Fight the Fat

A short play about a passionate pair of losers who battle to prove that theatre DOES have the power to change the world.

The Story

Ben is an aspiring actor with no professional experience, so when an 'actor wanted' notice appears on his local lampost he leaps at the chance. He is cast in Fight The Fat, a theatre-in-education show that tours local schools showing kids how to gain and maintain a healthy BMI. As he’s taught the ropes by veteran actress Laurel, Ben becomes passionate about the difference he is making in the world. Then the show’s funding is cynically cut by a ruthless education board hell bent on extracting a tangible bang for their infotainment buck. As Laurel sinks into despair, the normally lethargic Ben is forced to step up to the challenge and stand up for what they both believe: that theatre DOES have the power to change the world.

The Characters

LAUREL & BEN, BEN’S MUMMA, EDUCATION BOARD COMMISSIONER, PLAYGROUND BULLY, LITTLE WEE KID, VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN, WALRUS, SEAGULL, SLOW CHILD, NETFLIX EXECUTIVE.

The Challenge

All the characters are played by two actors on a bare stage. The actors have to create the characters and conjure the settings and props through the use of voice and physicality.

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AUDITION ROOM

Ben is nervous, Laurel brims with confidence.

BEN: Laurel?

LAUREL: Ben. Hi. I've got to level with you. This is a big job. I wrote Fight the Fat three years ago and it's been touring ever since. We do up to ten shows a week and get audiences of four to four hundred at a time. I've hired people before who just couldn't hack the pace.

BEN: I can hack the pace.

LAUREL: And they couldn't come to terms with the rules.

BEN: What rules?

LAUREL: Don't touch the kids.

BEN: What kids?

LAUREL: You’re auditioning for a theatre in education show. Our audiences are all kids.

BEN: The leaflet you sellotaped to the lampost said 'casting for professional theatre show.'

LAUREL: It's licensed by the board of education, which gives us access to the schools and a Healthmobile for transport, and all the kids give a gold coin donation on the door.

BEN: What's it pay?

LAUREL: Depends on the week and the area, but the gold coins add up pretty quick. I have a weighing machine. You can clear anything from three hundred to six twenty-five a week.

BEN: I'll take it.

LAUREL: Hold your horses. You could be a garbage bin for all I know. Let me see your CV.

She takes it from him and reads.

LAUREL: So, you trained at Waikato University, then the New Zealand School of Dramatic Arts then you went overseas and graduated from the Umla Herksberger school of acting in Los Angeles. Very impressive.

BEN: What can I say? I'm passionate about acting.

LAUREL: As for professional experience…

She looks on both sides of the paper. Then both sides again.

BEN: Yeah…

LAUREL: Do you have any?

BEN: What do you mean by professional?

LAUREL: Have you ever been paid to act?

BEN: Oh, ha ha ha, I see what you mean. No.

LAUREL: You've been in drama schools for nine years.

BEN: And a lot of the productions I appeared in were professional standard. Ask my mum.

Laurel scrunches up his CV

LAUREL: I need to put you thru your paces. Read this out loud.

She hands him a script.

BEN: “Hi kids.”

LAUREL: You're good. Let's see you move. This is called the box-step. Can you do this?

She demonstrates a box step. Ben mimics competently.

BEN: It’s just one foot in front of the other.

LAUREL: Well, well, well, twinkling toes eh? Can you sing?

BEN: Like a bellbird.

LAUREL: Repeat after me…

SCENE FROM FIGHT THE FAT

A fully rehearsed, all singing, all dancing showstopper.

BOTH: Burgers and lollies are bad bad bad/ Too much sugar makes you sad sad sad / Bikkies and fizzy are a no no no/ So when you're hungry where do you go?/ Let's take a trip to the lifestyle fridge/ Where our friends called fruit all live/ Where there's a valley of veggies and rivers of milk/ And yummy brown bread to boot/ Laurel and Benny know where it's at/ So listen to us and FIGHT THE FAT.

