Onstage at the Alliance, one teen acts out an eating disorder
By Jo-Jo Steine, Pope High School senior
What teenager doesn’t look forward to summer? Waking up late, hanging out with friends, lounging by the pool, or maybe having a summer job at the ice cream shop around the corner or being a camp counselor. For me, this summer is not going to be the typical teenage summer. This summer I will play the title role in the original musical "What's Eating Katie," written by Dina Zeckhausen and composed by Bryan Mercer, a piece centering around a 13 year old girl struggling with an eating disorder. The eating disorder is portrayed as a separate character, and it really allows the audience to hear the “voice” of this scary disease as Katie herself hears it; it’s a lot like an abusive relationship.
I have no horror stories. I have not struggled with an eating disorder, or suffered along with a family member. I have, however, seen the kind of power a work of art can have over people. Theater has the ability to shape our world. When I decided to audition for this musical, I had become tired of the fluff musicals — the ones that waste that great opportunity to affect people. Even though it’s going to be a huge challenge, I really enjoy doing shows with weight and meaning.
And this show’s got just that. It contains a significance everyone can relate to, whether or not they have had experience with an eating disorder. The show's strong messages include the importance of self-respect, deciphering the truth, and judgment of fellow human beings, inescapable elements of the world today that ought to touch all viewers. I don’t know whether I hope to learn something about myself or whether I'll end up helping someone else. I think either one will be a productive and worthy use of my time.
It’s not going to be easy.
As an actor, I have to live in this world of fear and insecurity during rehearsals. But I’d so much rather be doing this, gaining empathy for the people who fight constantly with their own perception of themselves, than anything else, even if it means feeling a little unpleasant. The true joy of acting comes from turning a hard topic, something unpleasant, into something beautiful with the power to make people stop and think. So yes, this summer I’m playing a teenager who starves herself, hates herself, makes herself sick. And I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend a summer than tackling this important challenge.
"What's Eating Katie," directed by Bryan Mercer, will be performed on the Alliance Theatre's Hertz Stage on Friday, June 15 at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, June 16 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and proceeds from ticket sales will go to support the non-profit EDIN (The Eating Disorders Information Network). For more information on tickets, call: 404-733-4749 or go to the Alliance website.