For St. Charles playwright, no obstacle is too big to keep ‘Fat’ from the stage | St. Louis Public Radio

For St. Charles playwright, no obstacle is too big to keep ‘Fat’ from the stage

Mar 7, 2017

Shannon Geier knows what it’s like to be rejected because of the way she looks. For years, she struggled to lose weight, and was often afraid of how people would react to her.

“I felt like the love I got was conditional, based on my size,” Geier said. “[I’ve been] on blind dates and having the guy see me and turn around and run from the restaurant.”

Today, Geier is at a weight she considers healthy. Now a playwright, she hasn’t forgotten the pain of rejection, but has found a way to talk about it in "Fat," a new play on stage in St. Louis that deals with weight and body image.

"Fat" describes how Geier saw herself for many years. But the societal pressure to conform to a certain body type is just one of many obstacles Geier has had to overcome along the way to telling her story on stage. “It’s definitely been a journey and, at times, a roller coaster,” she said.

'Why is it a struggle for you?

In “Fat,” it seems like people are always looking for Amy — the main character. Often, she’ in the kitchen, eating. Leftover pie straight from the plate, her daughter’s entire birthday cake. She hides from her daughter because she doesn’t want to set a bad example, from her husband because he’s not happy with her eating or her weight. They fight — a lot.

Playwright Shannon Geier looks on as actor Taleesha Cutaruh as Amy argues with her husband, Joel, played by Jeff Kargus, in their kitchen.
Credit Nancy Fowler | St. Louis Public Radio

Amy eventually does lose weight. She also sheds her husband. It sounds a lot like Geier’s life.

“A lot of the stuff in there are things that happened to me,” Geier said.

Like Amy, Geier went through a divorce and has a teenage daughter. Even when her child was younger, Geier worried that she would be embarrassed of her mother.

“Kids would say things to her,” Geier said. “And something that was always a very base fear of mine, that comes out in the play is, ‘When’s she going to catch on?’”

In real life, Geier’s daughter has not been judgmental. But society has.

It’s not easy to be a larger woman in a size-6 world, even with a recent proliferation of plus-size pride. For example, a Lane Bryant women’s clothing ad that claims, “I don’t think it matters what size you are.”

“There are a lot of larger people out there who are very confident,” Geier said.

Taleesha Cutaruh as Amy and Trisha Duffin as Vanessa clash over Amy's weight loss and their waning friendship in the play "Fat."
Credit Adam Shaw

That confidence comes out in the play, in the character of Vanessa. She’s not obsessed with losing weight even though she would be considered overweight.

Trisha Duffin, who plays Vanessa, said she admires her character. But ads like the Lane Bryant one are just a start.

“That I get to see a plus-model in a bikini is awesome but that doesn’t necessarily translate to me wearing one yet,” Duffin said. “So there’s that disconnect is still going to be there.”

Taleesha Cutaruh, who plays Amy, said culture still makes being overweight an issue of willpower.

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“[People wonder] 'Why can’t you change something that you obviously want to change? This isn’t a struggle for me so why is it a struggle for you?'” Cutarah said.

Geier’s definitely heard that before. “It’s demoralizing not to be able to control something you so desperately want to,” she said.

‘What are you waiting for?’

Geier, who lives in St. Charles, lost 65 pounds about five years ago and has kept it off. Around that time, she decided to tell the story about her difficult relationship with food. But how? She’d  never before written a play. So she decided to wing it, using her copy of “Angels in America” as a kind of Play Writing 101.

Shannon Geier had never written a play before "Fat."
Credit Provided | Shannon Geier

“I’d look at it and say, ‘OK, you just write the character’s name and then you write their dialogue,'” she said with a laugh.

Geier also went to local plays. She studied playbills, and connected on social media with everyone in the casts and crews.

“And then I can say, ‘Hey, I know you from this and can I ask you this question?’” she said.

Geier ushered, attended rehearsals and took improv lessons. Then she discovered Tesseract Theatre, a small company focused on new work.

Tesseract Artistic director Taylor Gruenloh saw something, even in Geier’s early efforts. The company decided to take Geier’s play through a year-long development process. 

“Even in that first draft she sent us, you could tell that this was a topic that she was very adamant about talking about,” Gruenloh said. “And if it’s got that kernel of truth underneath, you can always develop that out.”

Geier has created her own theater company, called "because why not?" She's now produced two other short plays and has another coming up as part of this weekend's "Briefs: A Festival of LGBTQ Plays."

Her company is staging its second weekend of “Fat” Thursday through Saturday nights at The Chapel in University City.

In the second act of her life, Geier said she’s learned to stop asking permission.

“It’s just about ‘What are you waiting for? Why are you letting someone else dictate what you do?’” Geier said. “Just go do it.”

If you go:

“Fat” presented by because why not? theater company

8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, March 9-11

The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Dr., University City, 63105

Tickets are $15-$20

Follow Nancy on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL