THIS FAT OLD LADY’S THEATER TUESDAY – YES FAT GIRLS CAN GET LEADS

Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I attended CSEP (Caseville Summer Enrichment Program).  My Dad was living in Pigeon, Michigan (yes, that is the real name of the town) which was not far from Caseville and he offered to pay for me to go to CSEP (and spend the summer with him and his family).  I was thrilled to get to go.  My sister Linda had gone a few years before this and she had a great time. 

Every year CSEP did two musicals – a junior musical (for the younger kids) and high school kid musical.  This year the high school kid musical was Mame.

I was familiar with Mame; having read the novel and seeing the Rosalind Russell movie (on TV – I’m not THAT old).  A friend who was also going to CSEP got her hands on the play version of Auntie Mame and offered to get together and practice doing readings.  An offer I jumped at.

I, like everyone else at CSEP, wanted to play Mame. 

First, everyone sang.  We were all gathered in one room and got to watch each other. That was interesting.  Then everyone got to read for various parts.  (And if you wanted a particular role and didn’t get called on to read for that role, you could tell the director (Louis Fletcher) and musical director (Pat Ankney) that you would like to read. 

With all this fairness going on, auditions took a very long time. 

I could not tell you what I sang.  I did get to read for Mame and I also got to read for Vera and I got to read for some other roles and it was all very exciting.

I learned two things at this audition. 

Whether or not you want the part you are reading for – do your best.  There was one person there who really wanted to play Mame.  She was asked to read for Sally Cato and she, seemingly purposefully, did a crap job of the reading.  When she was allowed to read for Mame all of a sudden she was doing just fine.  Hmmmmmm.  And if it wasn’t clear to her, it was clear to me that the director noticed what she was doing.

There’s more to getting the part than talent.  There were a set of twins attending CSEP.  Gorgeous young women; and part of the McGraw publishing family – so richy-rich-rich.  One wanted to play Mame.  She was meh at the auditions, but nobody was surprised when she got the part.  Luckily, the shows were double cast, so another young lady who actually deserved the role got Mame.

And, no, it wasn’t me.

I got Vera. 

And playing Vera isn’t bad for your first lead in a show. 

I learned a lot about theater that summer. 

I learned it’s hard work and also a ton of fun and that (most) of the people are funnier and smarter and nicer than you ever imagined such cool people could be.

I learned that theater is more than the fun of acting and singing.  If you were in the musical, you were also automatically put in the set building class.  I learned all about building and painting flats – those were the days before lauan plywood – this was building the frame, stretching and stapling and gluing the muslin, putting on hinging and bracings – and nobody trusted us with power tools of any kind!  We made staircases.  We made trees (who says only God (TIDBI) can make a tree?)! 

Okay – they weren’t great trees. In fact, once put on our “stage” (a huge platform built in the school’s gymnasium) and all of us kids were up there dancing to Mame, those trees tended to sway – a lot – you might even say ominously!

I also learned that if the director doesn’t like that you’re fat – that’s his problem; not yours.  Louis Fletcher told me during a rehearsal to “suck in my gut” that “stars don’t have a gut”.  I didn’t say anything back (cut me some slack, it was my first lead in a show); but my internal reaction was – if you didn’t want a fat girl in this role, you shouldn’t have cast me.  And it just made me work all the harder – not too look thin – but to be really really good in the part.

And I was.

And I still am.

So fuck you Louis, wherever you are.  Sometime the star does have a gut and you can suck it in yourself!

Mame – CSEP – 1970 – The Man in the Moon Is a Lady – I’m to the Right in this photo with my mouth about as open as it can get! I see some other familiar faces – Peggy Pack Dennis, Sue Berg, Eva Evaleth!

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