Abby Rose Morris- interview

With an immensely important piece on body standards- particularly a reflection on the theatre industry- Abby Rose Morris brings the show version of More Than Tracy Turnblad (also a popular podcast by herself) to the Edinburgh Fringe. Mixed with her experiences as a plus-size performer, she aims to educate and inspire by breaking down the stereotypes that are heavily prevalent in the media, and encouraging the emergence of more positive representation.


Abby has spoken more on this in the following interview.

 

What can audiences expect from More Than Tracy Turnblad?

Audiences can expect to laugh, cringe, sing along, and reevaluate their own behaviors and attitudes around body image. It’s equal parts a takedown of and love letter to the entertainment industry.


What inspired you to write a piece about body standards in the arts industry, and what importance does this subject hold to you?


The entertainment industry is in a unique position because not only is there a huge amount of fatphobia within it, the media we see plays an enormous role in shaping peoples’ biases. As both an actor and consumer of entertainment, I learned from a very early age that I could only be perceived as the butt of a joke, a supporting character in someone else’s story, a cautionary tale of 'letting oneself go', or… Tracy Turnblad (hence the title of the show). As a fat kid, I didn’t see myself represented as a full human being, and it profoundly shaped my experiences as an actor and a human being. But the good news is, the fact that entertainment has such power means it can have an equally positive effect when the representation is good!


While also for entertainment, how have you managed to incorporate education into the show, on issues such as stereotypes and misconceptions?


This show definitely has an educational aspect - in fact, our biggest prop is a whiteboard! I think of the monologues in the show as educational standup, and the songs as a demonstration. In the writing and rehearsal process, my director and I were very conscious about making it clear that although the show is about me, the goal is activism, not just sharing a personal story. Through my TikToks and podcast, which is also called More Than Tracy Turnblad, I’ve found that people are much more willing to question these tropes when they get to the root of what underlies them and realize it’s essentially racist, misogynistic, capitalist bullshit. You always want to gently present the information and take people along for the ride so they can come to their own conclusions, not preach to them. We’ve all been fed this stuff since we were born - how could we not internalize it!?


What message do you hope your show promotes and how do you think things should change for the better in theatre?


At its core, the message is that fat people are people and deserve to be represented and treated accordingly. I also want the show to emphasize how profoundly media shapes our perceptions of who is worthy, beautiful, deserving of love, etc. In terms of change, theatre (and the entire entertainment industry) first needs to stop pressuring performers to look a certain way. And hopefully, we’d eventually have casts that look more like the people who inhabit our world - 72% of the US and 62.8% of the UK is classified as overweight or obese according to BMI, but the proportions onstage and onscreen tend to be in the single digits.


How would this message have changed your personal perception of the arts industry, if you had seen a show like this before?

It would have been life-changing for me to see a show like this as a kid. It would have also made me feel like an acting career was really possible for me, which even as I was pursuing it, I never really did. The body standards and other prejudices in the entertainment industry shut out so many amazing marginalized artists, but at the same time we’re being sold the lie that the arts are a meritocracy. Anything that made me question the stories I was told about fatness and artistic success would have opened the door to so much more. For example, I was in college before I ever even wanted to do any on-camera, because it never occurred to me that someone who looks like me could have a place in Hollywood. Now that I’ve seen more fat representation and allowed myself to want it, acting in film and TV has become one of my major goals.



Do you feel more in your comfort zone with the podcast than performing live, and how do they compare?

No! I love doing the podcast, but performing is what I trained for and my favourite thing is getting to play off the audience and improvise. I love the feeling that anything could happen onstage and you just have to be open to that and roll with it! Actually, the most difficult thing about podcasting is you don’t know how people are reacting to what you put out unless they actively check in somehow, like sending a DM or writing a review. The 'anything could happen' piece is still there though, since my podcast is unscripted, although you can of course edit it later, which you can’t do with a live performance. I could see that stressing me out in some universe when performing live, but since I can’t watch the show back and pick it apart, it doesn’t bother me and I can leave everything onstage. Unless of course I’m recording the show- and we will be live-streaming opening night and making it available online through Fringe, so I’m a bit nervous for that!




Who do you, and can others, look up to for positive representation?


That’s such a great question! I think social media is a huge one and is the reason conversations about fat representation and fatphobia have picked up steam. There are so many amazing plus size influencers and activists online! I first got into fat activism by reading Lindy West and Roxane Gay, and Your Fat Friend aka Aubrey Gordon’s writing shortly after. Virgie Tovar was another big influence. And as far as characters, Tracy Turnblad really is great, as are shows like My Mad Fat Diary, Drop Dead Diva, and Somebody Somewhere. I think Shrek is great fat representation! For its time, so was The Sopranos. A lot of Octavia Spencer’s characters are amazing representation too. I’d count anything where fat characters have depth and aren’t reduced to demeaning tropes. I also look up to people like Joy Nash, Jen Ponton, and Sofie Hagen (whose Fringe show I cannot wait to see!) because they are fat activists while being extremely talented and successful performers. I want to be them when I grow up!


 

Thank you very much to Abby for this wonderful interview- I wish I could talk to you more! Best wishes for the run, and everything to come in the future.


Get your tickets here:


Even if you're not at the Fringe, make sure to watch the streamed version instead!

Abby's podcast, More Than Tracy Turnblad, can be found here: