Entertainment and Education with Kate Leddy

Wed, 03/08/2017

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, at least 30 million people in the United States, of all ages, genders, and races, suffer from an eating disorder. Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies directly from their eating disorder. How do we combat this public health epidemic?

That is the question that Kate Leddy, a CHC senior, has been contemplating for a good long while. As a public health major, Kate is learning how to ensure that people of her future community will be healthy. As a CHC senior, it is required of her to do an Honors Thesis or Project. Kate could have done a study or a research paper on eating disorders for her thesis.

Instead, Kate decided to produce a musical, What’s Eating Katie? for her project. Written by Dina Zeckhausen, it tackles the very issue Kate was hoping to address — eating disorders.

What’s Eating Katie? is about a girl named Katie who is about to start her freshman year at UMass Amherst when she meets E.D. (the personification of Katie’s eating disorder). What begins as E.D.’s idea for a new start turns more abusive as the play goes on.

“It’s really a reflection of what’s going on in a person’s mind as they’re struggling with an eating disorder,” as Kate eloquently sums up.

In between scenes, there are little parody “commercials” that serve to reflect today’s diet culture, from fitness to fashion to food. It’s really to get audience members to reflect upon the values we hold as a society. For further reflection, there were discussions held after the curtain fell.

Is a humanities-focused Honors Thesis or Project different than a sciences-focused one? That was something I, as an English and Legal Studies major, had been wondering before talking to Kate.

It’s not that different, though. Although the final product might be different, the process itself is relatively the same and simple. All Honors Theses or Projects require a lot of work and forethought, because before you get started, you have to submit a proposal. While you can change your proposal around a little, you have to stick to what you say you’re going to do, for the most part. Aside from a proposal, all CHC students undergoing an Honors Thesis or Project must also find a committee chair and committee member to double as their advisors.

In order to make it a public health honors project, Kate had to focus her project on the question of not only how to combat eating disorders, but how to teach about this public health problem, as serious and detrimental as it is, in a way that is entertaining and effective at the same time. In addition to producing and co-directing a musical, Kate has to write a reflective paper exploring this question.

Not that producing and co-directing a musical are no small feats. In addition to blocking scenes and conducting outreach to get people to come to her show, Kate worked to build solid relations with Walden Behavioral Care to ensure the sensitive topic was treated with care and coordinated a workshop for the cast for this very same purpose.

When I interviewed Kate, I asked her what she thought would be the biggest reward of this whole honors project. Personally, Kate replied, just knowing that she did it would be enough. After thinking it was too ambitious a project in junior year, completing it now would prove to herself now that she could do pretty much anything she put her mind to.

From a public health standpoint, as well as a personal one, though, the goal was bigger than herself.

“The most rewarding part of the show is knowing that it helped even just one person who came to the show … [that it felt] like it resonated and maybe even helped inspire them to love themselves a little more and maybe start recovery or continue recovery ― that is more rewarding than anything for me.”

What’s Eating Katie? was performed on March 3 and 4. When I went to the Friday night showing, I saw through the audience’s emotional responses during the post-play discussion that Kate had done exactly what she had set out to do—help others understand the issue at hand.