Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affect up to 10 million females and 1 million males in the U.S., according to the New York-based National Eating Disorders Association.
The Alliance Theatre summer camp in Midtown will perform the original musical “What’s Eating Katie?” this weekend.
“It’s considered shameful now,” said director and composer Bryan Mercer. “Part of the reason for doing this is to break the stigma.”
The main character Katie, 13, suffers from anorexia, characterized by self-starvation and extreme weight loss, and dabbles in bulimia, a cycle of bingeing and purging.
“We’re out to change an entire campus culture here,” Mercer said. “These are kids who want to take their art in a more worldly fashion.”
The Alliance partnered with the northwest Atlanta-based Eating Disorders Information Network to produce the show, which enabled the cast to talk to people recovering from eating disorders and to firmly grasp how they affect people’s lives.
“It’s a life-or-death situation,” Mercer said. “It’s a 24-7 disorder and it never shuts up.”
Alliance Director of Education Chris Moses said the play reveals how society reinforces eating disorders and how that cycle can be broken.
“In a greater sense, it ties our students to something beyond ourselves. It’s a great side effect because they’re becoming stronger performers but it’s really teaching them to be compassionate about this issue and that theater does have power to make a change,” Moses said. “They’re spreading the word that it’s life-threatening and not something you just grow out of.”
However, he said the message is delivered in a “loving and entertaining way.”
“If our telling of the story can make someone feel like they can overcome this disorder or make one person feel as though they aren’t alone in this, then my goal for this project will be accomplished,” said Meagan Cascone, 17, who plays Barbara, Katie’s mother.
The musical’s playwright, Dina Zeckhausen, is a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders and founded the network. She taught the cast about “narrative therapy,” a common therapeutic technique on which the play is based.
“In narrative therapy, a person talks about their eating disorder as a separate entity from themselves,” said Marietta resident Jo-Jo Steine, 17, who plays Katie in the play.
“ED” is that separate entity, the personified eating disorder, played by Dunwoody resident Jordan Rich, 17.
“I hope to show how seductive and evil eating disorders are, so that people struggling can come to terms with their disorders and those without one will become more aware of the impact and extreme danger this voice in people’s heads can cause,” Rich said.
Despite the seriousness of the topic, Mercer said the play has a comedic aspect.
“Humor is healing,” he said. “If we’re brave enough to throw it on the stage and laugh at it, then it takes a little bit of the monster away.”
If you go:
What: “What’s Eating Katie?”
Where: Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St., Midtown
When: Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Information: (404) 733-4601