Seattle

Real Talk: My Life as a Factress

by Kathryn Brooks.

by Kathryn Lynn Morgen

Katie Woodzick is a writer, actress, director, feminist and External Relations Manager for Hedgebrook. She considers herself a smattering of Rogue from X-Men, Mae West and Tina Fey, among others. She holds a strong belief that leopard print is a neutral. You can reach out to her on Twitter: @TheWoodzick

 

by Jim Carroll

by Jim Carroll

 

I am a factress. This is the new name I claim for myself as a fat actress. Instead of plus-sized, curvy, voluptuous, or even zaftig: I am a talented actress who is fat, and those are the facts.

My love of theatre started with church and children’s theatre productions. I was cast as princesses, ladies-in-waiting, angels—until I turned twelve and hit puberty. As I finished middle school and started high school, I noticed as directors cast me in adult roles: the mother, the grandmother, the saucy middle-aged cockney maid.

Starting college as a theatre major, I figured it would be a clean slate. But I still found myself cast in older roles. My senior year, I was cast as two different pregnant characters: Bette in the Marriage of Bette and Boo and Jeanie in HAIR. In both productions, the director and costume designer agreed that additional padding wasn’t necessary.

 

Hair Production Still

Hair Production Still

In college, I was too busy socializing and studying to discern a pattern from the roles I was receiving. I was happy to be cast in shows, even though I secretly yearned to play roles closer to the young, beautiful woman that I was.

Our college had a relationship with a small regional theatre, and we were lucky to have professional actors teach one or two classes a semester. Second semester my senior year, I took an auditioning workshop. I went into the acting studio to give my final performance. I finished my piece and looked up at my instructor. She was shaking her head.

“Listen, Katie, that was really great. Now, I’m going to tell you something that you might not want to hear. You are really talented, but directors aren’t going to know what to do with you. Once you get out of college, all the roles your age are ingenues and your body type doesn’t fit that mould. But once you hit your mid-thirties, there are a lot of great character roles and I bet you’ll get work all the time.”

I nodded, and walked out of the acting studio, stunned. When you’re 21, 35 seems like an incredibly unreachable age. I felt disheartened, but I knew that I needed to keep acting.

Sweeney_Todd_Photo_by_Mike_Shafer

by Mike Shafer

I wouldn’t say that she was wrong. I’m 29, and I still feel like directors don’t quite know what to do with me. I have a young face and a mature frame. I once had a director cast me as a male role, Pirelli, in a production of Sweeney Todd.

“I know it’s untraditional, but you were too young to play one role and too old to play another, but I knew I really wanted to use you,” she said.

When I go into an audition, I expect the director to judge me. This is the bargain I make as an actor to pursue my passion. The director across the table immediately assesses my talent and attractiveness and often makes their decision about me roughly 20 seconds after I start my audition piece.

When I don’t get cast in a show, it’s disappointing, but it’s become a way of life. Auditioning keeps me strong and resilient when dealing with run of the mill fat girl challenges in daily life: Yes, I do exercise. No, I don’t eat junk food all the time. No, I’m not pregnant. No, really, I’m not pregnant—I’m sorry that my shape of my body doesn’t conform to your narrow expectation of what you think I should look like.

I’ve come across some rocky spots with costume designers who have made it extremely clear to me that I’m not the easiest actress to costume. I have clothes in my closet that range from size 12 to size 20, and many of the pieces in costume storage are for more petite frames. I used to let the negative comments get under my skin. Now, stand strong in knowing that if the director cast me in the role, my body is the curvy palette that the costume designer has to work with, whether they like it or not.

Right now, I’m in rehearsals for a production of Into the Woods. I’ve worked with the director before, and he had even cast me once in an ingenue-type role in a previous production. I was completely floored when he offered me the role of Little Red Riding Hood. He made a bold choice. He easily could have cast a thinner, younger actress in the role. Historically, it’s not uncommon for directors to cast a teenage actress in this role. Instead, he cast a 29 year old, 5’8” factress as a 14 year old girl and the results are hilarious and great fit for the show.

by Samantha O'Brochta

by Samantha O’Brochta

I am excited and heartened by directors who choose to cast factresses in new and surprising ways. And I’m starting to find encouraging language written into scripts as well! Seattle playwright Courtney Meaker puts a note to directors in her scripts, reminding them that any of her characters need not be “able-bodied, slim caucasians.”

We go to the theatre to see our stories told onstage. My hope is that more and more factresses will be cast in a diversity of roles where audiences might not expect to see us. I hope that playwrights and producers will encourage directors to look beyond the obvious choices and choose to create worlds onstage where every body shape is represented.

My plan is to keep strutting my factress stuff for many auditions to come.

 

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