I know everyone has had their struggles in theatre. Even if you are the most talented, stunningly fit, and beautiful person on this earth, let’s face it – none of us are perfect. I want to tell you my personal struggle. I’m writing this because I want to face reality and also, I know I’m not alone.
Since I was a child, I always loved watching any type of musical performance. However, I never ever thought that would become my life, my obsession. I was a Soprano 1, and thought I could sing as high as Christine Daae since I was twelve. I joined the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus and would end up being involved with them for several years. I was comfy in the chorus, never even thought of branching out. I made friends and I got to perform at the Straz Center at a very young age.
When I was about ten years old, my obsession with food began. I started gaining weight and when I hit puberty, it hit me like a bus which was very noticeable in my school pictures. In middle school, I was still involved with the chorus and loved my teacher. He was incredible, I remembered I wanted to be him “when I grew up.” Even though I was kind of devil child/rebel in middle school, I still always felt at home when it came time for chorus.
In high school, I was still struggling with my weight, again. It wasn’t a huge deal because, in middle school back, my size wasn’t something that much attention. Little did I know, high school gave me that reality check that I was one of the “fat girls”.
I remember I got into the show choir my Freshman year. To me, that was stepping WAY out of the box. Yes, I was still in the choir, but this was singing AND dancing with a partner?! What?! I felt like I was on top of the world. However, I would still cry in my mom’s arms every night after school about how fat I was and how I didn’t look like the other pretty girls in show choir with their flowy dresses and how their partners didn’t struggle to lift them. Besides my incredible mother who helped me through literally everything in my life that I have ever struggled with, my chorus teacher, Liz Stewart, gave me a shred of hope during this hard time. She was a plus size woman who made it VERY clear to me that I was beautiful and she understood what I was going through, but she didn’t care about my weight at all. She knew I had the talent and drive, and quite honestly, that’s all she cared about. She and I remember we were singing “Joyful, Joyful” from Sister Act in chorus and she asked me to sing the beginning solo part. I ran to the corner of the chorus room in tears, I was frightened. I couldn’t do it. I was still terrified of being in the spotlight like that, all eyes on me.
During my Sophomore year, our school was preparing to do Nunsense. I offered to stage manage this production. I had NO experience with stage managing, but I knew I loved theatre and singing and I knew I wouldn’t have to be seen being the fat girl.
But two weeks before the show opened, the girl playing the role of “Reverend Mother” dropped out. I was approached by Mrs. Stewart who asked if I could step in since being the stage manager, I knew almost all of the lines. I remember my heart sinking to my toes. Reverend Mother is the LEAD! After tons and tons of convincing, I agreed. I remember telling my mom, and she was absolutely thrilled. This was NOT something that Karli did. EVER.
The show opened and the moment I stepped on that stage, I knew. This is it. I have never in my life had that feeling of pure joy, happiness, butterflies, combined. I was in LOVE with being on that stage. The lights beating on my face, the backstage jitters and costume changes, the smells, the people, the “oh my gosh I could go on forever!” My heart melted hearing the applause and thinking, “oh my God, is this for ME? ME?!”
From then, I was hooked and joined the theatre department. That’s when I met Daron Hawkins, the most incredible theatre teacher/mentor to ever exist in this world, at least mine. I remember how intimidated I was by him, partly because he was this awesome, flamboyant theatre diva who knew all of his shit, but mainly because his passion for theatre was SO STRONG all I wanted to do was to impress him while being his BFF at the same time.
I auditioned for The Pajama Game and I was cast as Mabel and Poopsey. I cried my eyes out with joy. I was a big girl, but I felt like it didn’t matter because Mr. Hawkins had noticed my talent and he had given me a chance. FINALLY! During my senior year, he cast me as Joanne in RENT. One day, he called me into his office and told me that I had an incredible talent and believe I was going to go far in the theatre industry. This was EVERYTHING I have ever wanted. Encouragement like that, coming from him felt like Sutton Foster offering me a job as her Broadway replacement.