LAUREL: Great show. We made a big difference today.

BEN: For sure. I felt them really connecting with us. Even more than in the morning show and that's saying something because kids lose concentration after lunch.

LAUREL: You're a natural Ben, and it's time for me to recognise that. We made nearly twelve hundred bucks in coins this week. There's your cut, don't spend it all at once. Have a great afternoon.

BEN: Are we done? It's only two o'clock. I've got another show in me!

LAUREL: Put your feet up Ben. And have a rest over the weekend. Next week is going to be big.

BEN: I love theatre-in-education.

BEN’S MOTHER'S ROOM

Ben’s mum is a hand puppet played by Laurel.

BEN: Mumma, mumma, it’s me, Ben, mumma, your son? Can you hear me mumma?

Mumma makes a gurgling sound.

BEN: You’re awake! Great news, mumma I got a job! A professional acting job! I know you said it could never happen, and that's why I didn't want to tell you till I got my first paycheck, and here it is mumma! Now we can throw away all these tic tacs and buy you some real medicine. You don't have to have cancer anymore Mumma, not now that I'm a real actor.

EDUCATION BOARD OFFICE

EDUCATION BOARD COMMISSIONER is played by Ben

COMMISSIONER: Laurel, Laurel good to see you, do sit down. Having a good day?

LAUREL: Wonderful, yeah, thanks Education Board Commissioner. Just worked a brand new guy called Ben into the part, he's a natural. We are making a big difference to those kids’ lives, but you know that, of course, that’s why you license us. The morning show went off and Ben’s waiting in the van you provide so we can burn straight to the next school after our, um, catch up?

COMMISSIONER: Oh great.

LAUREL: Yeah.

COMMISSIONER: Really wonderful.

LAUREL: Mmm.

COMMISSIONER: Well I've got some news too. The results of our survey are in.

LAUREL: What survey?

COMMISSIONER: The one we commissioned on the effectiveness of theatre in education for children. The big news is, I suppose, that we're cutting your funding.

LAUREL: What?

Education Board Commissioner quotes from the report.

COMMISSIONER: “Theatre is to the mind what instant noodles are to the body. Nutritionally vacuous.” In the three years you've been performing, the fatty worm hasn't dipped a single degree.

LAUREL: But that's just numbers and lines on paper. I'm on the street level. I see the kids getting the message every day. I'd have to question your figures, the methodology, the sample groups. How was the study conducted?

COMMISSIONER: We spent over thirty-five thousand dollars getting the finest scientists in the country to discredit you.

LAUREL: If you gave me that money for my show I could have those kids looking like refugees.

COMMISSIONER: Your license is withdrawn effective immediately. You need to return the healthmobile.

LAUREL: You can take my license to operate, and my transport, but you can't take my message. I'll keep doing the show independently.

COMMISSIONER: This is a cease and desist order. From tomorrow, if you're caught doing the show again under any name, at any school, then it's jail.

LAUREL: The future of New Zealand's arteries are in my hands!

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT CARPARK

BEN: Hey Laurel, how did the meeting go?

LAUREL: Ben, I’ve had an idea. I think we should leave the healthmobile here and walk to the next school.

BEN: It's twenty ks.

LAUREL: We should be setting an example for the kids.

BEN: Too true.

SCENE FROM FIGHT THE FAT

Ben’s a PLAYGROUND BULLY, Laurel a LITTLE WEE KID.

BULLY: This is a playground robbery yo. Gimme yo lunch yo.

LITTLE WEE KID: OK, OK I don't want any trouble, just take it.

BULLY: What the heck is this?

LITTLE WEE KID: They're grapes. Nature's lollies. Try one.

BULLY: Heck no, I'm a bad bum bully yo, I only eat the sugary sweets.

LITTLE WEE KID: And that's why you have rotten teeth and bad breath.

BULLY: You want me to beat on you?

