The Big Moves dance troupe has long struck me as a fantastic thing. In a world where the fairly husky actor who plays Matt Parkman on Heroes is considered to be one of the better representatives in the theatrical community of a fat person, it is immensely satisfying that there are people out there who are encouraging rather than discouraging heavy people to act, dance, and sing in front of the public.
The Boston troupe’s latest creation is Hot Buffet, “a dystopian musical satire” that will run October 16-18 and 24-25 at the Cambridge YMCA Theater (doors at 7:30PM, curtain at 8). Hot Buffet takes place in 2028 in a world where, according to the group’s MySpace, dieting “is practically a religion” and “sexuality is stuffed tightly away.” “Fat people are perceived as undermining the stability of the country,” explains Marina Wolf Ahmad, the artistic director of Big Moves Boston, and founder of Big Moves nationwide. “[S]o the government does highly intrusive visits, weigh-ins in public places...They also do random blood tests...” Frightening stuff, no doubt.
Enter our protags Andrea and her friend Chrissy, both of whom are on staff at the Hot Buffet, a last bastion for those who still want to partake in any sort of carnal appetite. The first works as a cook in the kitchen and the second as a professional eater and dancer there. Unfortunately for them, what goes on at the Hot Buffet isn’t exactly extolled by this fucked futuristic world. And so they are forced to look on wearily as a mob of skinny (presumably, anyway) folks loom threateningly outside.
Intrigued? What follows is an email interview I conducted with Wolf Ahmad about Hot Buffet, which she directed, choreographed and wrote.
How did the idea for Hot Buffet come about? I've always been a fan of Cabaret, which is a significant inspiration. But the strongest impetus came at a time last fall when just about every other day there'd be some news about "the obesity epidemic," or some scientific experiments being conducted around fat. The culture dialogue seemed to be crystallizing around righteous diets and bad fatties, and when you hear about pregnant mice being injected with leptin to see if it will help prevent their babies from becoming fat... well, there's not a huge leap to wondering when they're going to start turning that sort of treatment on humans. You guys have no problem with dieting in moderation? It’s militant dieting that you have a problem with, correct? Here's our official statement: Big Moves doesn't advocate dieting, over-exercise, weight-loss surgery, or any other attempts to deliberately lose weight. "Dieting in moderation" is not a construct that I personally recognize. People may have medical issues that they need to take care of through diet or exercise. Those conditions exist separately from weight, and while eating to manage them will definitely help, it may or may not affect weight. Most attempts to reduce weight permanently rebound, and have a terrible effect on the body over the long term, so we believe that deliberate weight-loss behaviors are best left alone. What is the level of training of performers in Hot Buffet? People have various levels of training; we're community theater, and that's how it works. Our two leads, Colette and Brashani, have years and years of experience in community and local theater, and Colette received her masters in opera singing. Other people in the cast have lots of dance experience and training, or additional experience in college or community productions.
Did you/do you take into account people’s sizes when casting your performances? Depends. If the role calls for a fattie, then I cast from the in-house pool of fatties or put a call out. Other parts don't usually call for sizes, so I don't take that into account. I just look at abilities. As a result, our dance corps is noticeably larger, on average, than any other company. On the other hand, I do have an approach of affirmative action for fatties. In a hypothetical casting situation where there were two performers for one size-neutral part, both equally talented, all other things being equal, but one was much larger than the other, that larger performer would have precedence. But we're not ever likely to get to that point, because I'm the writer and director and I'm greedy. If they're both equally talented, I'd make room for them both! What is the significance of professional eating in this futuristic world you’ve created? Why does this become the outlet for those seeking food solace? Professional eaters at the Hot Buffet are people who can really put it away. They have to, because they may get called on to eat 5 or 6 times a night, and act like they're enjoying it ever time. In that world, this ability is a rare thing, because the general public's ability to eat any normal amount of food is fast withering under the glare from government policies. It's a whole society with a government-enforced eating disorder. So if they're afraid of the blood tests, people still may want to watch, and enjoy vicariously. You will be serving the sort of food that the Hot Buffet is presumably making in its kitchen to the audience at the YMCA, yes? Why did you add this element to the play? We are indeed offering a limited menu of Hot Buffet food (at extra charge), in addition to our usual concession stand fare of chips, candy, and soda. The tasting menu is just another aspect of drawing the audience more into the world of the Hot Buffet club. This show was intended to be immersive for the audience, in the way that none of our other shows have been, because I want the viewers to begin to think about how they fit in the action as spectators, as people whose appetites affect what performers will do for them, and what role they may be playing in creating this world right now. It's easy for people at shows to just passively watch. I want to add an extra layer of self-awareness around that watching. On your MySpace page, you’ve written that viewers can pay extra to have “items eaten in front of you by one of our dancers.” What’s this about? There are some people who get off on watching other people eat. I don't know what it's called (it's only feederism if the person watching wants the eater to gain weight), but there is definitely a segment of porn out there catering to that desire. We are not expecting anyone to take us up on it, because it will be costly, but we are offering that option to viewers just to ramp up the sex-content of the Hot Buffet dining experience. This is satire, obviously. But do you think that in the future if we continue to go down the road we are going as a society, it could one day be reality? I think that we already have some components of this society in place, and yes, I think it would be relatively easy to slip further down that road into extreme government intrusion in the public's food and sex consumption. I think many of my fellow queers are entirely too relaxed about our current societal status, and not keeping a sharp eye on how things could regress. And as for eating and fat-phobia, I could give you a dozen examples from the US and around the world about what is ALREADY happening. I wish my crazy little satire was further from the truth.