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Imagining Creative Fat Futures

Illustration of various cushioned chairs.

Original illustration by Anna Roth Trowbridge.

Fat Fables is a performance and creation program for fat LGBT2SQ+ folks age twenty-nine and under. It was conceived in 2019 after Morgan Davis and Jules Vodarek Hunter worked on a show together with The AMY Project and recognized the gaps in arts programming for folks living at the intersection of fatness and queerness. Fat Fables was developed to build community, create opportunities, and make fat LGBT2SQ+ friends.

This initial run of Fat Fables ran from October 2021 to April 2022 with nine participants from across the Greater Toronto Area and British Columbia. Originally set to be an in-person program with a culminating performance, Fat Fables had to pivot to an online program due to COVID-19. We plan to run an in-person program with the same artists and do a culminating performance in late 2023. In order to talk about fatness in digital spaces, we have to think about all spaces. We sat down and had a conversation about what drove us to create Fat Fables and our experience running the program online for the first time.

As fat folks, there are many parts of life we don’t participate in because of the way the world is set up. Within the queer community, there is often an image of a thin, androgynous, cis, white person represented in media as what “queer” looks like. Both of us went through most of our lives feeling alone in our identities and never saw ourselves represented in media. And if we did, the fat character was always the butt of a joke, the comic relief, or their storyline was centered around weight loss. Within queer community and the theatre community, rarely do we see fat folks at the center of a performance or event.

Morgan Davis: With Fat Fables, I’m wondering what are some things that you expected or didn't expect from the group?

Jules Vodarek Hunter: I definitely feel that energy is the biggest thing. When we started, it was so energizing and it felt so good to be in a space online together, but over time I felt my energy to be on Zoom really deplete. It was hard to not have met anyone in person. As fat people, we hide a lot of ourselves already a lot of the time—especially our bodies. I feel Zoom is another layer of hiding in a way because we’re not taking up physical space. Of course, it's accessible in its own way—we get to be in the comfort of our homes and login and turn the camera off if we are having a bad day, both of which are really important.

Morgan: Absolutely! Having a space to go swimming for fat folks, having space for us to see shows, not having to spend all kinds of money to get clothes that fit, and being able to travel places without having to worry about all of the things that we are constantly conscious of is important. To create spaces like that takes a lot of energy. I agree that the pandemic, especially, has really put a toll on energy because of Zoom, so I think coming back to in-person work will change things.

Jules: Totally! Everyone has mental health needs, and varying degrees of what they need to do to take care of themselves.

Morgan: It was hard. This pandemic helped me recognize how productivity looks and it's not always linear. There’s not always one way to achieve things and get things done to be successful. When big events happen in the world, folks go through a lot, so we have to be able to make our program flexible and accessible to achieve the goals—especially if we want to be youth-centered and model accessibility. Something I struggle with is this mentality of, “I need to get this done now and if I don't, I failed.” It's like no, we have to be gentle with ourselves, especially in fat bodies.

Jules: I think that's something you taught me working on this: go slow and be okay with it. I feel I have the work mentality that all the stuff has to happen on time, but it doesn’t. We work for each other. Since we don't really work for anyone, we get to determine the work culture for ourselves. We can only do so much as two people who work full-time but we want to create a community, and we want to do it well.

Morgan: We really want to be able to show up as our full selves and that takes time.

Two artists wearing masks wrap an arm around each other for a picture.

Morgan Davis and Jules Vodarek Hunter attending The F-Word by Keshia Cheesman and Bianca Miranda, a world premiere Downstage Theatre Production in association with Handsome Alice and Theatre Calgary, presented by Alberta Theatre Projects, February 2023.

Jules: Just to bring in Lizzo and our favorite reality show, Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls. I feel that's what she kind of did: she took the structure of all reality TV shows, which are super toxic, and essentially made it her own and less toxic. I always think about the moment she asked one contestant, Jasmine, to leave. Lizzo never said, “You don't deserve to be here.” She said, “Not now. You have stuff to work on. You're still a beautiful person. You still have a lot to offer. You’re a stunning dancer, but you're just not ready for this group. You need to do some internal work first.” I've never seen that on TV, especially with dance and fat bodies. They talk about stamina in a non-judgmental way. It’s never “Oh you don't have stamina because you’re fat.”

Morgan: Stamina has nothing to do with being fat, and they recognize that. I also appreciate the ways that they talked about pain in their bodies. When folks were injured, it was because something happened to them, and they needed care; it’s not because they're fat. This brought up a lot of feelings for me watching the show. I could feel the tension in my own body because I always go there as well when it comes to things around health. It was beautiful to see how Lizzo created a space for folks to take care of themselves. I've never heard of that in any type of reality show. Lizzo’s show is saying people need to go to take care of themselves and grow. Usually on reality TV, being eliminated is because someone beat that person or someone's better than someone else. That's not what the lesson was here. It was yeah, that contestant’s time wasn’t then and that's okay.

Jules: I think that's a reality for a lot of artists.

Morgan: You're not a failure, it's just not your time. We’re more than just the things that we do. We are complete as we are, and this is just a part of life. So Lizzo is amazing.

Jules: What do you think has been the biggest highlight from Fat Fables for you?

