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Activists Push for Diverse Body Types on Stage and Screen









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Last week was the annual Body Con. The virtual convention focuses on representation for diverse bodies in industries like modeling and entertainment. Many plus-sized actors say their opportunities in theater are limited, that they aren’t typically considered for the same roles as a thin person. Emily Schutz spoke with actors about their experiences in the industry and the changes they’d like to see.


EMILY SCHUTZ, BYLINE: Actress Nikki Garza was a panelist at Body Con and is a guest actor on the hit CW show Dynasty, where she plays office worker Lucia Suarez.


(SOUNDBITE OF DYNASTY)


SCHUTZ: Garza has found success on television. Her initial acting dream was to appear on Broadway. But she says when she auditioned for theatre she’d fall into one of two categories.


GARZA: Like it was never the lead. I couldn’t be the ingenue. It was always like oh, you could be this old woman or you could be the sex worker. So I knew that TV and film were a little more body diverse, progressive. I wasn't seeing that on Broadway or in theater at all.


SCHUTZ: Garza and other actors often use the word ‘fat” to describe their bodies. Abby Morris is a musical theater performer just starting her career in New York. She says plus-sized performers use the word ‘fat’ in part to try to remove its pejorative connotations. And she uses it freely on her podcast “More than Tracey Turnblad”–a reference to the lead character in Hairspray. She also wrote a one-woman show woman show centering on issues of body type…including a medley of songs performed by characters written as fat.


(SOUNDBITE OF MEDLEY)


SCHUTZ: Morris says her career so far has been limited by her size.


MORRIS: I'm 25. And until I graduated school, I'd never played a character under 40. The first thing I got called in for after graduation off showcase was Madam Morible under study.


SCHUTZ: That’s the old magic professor in Wicked.


MORRIS: And like yeah, they were looking for a young person but it's still like coded as older. So I thought that would go away, but it hasn't.


SCHUTZ: Theatre casting is beginning to diversify. Casting notices now often specifically request actors of all backgrounds. David Krasner is the chair of the theater department at Five Towns College on Long Island. He says he is beginning to see changes in the diversity of body types in the theater world, but there is still a long way to go.


KRASNER: Bias still exists. Stereotypes still exist and all you have to do is stand in the supermarket shopping lines magazines and you can see that to some degree it’s changed to some degree it hasn’t.


SCHUTZ: A casting call recently went out for the national tour of Les Miserables, saying “We are actively seeking performers of all races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, abilities, gender identities, and body types to audition,” But Abby Morris says this isn’t common.


MORRIS: For every casting call that says we want people of all diverse bodies to submit, there are 50 that say basically we want diversity but they specify every type of diversity except body so yeah, I think that while it is getting better and there's a lot more visibility, we are super far from where we need to be.


(SOUNDBITE BODY CON FINAL PERFORMANCE)


SCHUTZ: This year’s Body Con closed with a performance advocating for body diversity. Abby Morris says she’ll keep auditioning for Broadway shows, even though most of her work lately has been doing voice-overs.


Emily Schutz, Columbia Radio News.


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