In 2004 Callie-Nycole Burk-Hartz walked down the street in New York back to her Manhattan apartment, fuming and annoyed with the play she just saw.
"I went into it expecting to see her win almost," recalls Burk-Hartz. "Then about two day later I was like 'wow, I am still thinking about this play. Obviously I love it. That's what good theater does, it make you think."
The play that stuck with her for years is coming full circle. Burk-Hartz, the managing artistic director of Wisdom Tooth Theatre Project, is bringing the show Fat Pig to Indianapolis. The script was written by the famous Neil LaBute, but Burk-Hartz is giving it a twist.
The narrative follows Tom, a career-centered character who falls in love with a woman named Helen. She is everything he could want: smart, funny and sexy. Helen is a bright and vibrant character and, at the time we meet her, is overweight. Tom finds himself trying to justify their relationship to everyone around them.
While the ideas about weight are, of course, prominent in the play, the real point of identification for Burk-Hartz is in the character of Tom.
"When you hear about this piece, and this overweight actress in it and that it's called Fat Pig, you automatically think it's her story, but it's not," says Burk-Hartz. "It's the guy she's dating story. Whether or not he has the courage to be with somebody who society says isn't an equal match ... It's more than about weight. It's about self-worth, and are you willing to change who you are so that this person deems you worthy."
Kait Burch, the actress who plays Helen, felt similarly to Burk-Hartz.
"This piece has made me reflect on my own subconscious biases — be it socially, at work or in my own personal relationships," says Burch. "I believe we, as a society, tend to staunchly believe that we have a mind of our own. Yet, how much of my self-worth and day-to-day decisions are a direct reflection of the influence of others?"
While the story touches on body image, it encompasses far more than that. It holds a mirror to the judgement we pass on ourselves and others choices, whether that be a career move or choice of a partner.
Being silenced by herself and the pressure of society, was something Burk-Hartz dealt with a lot when she made the pilgrimage back to Indiana. The Indiana native cut her teeth in New York and LA where she has worked on Off Broadway, TV shows, a Lifetime movie and may be best known for being the voice behind a slew of Nintendo game characters.
"I was lucky enough to actually make it in New York," says Burk-Hartz. "I did the damn thing."
When she decided to move back to Indianapolis she felt like she had to constantly justify it to people — to prove to them that it wasn't a step back.
"For a while I was justifying being back here. But then I was like, why am I justifying to the world that I have work?'"
She is now married and has made an active choice to stay here. This year alone she has done six plays already, where in New York she would only have two notches in the 2015 belt by this time.
"Is the goal to have other people say you are successful," says Burk-Hartz. "Or is the goal to do theater? That was the change."
Fat Pig is not only a personal story: It's a highly creative one for Burk-Hartz. She decided to build the entire set out of the same material that made up their late production Water By The Spoonful but with a pop art kick.
Everything from the color pallets of the set to placement of the show in Wisdom Tooth's season have a distinct curation.
"When we were searching for plays this season we had gone back and forth about a lot of different concepts," says Burk-Hartz. "It is a progressively lighter moving season."
So far so good, Burk-Hartz.
When: Nov 19–22, 27–29, various times
Where: IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair St.
Tickets: $20, $12 students/seniors/veterans
Info: 522-8099, indyfringe.org