Dramatically Exposing Eating Disorders

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By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Yet the stigma surrounding these disorders allows many to suffer alone to face the threat of death or severe lifelong ailments. To spotlight the magnitude of this dramatic crisis, one actress has harnessed the power of drama itself.

Paten Hughes, an American who trained at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London as well as Washington and Lee University, has toured the U.S. for almost five years performing in a 30-minute, one-woman show titled The Thin Line. Originally created by Addverb Productions in 1998, the play uses live theater to break the silence on eating disorders, reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, and pave the way to prepare young adults for the intense pressure of high school, college and beyond.

In The Thin Line, Ms. Hughes portrays four characters, all with a distinct voice: Ellen, a girl struggling with an eating disorder; Ellen’s negative inner voice; Cindy, a friend; and Ellen’s mother. As the play unfolds, Ellen’s illness progresses and the complications and stakes get higher. The play illustrates the pain of Ellen’s struggle and her loved ones’ resolve to understand and to help.

The tension is aptly summarized in words Ms. Hughes speaks in the guise of Cindy: “No matter how much I want [Ellen] to get better, I can’t get better for her. She has to do it. And I have to be honest with her. I have to be honest with her until she can learn to be honest with herself.”

Since its debut, Ms. Hughes has performed The Thin Line for college and conference audiences across the country. With a simple set-up of a table and a few chairs, the play can be performed in virtually any setting. In cooperation with the booking organization, audience members have a chance immediately following each performance to interact with local eating disorder specialists who can provide support. College counseling and health centers have used the program to make their services accessible and approachable to students.

The National Eating Disorders Association has called The Thin Line an accurate and powerful tool for spotlighting eating disorders, touching the viewer with a combination of information and emotion and poignantly illustrating the devastating experiences of an eating disorder sufferer.

“The problems associated with eating disorders are deeply rooted, difficult to face, and hard to understand,” says Ms. Hughes. “The Thin Line serves as an accessible tool that helps audiences recognize the symptoms of these disorders and encourages individuals, friends and family to seek help. Portraying the four characters in the show has been tremendously important for me as an actress. I am gratified to think I could be encouraging a wide range of audience members to seek the counseling they need to restore their health.”

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