The Adventures of Permanent Lifestyle Change Girl: Performing the Fat Piece

It’s been a couple of weeks since the evening in which I performed a reading of the Fat piece from my solo show. I was nervous, I was uncertain. It had only been a fantasy for so long, a work in progress, my biggest obstacle in the long running marathon to complete my solo show. The writing is the hard part – until you think of performing it live in front of people. The many drafts have been edited, critiqued, undone, reconstructed within an inch of its life and still it seemed “not ready,” but when called upon to read as part of the Story Jam series, I decided to jump in. It was time to take her out and stop fooling around. Time to make a commitment to this piece.

Weight is the center of my world. So much depends on it. If I lose it, or gain it – the impact is equally profound. Health, knee pain, self esteem and mobility are at stake. I have experiences to share. Some of the stuff I talk about is brutally honest. The audience laughed and were shocked into silence at times. I was surprised by the impact this piece had on my audience gathered at The Wilmette Theater, located in a wealthy, mostly White suburb of Chicago. I have lived with this material for so long that it seemed old hat – nothing new – but when I think on it now I realize that I have never seen anyone speak as I did about the real nitty-gritty truths and humiliations of an obese person. I have been told that I must not “self shame” but I wasn’t self-shaming. I was simply telling the truth, but experience and guidance by my mentor and editor Arlene Malinowski has given me an insight into what makes for good story-telling for the solo performer onstage. It is important to have “hope” and my “hope” is of course the great gift of fitness that I received from my friend Fred. That bit in my story makes the piece work. Before the “gift of fitness” my story came off like a rant about the woes of being fat. It was truthful but it needed a turn, a denouement.

I have good instincts. I am funny. My many years of performing, training and my natural talent has finally born the fruit of confidance and trust in myself as a writer and performer. As I prepared to read, I noticed – with only a few exceptions – that most of the audience was trim and fit. I thought to myself: Are they going to be able to relate to this material? Will they care? Will they be bored?

Fortunately, there were a few “Sista-Girls” in the audience who bore witness as I read – just like in Church! There is a line where I say:

In fact, I’m not just fat, or overweight.

Technically, I am mor-bid-ly obese.

As I said the line: “I am MORBIDLY OBESE” one of the “Sista-Girls” in the audience shouted out the words with me. YES! That’s what I’m talking about. I had a witness!

The piece was long, too long, but only from reading the piece live can I gauge what works. Things that seemed vital to the piece suddenly became trivial in performance and the opposite was true as well. It was incredibly helpful to do this reading for strangers. They remained engaged and I felt they were quite willing to go on this journey with me.

One of the biggest surprises was the reactions I got from men. I was hugged by my male audience members who told me they “learned something.” One man in particular related a story that still touches me:

This guy works with a very obese man who joins he and three other co-workers in a daily walk to get lunch. He says they often leave this guy “in the dust” as they “briskly walk” to their favrite lunch spot. They often tease him about being so slow and “lazy” and he said it never occurred to him that “maybe the guy was in pain and physically unable to keep up with them.” Instead of cheering him on for even trying, they often gave him shit for taking so long.
“Tomorrow I will walk at his pace and be more encouraging.”

Several people related the fact that though they themselves were not obese, they had friends and family who were, and it gave them a new insight to who they are and what their life experience must be like.

That is what this piece is all about!

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