Everything Is Already Something Week 32: The Chubby Ingenue – Livin’ In An Actor’s Body

Allison Page is 100% Allison Page.

When I was 21 I got my first paid acting gig. It was summer stock. This meant I got to escape the flat plains of Thief River Falls, Minnesota and spend a couple of months living on the flat plains of Bemidji, Minnesota about 2 hours away from my home town. It was a serious adventure. I had never really been away from home. I was still living with my parents at the time and I couldn’t believe I got to be somewhere – ANYWHERE else, and get paid (pretty well, I remember thinking at the time) to do the thing I loved most. A lot happened while I was there. It was a huge growing experience for me. And I don’t mean in the easy, happy way (does that exist?) I mean in the hard, confusing, wait-a-minute-what way. I was pretty insecure anyway, and I was suddenly both insecure and alone. Well, surrounded by strangers, which is eerily similar to being alone. We were put up in college dorms. I had my OWN ROOM! This was thrilling to me. I didn’t go to real college so this is the only dorm experience I ever had. I could do anything in there! So what did I do? Probably read half a book or something, but mostly I took diet pills.

Dessert? I couldn't possibly. I'm soooo fuuuuull.

Dessert? I couldn’t possibly. I’m soooo fuuuuull.

I know, “Ewwwww, that just got really real.” Right? I remember feeling pretty strange and awful when I bought them at the fine Bemidji Walmart, but I bought them all the same. I distinctly remember them being red. I covertly took them several times a day before, during, and after rehearsal. They made me unbearably jittery. I didn’t drink coffee back then, but I can now equate it with how I would feel if I had three cups of Philz Mocha Tesoro, which is to say MICE IN MY BONES! I’m sure I was also eating something. I don’t remember it, but I doubt I would have stopped eating entirely.

I'm the one with my hands crossed serenely behind my back

I’m the one with my hands crossed serenely behind my back

The opening scene is Veta on the phone with someone or other, so she has a couple of lines, and then I was supposed to enter and say something probably stupid. Then I would exit, and enter, and exit, and enter what seemed like a million times very quickly. The second week of performances, the pills really started to affect me. I was feeling pretty unsteady and the jitters were at an all-time high. Someone had ordered Little Caesar’s Pizza backstage, so everyone was feasting away before showtime. The set-up for that theatre is particularly unique/treacherous for the actors. In order to get backstage to make your entrance, you’ve got to go from the downstairs dressing rooms, up a rickety metal spiral staircase, and outside — yes, like outside outside, and go through the door to the backstage area. So it’s nearly showtime, everybody’s doing whatever they do, and I decided to have a slice of pizza. I quickly gobble it up. Actors start up the awful spiral staircase. I decide to wash any potential pizza grease off my hands, so I’m a little behind the pack but the spiral staircase is a one-person-at-a-time kind of thing anyway. I come out of the bathroom and everyone’s already up and outside. I take a step onto the staircase and I suddenly feel like I’m dying. My head is spinning, my stomach is churning and I know the pizza inside me is not long for this world. I run back to the bathroom and evacuate the pizza by way of my mouth. This takes a couple minutes.

The show is about to start. I hear an urgent voice through the door, “ALLISON?! Are you in there?! The curtain is going up! WE’RE WAY PAST PLACES! It’s starting like RIGHT NOW!” I come barreling out of the bathroom, as much as you can barrel after you’ve just puked your guts out, and head for the spiral staircase as a headset-wearing man tugs on my arm. I tiptoe up the stairs, which is actually the only way you can do it in heels because the stairs are made like grates. There are a bunch of holes in them and high heels immediately get stuck. (By the way, if you ever come across the architect who designed that staircase, tell him to go fuck himself from me.) I wobble outside and then through the backstage entrance. The curtain has already gone up, the show has already started, and my poor co-star has already been improvising a one-sided phone conversation for a while now. I run on and try to say my line like a person who hasn’t just puked and isn’t out of breath. I manage to spit the words out and exit as I’m supposed to…sort of. My jitters are out of control, and as I’m exiting the stage I immediately twist my ankle and fall on the floor. Another headset-wearer runs over and drags me to a chair. Someone else runs to get ice for my ankle. Then I realize I have to go on again. I hop on one foot over to the entrance, then enter, walking completely normally, say my line and exit, immediately collapsing again. This happens several more times in the first act. During the break that the woman playing Veta and I get while the doctor scenes are happening, she sits next to me.

VETA. Where the hell were you?

ALLISON. I was in the dressing room…throwing up.

VETA. What’s this ice for?

ALLISON. After I threw up, I twisted my ankle.

VETA. (leaning in and whispering) You’re pregnant, aren’t you?

ALLISON. What? NO! I just…the pizza didn’t agree with me!

VETA. …You’re pregnant.

Don’t worry, I wasn’t pregnant. But she thought I was for the duration of the run. I eventually quit taking the diet pills. I just didn’t see how I could keep it up. It’s no secret that lady actors often resort to things like that, because they think that if they aren’t super thin and gorgeous (as if being super thin is the only way to be gorgeous) they’re not going to get work. And if they do get work, it’s not going to be the work they want — which is to say the elusive romantic lead. The ingenue. The ideal of feminine perfection. The waif who can make a perfect apple pie, and never eat a slice. That’s not me. I don’t think that’ll ever be me. I’m pushing 30, so I really only have like 5 years of that left anyway, so what’s the point?

And, yes, I can go on to blather about how I’ve gotten more rewarding parts because I’m NOT that type, which is totally true. But to me the hilarious part is that I still got those roles. I am at my technical fattest right now. Like, right this very second, I’m the most out of shape I’ve ever been in my entire life. And in the last couple of years, while I’ve been at my least waif-ish, I have gotten the majority of my romantic-y roles. I find that endlessly entertaining. My weight has always fluctuated a shitload.

The elusive Thin Allison. May she RIP. Unless she comes back to life. Skinny Zombie Allison sounds great.)

The elusive Thin Allison. May she RIP. Unless she comes back to life. Skinny Zombie Allison sounds great.)

And yeah, I’m trying to get rid of some of that right now because I don’t feel particularly healthy. And yeah, I’m about to go on a crazy cleanse so I can try to shoehorn myself into a bridesmaid dress next month. And yeah, there’s a role next year that I’d like to be thinner for, but I’m more realistic about these things now. And, I think, most importantly – I don’t measure my ability or appeal as an actor on whether or not I’m the skinniest person in the room. I’m still a good actor. Or at the very least, I’m still the same actor I would be if I weighed 108 pounds. For better or worse.

An actor’s body is part of their tool-kit. (ugh, what a gross sentence) And on-camera acting is its own kettle of fish — that I would rather fry and eat with a vat of tartar sauce — but in general, I try not to hold myself to impossible standards.

Except…when I do. Ya know, nobody’s perfect. Pass the lettuce.

Allison Page is an actor/writer/comedian and newly minted first female Co-Creative Director of Killing My Lobster in its 17 year history. You can find her on twitter @allisonlynnpage or eating pie at home.