Artists’ Collective Theatre explores body image with Fat Pig

The artistic director of Artists’ Collective Theatre (ACT) Amanda Liz Cutting says the title of the company’s current theatrical offering Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig is “supposed to make you chagrin.”

“My mother hates the title” Cutting says adding that LaBute wants to get people thinking about why it makes them uncomfortable.

“Why does the word ‘fat’ automatically make us have negative connotations?” Cutting asks.

While Artists’ Collective Theatre has been around for more than two years 2013/14 marks the Collective’s first complete season with an ambitious lineup of seven shows.

Most of ACT’s offerings this year have dealt with social issues — from Joan Macleod’s piece about teenage bullying The Shape of a Girl to Boiler Room Suite which looks at homelessness.

Fat Pig — which Cutting sums up as the story of a “big girl falling in love with an average guy — is the result of asking potential audience members what they would like to see from ACT.

Cutting says the focus on social issues via this year’s lineup is not intentional. ACT’s mandate as Cutting explains is “to provide professional opportunities to emerging artists” through “interesting thought-provoking pieces.”

Professional mentorship is also part of the picture. With Fat Pig for example seasoned director and the artistic head of Sage Theatre Kelly Reay directs.

Cutting admits it was difficult to find a full-figured actress who had the appropriate self-confidence to depict Fat Pig ’s Helen. “We were looking for a full-figured woman who like Helen is confident in herself and who doesn’t feel she has to apologize for her size” she says.

When that auditioning quest proved unsuccessful Cutting herself stepped into the role. “I’ve always been a bigger weight. It has taken time for me to deal with that” Cutting admits.

When she was 16-years old Cutting became Western Canada’s first plus-size model under the age of 40 which gave her confidence and a level of self-acceptance. When she was in theatre school however Cutting says one teacher’s comment about her weight took an emotional toll.

“I had a teacher tell me I was too fat to make it in the acting industry. That hit me hard for six or eight months. Then I decided ‘Forget this. I’m not going to let that define me.’ So I auditioned for some of the biggest theatre schools and I had an opportunity given to me” Cutting explains adding that her “too fat” status weighed in at a size 12.

Cutting even posed naked for ACT’s Fat Pig poster no small feat of confidence for a woman of any size.

“My friends say ‘I don’t see you as fat.’ When people stop seeing what society considers a flaw they can see a person for who they really are” Cutting explains.

Fat Pig ’s four characters are all sympathetic says Cutting because of the truthful place from which each character is born and the focus on “characters not caricatures.” And although the play deals with serious issues there’s plenty of humour.

Audiences meet the aforementioned Helen a plus-size librarian who does not apologize for her size. Enter Tom (Peter Dorrius) a white-collar urban professional who’s intrigued by Helen and her self-confidence.

“Tom is a sweet man who has every want and desire to do the ‘right thing.’ But he can’t get over his own issues. He wants to blend in with the crowd” Cutting explains.

Tom’s friend Carter (Tanner d’Esterre) cannot accept Tom’s relationship with Helen as he cannot see past her plus size.

“Carter is hyper-sensitive to image…. When you first meet him everybody’s reaction is ‘Wow he’s such an abrasive character.’ But throughout the play you see there’s a lot more to it” Cutting says.

Rounding out the play’s quartet is Jeannie (Stephanie Orr) the “average” office woman who like many “average” office women has insecurities about her own appearance.

“She wants to be prettier…. She never feels she’s good enough for any guy” Cutting says adding that one of the play’s central messages is about self-acceptance.

“There are so many issues this play deals with…. It makes you think about your own personal biases and expectations” Cutting says.