LITTLE WEE KID: First, violence is a common sign of sugar overload, and second, if you want to beat me up you'll have to catch me, and judging from your BMI, I don't think you could. In fact, are those loose trousers hand-me-downs from an older member of your family?

BULLY: And what if they is?

LITTLE WEE KID: Then you may be genetically predisposed to morbid obesity and that's dangerous. You should try the grapes.

BULLY: Mmm these grapes are delish. You got some fruit juice to wash it down? I know you don't drink no soda pop.

LITTLE WEE KID: Did you know that fruit juice has as much sugar as coke? I prefer plain old water. Here you go, but don't lip it, I don't want to get meningitis.

BULLY: Heck, yes that is also delish. It's so cold.

LITTLE WEE KID: I put it in the freezer overnight so I've got icy cool water all day, and it keeps my lunch chilly fresh. That's a hint you can take with you, along with my schoolbag.

BULLY: Have your bag back, I can do all these thing at home by myself, cheaply, deliciously and best of all, honestly. Man, I think you done changed the way I think. I feel like a better person for having met you.

LITTLE WEE KID: Cutting sugar out of your diet is very good for your temper.

SCHOOL CARPARK

BEN: Awesome show Lozza. I've packed up the shopping trolly, ready to head over to the next school whenever you are.

LAUREL: Ben, we have to talk.

BEN: I know I know, I missed my head spin, but I was improvising off the teacher aide’s heckle.

LAUREL: It's not about the head spin.

BEN: Oh, so is this about getting the Healthmobile back from the mechanic? A helicopter was hovering over me this morning when I was driving the shopping trolley - I think it was one of those ones from the supermarket, our loan might be getting called in.

LAUREL: Ben I can't pay you today.

BEN: But there was a mountain of kids in there. It smelt like a zoo. Could some of the little beggars not lose some weight by coughing up their gold coins?

LAUREL: The Education Board has revoked our license. The Healthmobile’s not coming back.

BEN: Why not?

LAUREL: Cos our show is like packet noodles to these kids’ minds. They're getting nothing out of it.

BEN: That's not true. You saw those twins in the audience peel the skin off their chicken right there in the middle of the show.

LAUREL: I know, Ben.

BEN: And what does it matter about the health funding? And the car? Let's get another car, let's be free of those guys and live off the gold coin kohas.

LAUREL: We can't get donations cos we can't get gigs because if we're not education board licensed we're illegal.

BEN: Are you giving up?

LAUREL: I'm not Mahatama Ghandi, Ben. I need money, and I need to feel like what I do is respected.

BEN: Then you need to open your eyes. I'm doing something that makes a difference to the world and so are you. But I'll do it by myself if I have to. If the schools won't have me I'll lurk about the front gate and put a hat on the ground. It's not about the money for me. It's about respecting myself. And fighting the fat.

LAUREL: Suit yourself. I have to move on and find my next best life.

MARKETING SEMINAR

Ben is playing a confident VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN

VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN: Welcome to the future. I'm Johanathan Riche. Who here is a millionaire? Put your hands up.

He raises his hand.

Just me huh? Yeah that's right, I'm a millionaire. Being a millionaire means you've got to make some tough decisions. Like do I drive my BMW today, or my Mercedes? The reason that I'm a millionaire is that I got into a business that sucks. Vacuum cleaners are used in every home in this country. Why? Because everyone has dust. There are over 3 million vacuum cleaners in this city alone, that's nearly two per person. In sheer numbers that is more vacuum cleaners than dogs. It's a fact. All you have to do is make sure that every time someone buys a vacuum cleaner, it's one of yours. Who wants to come up here and learn how?

LAUREL: I do. I’m Laurel.

VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN: Laurel, have you ever seen this vacuum cleaner?

LAUREL: No.

VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN: Try and turn it on.

She does

VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN: Easy eh?

LAUREL: Yeah.

VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN: The truth is, these things sell themselves. The reason I need you guys is I'm too busy driving my BMW to sell as many as I could. In fact I have too much money, so I thought I'd share a little with you. All you have to do is sell ten a month and after that you keep the profits from all the extra ones you sell. In my best month I sold three thousand and five.

LAUREL: Sounds great.

VACUUM CLEANER SALESMAN: OK, everyone open your banking apps and send me the money for the first ten. Then you're ready to roll.

Laurel takes out her phone.

BEN BUSKS FIGHT THE FAT

Ben lays down a hat on a street corner. He plays both WALRUS and SEAGULL.

WALRUS: But Mr Seagull, I'm too fat to exercise.

SEAGULL: You're never too fat Mr Walrus, not everyone is made for pounding the pavement. All you need to do is go for a swim.

Walrus splashes.

WALRUS: I feel so much lighter I can do roly-pollies!

SEAGULL: You keep that up Mr Walrus and you'll be an otter in no time.

WALRUS: Weee!

Laurel plays a SLOW CHILD, engrossed.

SLOW CHILD: Hey Mr Funny Mr.

BEN: Hello. Did you enjoy the show?

SLOW CHILD: Yes.

BEN: What did you learn?

SLOW CHILD: You're funny.

BEN: Thanks. Wanna make a donation?

SLOW CHILD: I don't have any money. But would you like to come back to my house to play with me?

BEN: I don’t see why not.

BEN’S MOTHER’S ROOM

Ben comes home. Mumma gurgles

BEN: Hey mumma, I’m home! Are you getting better? Just blink if you can hear me mumma. Good you’re alive. Sorry I've been away for so long, I've been in jail. But don't worry Mumma, it was all a big misunderstanding. It went to trial and I was acquitted so here I am. Are you hungry? Blink if you love me ma. Mumma can you speak. Speak to me mumma!

MUMMA: I'm dying Ben.

BEN: Mumma I'm so sorry, I tried Mumma I tried but the world isn't prepared to let a lone male educate kids about healthy lifestyles. I lost my job, Mumma.

MUMMA: You've always been a good kid, Ben. I put a little money aside for you to follow your dream. Reach under the mattress for me.

BEN: Mumma there's forty thousand dollars here! Mumma you should have been spending this on medicines to help you live longer.

MUMMA: I only hope it can make you as happy as you've made me.

She dies

BEN: Mumma!

He closes her eyelids and jaw. He weeps.

VACUUM CLEANING LECTURE

LAUREL: Welcome to the future. I'm Laurel. Being a millionaire means you've got to make some tough decisions. Like do I drive my BMW today, or my Mercedes? The reason that I'm a millionaire is that I got into a business that sucks. Vacuum cleaners are used in every home in this country. Why? Because everyone has dust. There are over 3 million vacuum cleaners in this city alone, that's nearly two per person. In sheer numbers that is more vacuum cleaners than dogs. It's a fact. All you have to do is make sure that every time someone buys a vacuum cleaner, it's one of yours. Who wants to come up here and learn how?

BEN: I do. Hi everyone, I’m Ben, we used to work together.

LAUREL: Someone else, someone I’ve never met before.

He kick starts the vacuum cleaner.

BEN: Wow, Laurel this is pretty crappy. How did you become a millionaire selling these?

LAUREL: They're more popular than hamburgers.

BEN: And just as good for you. What kind of BMW do you drive?

LAUREL: …The one that's parked out front.

BEN: What make is it?

LAUREL: Can't remember.

BEN: I don't think you own any BMWs. I don't think you're a millionaire. And I think that this Vacuum Cleaning Lecture is just a piece of theatre, like you used to do, except it's evil. You're lying to these people.

LAUREL: Get out of here Ben. I need these people to buy vacuum cleaners off me so I can pay for the ones I bought off the guy above me.

BEN: You should be using your skills to help people. That's what you were doing with Fight the Fat. Don't you remember the twinkle in kids eyes when they realised they weren't condemned to heart disease?

