Maybe in the entertainment industry it's a bit idealistic to hope that body size won't impact an actor's ability to earn roles. But is it too much to assume that once a performer lands a role, he or she shouldn't lose the job over gaining a few extra pounds? As in most things, the answer to that question lies in the circumstances.
Earlier this month news surfaced that opera singer Deborah Voigt was fired by London's Royal Opera House for gaining weight and then rehired once she dropped 135 pounds. One could argue that opera singing is probably the last field left in the entertainment industry in which having a little heft is seen as an asset. Full-figured women have graced opera stages since the art form's inception in the 17th century; since then, opera has remained one of the few areas in which women can display their abundant talents without having to be a Size 2.
Large breasts are to Broadway what weight is to opera: something that's generally not frowned upon and not considered an impediment to a quality performance. But Broadway dancer Alice Alyse filed a lawsuit in June claiming she lost her job in a production of Movin' Out because her breast size grew from a C-cup to a D-cup. Though the production company has refused to comment on the cause of Alyse's firing, it seems as though even industry norms are no match for the unwavering scrutiny of directors and producers eager to overthink women's waist and bust sizes and how they impact ticket sales.
In Hollywood this sort of shallow, style-over-substance type of thinking can be expected. But these women were fired from stage productions, not an episode of J-Lo's South Beach. Perhaps the pervasive mediums of television and film are now upping the ante on their ability to infect and influence one of the oldest and most respected institutions: live entertainment.
We've already watched Broadway adapt so many films from the 1960s on, including Hairspray and The Producers, and be rewarded with glowing reviews and weighty ticket sales. Perhaps the next wave of theatre will involve applying Hollywood's physical standards of beauty to stage performers. This means opera singers—who, by the way, are usually singing in a language most Americans don't understand—now have to drip with physical sensuality. Forget the necessity of being strong enough to perform for three hours in heavy costumes most small mules couldn't carry. We say, have Stella McCartney redesign wardrobe and throw Nicole Richie into La Bohème, bumblebee sunglasses and all.
Put Drew Barrymore into Movin' Out and have her deliver a public service announcement about her breast reduction during intermission—anything to remind theatregoers that women should jiggle, but only the right amount, that they should deliver strong performances but not provide too much of an imposing physical presence or that skinny guy (the one disgusted by the thought that women sweat) in the front row might get frightened.
Sure, it is the entertainment industry, and to some extent stage performers should, like television and film performers, have a pleasing appearance. But why must the visual elements take precedence over the other senses (aside from the fact that we live in a style-over-substance consumer society)? After all, isn't live entertainment about the tangible experience, the sensation derived when one feels the energy of the performers and hears them deliver their lines or sing?
Perhaps the next time we're witnessing a professional theatrical production, we should close our eyes, shut off our neocortices, and try to remember why we're there: because these people, unlike Britney Spears' little sister, are talented.