Morgan: That everyone in the program is so amazing. It's hard to think of one moment. I just love when folks were able to relate to what someone else is saying. There have been so many moments where folks’ writings connected in different ways, whether it's talking about their family, making different recipes that they remember from growing up, or relationships and feeling connected to their body; reclaiming certain things about themselves. There are so many different common themes. I think the people in this program have been my favorite part of it because I learned so much about myself and the direction I want to go with my art. It also just makes me feel closer to community because the intersection of being queer and fat is not always visible. Especially going into Pride Month—sometimes I feel very on the outside of things because of how I look and desirability. Being in this space really just made me feel that connection again.

As fat people, we hide a lot of ourselves already a lot of the time—especially our bodies. I feel Zoom is another layer of hiding in a way because we’re not taking up physical space.

Jules: I loved that everyone showed up as themselves. I think I went into it with an idea that everything was going to be focused on being fat and queer and trans and that would be the only things we wrote about or heard about. But it was so much more than that. Yeah, we all share these similar identities, but everyone shared such personal life experiences which of course are influenced by the body you're in, but that’s not necessarily the only narrative. That's something this group taught me: Fatness is just part of you. It's not because of you.

Morgan: Yes! There's this thing I saw recently about language. In English we'll say: “I'm sad. I'm fat. I'm angry.” But in other languages, the phrase would be: “Sadness is on me. Anger is on me. Fatness is on me.” I am not fat. In this language that I use, I say, “I am fat,” because that's the easiest way to communicate the fact that I am experiencing this life in a body that just so happens to be bigger. When you make the decision to recognize that I'm not just this thing, life just gets better. It's just unfortunate that the rest of the world hasn't caught up to that yet.

Jules: There's a lot of work to do.

Morgan: There is, and it can’t just be us, Jules. We can't do this alone. If I ever win the lottery, I would definitely put all of the money into creating this fat empire.

Jules: It would be so cool to have a space with fat therapists and fat people who make their own clothes and sell them—there could be chairs that don't have arms and so much more!

Morgan: When fat folks are taken care of, everyone is good. I've never heard a thin person complain about a seat being too wide on a plane. This program, one thing that I'm taking from it, is that there will always be fat people regardless of what anyone feels or thinks about fat bodies and because of that, we have to make the world accessible for them. There's no way around it.

Jules: We have to build better, build bigger, and build fatness and bigger bodies into accessibility.

Two people outside on a snowy winter hike smile for a selfie.

Morgan Davis and Jules Vodarek Hunter, founders of Fat Fables. Photo courtesy of Morgan Davis.

There are a lot of great things that come with doing online programming. For example, the two of us are based in Toronto, and if we hadn’t had to pivot to an online version of Fat Fables, we wouldn't have had participants from British Columbia or Niagara join our program. We also were able to provide wiggle room in our schedules without having to navigate venue bookings, and people were able to show up from the comfort of their own homes, which as fat people adds an aspect of safety and comfort, since in-person spaces often don't meet the needs of fat bodies. However, we can’t ignore the fact that working online leaves out the important embodied aspect of in person work with fat bodies. Fat-centered spaces are missing a lot in this world, and especially in the queer community in Toronto. Fat Fables is a program that eventually needs to happen in person, in order to build equitable communities, where we see fat, queer and trans bodies take center stage.

From our time running Fat Fables in an online format, here are things that worked well:

  1. Participants and facilitators could attend from the comfort of their homes. This made it possible for folks who weren’t ready for in-person work or for those it was otherwise more accessible to participate from home, to be able to attend.
  2. The opportunity to build a wider community that expanded beyond the facilitators’ home base in Toronto.
  3. Folks who live in geographical locations where there aren’t many in-person community arts opportunities had a chance to attend.
  4. Things could be recorded and looked at later.
  5. The format supported vulnerability. Folks being in the comfort of their homes and feeling safe allowed for conversations to go deeper and gave space for folks to share more openly.
  6. Opportunity to participate in whatever capacity people could (i.e., if participants wanted to participate from their bed, they could!).
  7. We saved resources in a lot of ways. Printing contracts, scripts, etc. was not required, and sharing materials was easier through sharing screens, etc.
  8. It allowed for more flexibility in date and time changes because we didn’t have a venue we had to coordinate with. We were able to accommodate more people at more times.
  9. The format of Zoom helped with focus. When it was time to focus on a task, there weren’t any environmental distractions.
  10. We could offer better artist fees. Whereas with an in-person program, we would have more expenses (venue, transit costs for participants, food, etc.), in the online format we were able to allocate the budget in favor of higher artist fees.

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Thoughts from the curator

Parallel Tracks 2.0 gathers diverse voices of Canadian theatre artists and producers to explore the ways in which anti-oppressive approaches are part of our creative work, in live spaces as well as digital ones. Originally commissioned by and presented in partnership with Toronto's Undercurrent Creations, conversations about care, community engagement, and consent take centre stage in this series. From navigating ethics in contracting, to intergenerational storytelling, this series reflects on ways of gathering and collaborating in online creative spaces. This series is in part supported by the Canada Council for the Arts.

Parallel Tracks 2.0


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