LAUREL: I loved that show, but we don't have the license - or the money.

BEN: I've got the money now. We can get the license.

LAUREL: All you people go home. Go home before I rob you. And eat healthily!

EDUCATION DEPARTMENT CARPARK

The EDUCATION BOARD COMMISSIONER pulls into a park and gets out of his car.

LAUREL: Shall I wash your car while you work, Mr Education Board Commissioner?

COMMISSIONER: Laurel, this is quite a surprise. I was just thinking about you in a 'I'm never going to have to see you again cos I fired you’ kind of way.'

She grabs him by the collar

LAUREL: Who do you work for?

COMMISSIONER: The Board of Education!

She punches him in the nose

LAUREL: Who pays you enough for a car this nice?

COMMISSIONER: I don't know what you mean.

She pulls him to his feet then knees him in the groin, he collapses in pain and turns towards the car, she kicks his arse so the top of his head hits his car door.

LAUREL: Someone put the pressure on you to cancel the show. Who? It was the fast food lobby, right?

COMMISSIONER: How did you know?

LAUREL: Who else has 35k to spend discrediting a theatre in education show?

COMMISSIONER: Their sales were plummeting in exact correlation with the school districts in which you performed the show.

LAUREL: We're gonna remount it.

COMMISSIONER: You can't. I sold the healthmobile and spent the funding on chips.

LAUREL: We've got the money. All we need is the license. Sign on this dotted line.

COMMISSIONER: They'll take my legs.

Laurel opens his car door and starts bashing it on his head in the style of Vinny Jones from the movie Snatch.

LAUREL: You're not gonna need legs if I kill the part of your brain that controls walking.

He signs.

LAUREL: Here's to your good health.

Laurel goes back to Ben, wiping the blood off her face.

LAUREL: Hey Ben.

BEN: Hey Laurel. Is that your blood?

LAUREL: No. He signed.

BEN: Awesome.

LAUREL: Let's get booking some schools.

SCENE FROM FIGHT THE FAT

BEN: I need to get to the shops. I don't know whether to drive or buy online?

LAUREL: Why don't we take Shanks’ Pony?

BEN: What's that?

LAUREL: I’ll show you.

She claps her hands rhythmically on her chest to mimic the sound of a horse.

LAUREL: Shanks’ pony is a fun walk! Giddy up!

They both canter like horses.

BEN: Wow. This is fun and transportative.

TV EXECS OFFICE

Laurel plays a NETFLIX EXECUTIVE.

NETFLIX EXECUTIVE: Hi, Bill is it?

BEN: Ben, yeah. You're the head of Netflix right?

NETFLIX EXECUTIVE: I am. What can I do for you?

BEN: I have theatre in education show about fighting the fat. It’s wildly educational and successful, but we need to reach more kids. I want to make it into a TV show.

NETFLIX EXECUTIVE: Theatre in education? I don't know Ben, that sounds a little educational to me. We tend to make mindless guff. Our target audience is people in comas whose relatives set up screens at the end of their beds so they can sleep-binge series on autoplay. The most important thing for us is no loud noises.

BEN: The only people less discerning than people in comas are parents. If you make the right show they will plop their kids in front of it all day on autoplay. Then they will buy the lunchbox and the soft toy.

NETFLIX EXECUTIVE: Well that's all well and good, Ben, but we generally scoop up content for a pittance after the heavy lifting’s already been done.

BEN: We’ll do the heavy lifting. I've got the money. We’ll pay for the show. We just want your platform.

NETFLIX EXECUTIVE: You sound like someone who knows the modern media landscape, Ben. Welcome to Netflix.

THE TV SHOW THEME SONG

The grand finale. The Netflix sound plays.

BEN: Tick

LAUREL: Tock

BOTH: Let's rock/ Laurel and Benny gonna help you all to/ Fight the Fat!

THE END

Commissioned by Allen Hall Theatre, 2010. Lightly edited for clarity and taste.