and we had her all decked out in a
huge poofy white dress like a gigantic creampuff. Not a traditional beauty
by any means, but everyone was treating her as "the beauty" and falling in
love with her right and left. So of course her size was an issue that popped
up frequently when people were discussing the play. Which was "better"?
Turning her size into a non-issue, or making into an asset? Which was the
cop out, if at all?
I don't think there is a right answer. I don't think size stereotypes can
ever be simply not used. Nan's fat is no less a stereotypical tool in her
characterization than Dudley Dursley's in his - her fat characterizes her as
a loner type, and brings the focus onto how she develops her inner world.
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