“I was on the precipice of this really busy part of my life,” says theatre maker Katie Greenall, of pre-lockdown days, “and then it disappeared in a puff of smoke.” Following the cancellation of dates on her Fatty Fat Fat tour, she says a rough idea of for when performers can start rescheduling shows would give them something to work towards. Right now however, she’s at a “slightly odd sort of limbo, treading water stage, which feels really bizarre.”
Two of my final outings before lockdown were Women of the Word Festival at Southbank Centre, where I saw The Guilty Feminist, and Christopher Green’s No Show at Hackney Wick’s Yard Theatre. She took part in Deborah Frances-White’s podcast at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, receiving an email invite during a tech run of Fatty Fat Fat. When her hour was done, she had to leg it from Pleasance Attic to Pleasance Grand, for arrival at The Guilty Feminist roughly halfway through its opening section. “It was quite surreal,” the spoken word artist recalls, “coming from my little space to this huge room with 1,000 people, not quite knowing what to expect.” She says she was like a rabbit in the headlights, then wondering if she means deer. I point out both have been startled by oncoming vehicles. “Exactly – that’s what it felt like.” It was still lovely though, she tells me, and it attracted new audience members to her show. Insofar as the Yard goes, she’s worked on its youth programmes for three years, and staged a live draft of Fatty Fat Fat there. Though “not a very Yard piece of work”, she’s pleased the show has a link to the venue – “a building and space very dear to my heart”.
The show itself (peppered with audience participation and games) is hatched out of anecdotes she relayed at drama school, “moments in my life which I thought were funny, normal and everyone could relate to. I started to realise that maybe these things weren’t the norm for everyone, and maybe they were a result of me navigating the world in a fat body.” Soon she had a chain of stories for a piece about the relationship she has with her body and other “how that’s changed because of other people’s interactions with it”. It also covers the process of making theatre about her body and where she is currently in her acceptance of it – she added these aspects following the show’s original draft. “It felt like a lot of the work was in the past and I wanted to really reflect what it’s like to be making this work and living this life right now.” She hasn’t solved the issues addressed, I’m told – they’re not presented here in a box labelled ‘dealt with’. The Katie Greenall-Katie Greenall’s body relationship is “very much still alive, active and in flux”.
She uses the word fat to describe herself, and “it’s obviously very explicitly in the show title.” She says this relates to the idea of beating others to the punch, joking about yourself before somebody else does in a bid for “ownership”. For her, the show title means nobody can use ‘fat’ against her – “I’ve already taken and reclaimed that word in the same way I identify as queer.” While some might deem such terms as “containers”, she sees them more as platforms from which to further examine and comprehend her identity. Prior to this show, she didn’t really identify as fat. But amidst its creation and promotion, she’s “come out” as a fat person. “I navigate the world in a fat body, I have done for as long as I can remember, but it’s only in the last two years that I’ve actively called myself fat. Even though it’s obvious to other people – and certainly to me – I’ve had to come out and reclaim that word, which I found really empowering.”
She doesn’t only see herself as a fat person, “but that feels like the thing I’ve most got my head around at the moment, so feels like the most comfortable and interesting thing to make work about.” Added to which, while she’s “by no means the first” performer to make work about being fat, our theatre spaces are hardly awash with bodies and narratives like hers. “It felt important to take up that space as a fat person because there’s not many of us comfortable to do that because our bodies are villainised in such a way.”
This project has also seen the merging of her facilitator and performance work. Until recently she kept her running of workshops and building of communities somewhat separate to her solo gigs, but Fatty Fat Fat has been supported by workshops exploring its themes, as well as a callout for fat-identifying people (from each locality on the tour) to be fat ambassadors. “We wanted to use the show as a platform for people to build fat communities,” she says, highlighting the Facebook groups created to encourage fat people to attend the show together – “building little moments of connection” – to maybe then meet up a couple of weeks afterwards for a drink or clothes swap.
Such moments may seem some way off at the moment, but at least the platform is in place, for when we’re out of limbo and allowed to swim again.
Fatty Fat Fat is at Old Fire Station, Oxford 24 April 2021.