“No, thank you.” “No, thanks.” “Thank you, but no.”
“No, sorry.” “NO.” “Thanks for your time, but no.” “No.”
I chose a life of “No.” I hear it almost everyday in my career. Life in the entertainment industry is hard. It’s not the glitz and glamour that we all want it to be. And what you never see, is all the hard work, sweat, tears, and complete breakdowns along the way. See… I’m an actress. I’m a singer. I am a dancer. And I am a BIG GIRL. No matter what people try to label me… I am those things and I am enough.
I have been onstage since I was three years old. Dance recitals, children’s theatre, school musicals, community theatre, university theatre, professional theatres across the country… the stage is my home. I didn’t want to settle for anything less. I didn’t want to take no for an answer, but the struggles of classes, rehearsals, and competition for roles, even in educational settings, led to many late night phone calls home. Crying to my amazingly supportive family that I wasn’t good enough. I was worried I would be kick out of the program. I had been “typed out” before I even sang a note, danced a step, or even introduced myself. I would never get a job doing the thing I loved most. I had been told by teachers, professionals, and professors, that it would be hard for me to find work. There was a lot of pressure to thin down, commit to that eating disorder, and even give up. But I’m a dreamer. I have passion. I am stubborn to a fault. And in a world where a lot of roles are “type casted,” I have been very fortunate in the last fifteen years to be in the right place at the right time, with the right skill set, and the right “look” to snag contracts. But for every one of those “yeses,” came fifty “nos.”
That’s the business. Sometimes its about being a certain height. A specific size to fit an existing costume. Its about vocal range, dance technique, how you look with the rest of the ensemble, or even as simple as how you pair up with the leading man candidates. Playing Tracy Turnblad was one of the highlights of my career. A fat girl, who can dance, and wants to change the world for good, Tracy stands up for what she believes is right and meets challenges like a bulldozer staring at a brick wall. She is a strong female lead and those are few and far between. More often than not, leading lady roles are cast with a pretty thin actress. But why? Does it specifically say that those characters have to be skinny? Would you still watch Legally Blonde with a heavier Elle Woods? Would you not fall in love with a full figured Elphaba who is just as misunderstood in Wicked? Would you not believe a fat Donna in Mamma Mia as a single mother living in beautiful Greece running her own hotel? The theatre world is moving slowly into non-traditional casting, but why doesn’t that include size? There are SO MANY roles that I would love to perform. I know I could perform. I know I could sing the crap out of them. And yet, I don’t even bother auditioning because I know what I would hear. “No.” Here is where the self-preservation kicks in. In my thirty three years of on stage experience and my world class training, I know what I am good at. I am confident in my abilities and I know what I have to offer. So what is the problem? “No.” That word is so powerful. It can be so hurtful. “No, thanks.” It definitely takes its toll on a person. “NO.” Its a set back that tries to convince you of limits. “Thanks but, no.” It can be a punch in the gut. “No.”
Seven years ago, my life changed in a big way. I was hired by one of the largest entertainment companies in the world. Cirque du Soleil. Being comfortable in your own skin is a really uncomfortable challenge. I work in a building full of incredible, elite athletes, acrobats, and beautiful bodies. When I got here, I immediately felt out of place. I would be embarrassed to sit in the dressing room or green room with my cast mates who were making fun of themselves and each other for being “fat.” “I want a piece of cake right now, but I don’t want to get fat.” “There’s no way I’m eating that and putting on spandex!” If they saw themselves as big… I must be a whale out of water!
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to take care of myself and take the steps needed to create my own happiness. I’ve stopped buying clothes that I feel awful anduncomfortable in and have instead found my own style that makes me feel cute and confident. I’ve added some great vitamin supplements to routine. I have created a series of workshops that send me all over the world to teach about non-verbal communication, physical character building, and creative movement. In short… I’m learning to love myself and I’m realizing my worth. Some days are easier than others, and even though I was cast because I was a fat girl, this role has been magical. I kiss a frog and turn into a princess ten times a week! Its every little girl’s dream, right? Its been an incredible adventure and has really set the next phase of my career in motion. Really, the next phase in my life. I am on my own body positive journey and over the last seven years, I’ve realized I am not alone. Every individual in this company is fighting their own battle with body acceptance and preservation. Its about being the best you. Living your best life. Loving yourself. Its all easier said than done, but there is simple way to begin… be nice to yourself.
Stop calling yourself names. Stop beating yourself up for eating dessert. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop thinking you don’t deserve to get what you want! Stop thinking you have limits!
My show is closing at the end of this year, and once again I am thrown back into the world of auditioning. Back into the world full of “No.” But I’ve decided to take a piece of this character, this experience here, and add it to a little bit of Tracy Turnblad… I’m going to be my own bulldozer. I’m going to audition for things that I love, I’m going to create a bit of magic, and I’m going to break down those brick walls. I’m sure that I will hear a crap ton of “no,” but I will not let self doubt creep in. I will not fall back into thinking I am not enough. I won’t stop until I hear one word… “YES.”
For more on Cheryl Ann or to request info/book workshops, please visit www.CherylAnnSanders.com!