Actors report being stripped, weighed and told to lose weight at auditions
Claims of actors being stripped and weighed at auditions and being told they are “too fat” for roles have prompted calls for an end to so-called body shaming in theatre.
The calls come from performers including Olivier award-winning actor Rebecca Trehearn, as well as a range of industry bodies, which have raised concerns about the damage being done to “impressionable” young people at the start of their careers.
Several performers told The Stage that they had been asked to lose weight by employers or pressured to be skinny in order to secure parts.
The issue was first raised on Twitter by producer Tom Harrop, who claimed he was aware of a student who had auditioned for a “well-known college in London” and was told “they were overweight”. He later referred to people being made to strip to their underwear and “weighed at a drama school audition”.
The tweet prompted a strong reaction from industry professionals, all sharing stories. These included Trehearn, who revealed to The Stage that when she was starting out as an actor aged 20 an agent told her she “should lose at least a stone and a half”.
“It’s humiliating, inappropriate and potentially a really dangerous thing to say to people when they are young and impressionable,” she said, adding that “it takes so little to crush somebody”.
She claimed comments about weight were still being made in the industry, and that she was aware of friends who had been cast in jobs and then weighed and measured and “pressured to lose weight”.
“I know it happens and not just in the musical theatre world either. It’s so prevalent in the industry and, while there is a shift towards seeing different bodies represented on stage, there is this idea of a stereotypically attractive figure for women, and generally speaking it’s thin,” she said.
Trehearn said there was room in drama school training to address subjects such as nutrition and to have a “broader discussion about body types”.
“Certain shows want you to look a certain way and there is no way round that, but weighing and measuring people is so inappropriate,” she said.
James Williams, principal of the Midlands Academy of Musical Theatre, told The Stage he was aware of students auditioning for his school who had already auditioned elsewhere and had received remarks about their weight.
“The comments I hear from some applicants about their experiences elsewhere are very concerning and detrimental in my opinion, not only to the individuals concerned but also to our industry as a whole. Let’s embrace diversity and if people are healthy enough to do the job, let’s not force them to look a certain way,” he said.
One actor, who did not want to be named, told The Stage how she had worked for a “well-known company” and was told she should lose weight.
She was a size 12 at the time, she said, and had since dropped to a size eight.
“I feel like I won’t be happy with myself until I lose another half-stone and I have avoided some auditions because I feel I am not the right weight yet for anyone to want to employ me,” she said.
She added that she had gone through a long stage of “not being able to look in the mirror while rehearsing after the incident” and claimed it had affected her progress in the industry.
Another performer claimed an agent had told her to lose weight to “get the roles I deserve”.
“Something needs to change. Young girls and boys are practically starving themselves to get jobs these days. The industry is bad enough with the huge lack of jobs and opportunities without everyone having a self-esteem complex because we are too thin/ugly/short,” she added.
Equity is aware of the situation and its women’s committee has previously presented a motion to the Trades Union Congress Women’s Conference calling for more mental health support for female performers affected by negative body image.
The motion claimed “young women in particular are pressured to ‘have the right look’, or to be ‘the right size’ and to blend in with a body image that is deemed acceptable and that supposedly will help them succeed in their career”.
An Equity spokesman said: “If there is any part of an audition process that an Equity member feels is discriminatory, invasive, inappropriate or not relevant to the role please contact the union and we can discuss the issue directly with the employer.”
Meanwhile, the Casting Directors’ Guild said it was not aware of any complaints but added that “the notion of weighing drama students for an audition is of course completely unacceptable”.
“All of our members are governed by our Code of Conduct and we would urge others in the industry to follow suit to stamp out such practices,” a spokeswoman said.
If you would like to share your experiences of body shaming in theatre, in confidence, with The Stage please get in touch at email@example.com