A note from Jan Rosenberg

It’s about time I contributed to this blog! I’m Jan. I wrote Never Have I Ever. Before I delve into the cathartic experience I’m having with The Farm Theater’s College Collaboration, I wanted to get something off my chest.

Jan Rosenberg, playwright

I was always going to write a play about Eating Disorders and addictive behaviors for this project. It’s a subject I’ve been writing about a lot lately: my play How To Destroy An American Girl Doll features three young people haunted by various food addictions, and my TV pilot Treat Yourself is a dark comedy that takes place in a women’s ED treatment facility. I can’t seem to stop myself. Before my interview with Padraic and Scott, I tried to convince myself to pitch a more ‘sexy’ topic to them, like politics or social media. After all, my predecessors Lindsay Joy and Micheline Auger had written plays that revolved around themes of suicide and sexual assault. In the popular media and culture, food and body issues are taken seriously—but not seriously enough. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Excuse my language, but that’s really f***king serious.

Needless to say, I was given the green light to write the play. And while part of me feels like I keep writing the same stories over and over again, I know it’s not true, because everything is always in motion. We are always moving towards something, even when it feels like we’re stuck in the mud. I chose to write about characters who deal with Anorexia, Bulimia, Compulsive Overeating, and Exercise Bulimia because I’ve never seen those stories onstage. I can think of maybe three instances where I’ve ever seen a character who brings and honest portrayal to the subject of eating disorders without falling into Lifetime movie tropes. Yes, I know about all of the movies. Like an addict, I’ve viewed them all, hoping to find something that shows what it’s really like to have the disease, and even more importantly, show that recovery is possible.

These characters don’t exist. I googled “Anorexic characters” and “Bulimic characters”. I found episodes of Degrassi, Lizzie McGuire, Full House, and Boy Meets World. They lived in single television episodes, where the character (always a slender white female) decides to stop eating for a day, and by the end of the episode the issue is resolved and she’s “cured”.

I’ve had enough. I am sick and tired of having the media tell me that Eating Disorders are simply selfish cries for help. I’m done with movies and television trying to convince me that these are dainty defects of bored young women who have nothing better to do than count calories or eat junk food until they make themselves sick.

We live in a world that perpetually gaslights us for the way we eat our food, or the shape of our bodies. We’re assaulted by diet culture and fitness culture at every turn. It’s hard for a normal person to mute the peanut gallery of “Are you really going to eat that?” For someone with an Eating Disorder, it’s all they think about.

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Stephanie Lee & Colton Hinderliter in a scene from NEVER HAVE I EVER (Stewart Edmonds)

I promise I’ll write more specifically on the journey I took with writing this play. Right now I’m sitting in the green room with the cast and crew, trying to act cool and pretend I’m working on play rewrites instead of writing this blog. I actually don’t think they realize I’ve been sitting here and I’m kind of afraid to move. I’m also trying to resist the urge to write down all of their dialogue because it’s so glorious. I’m in awe of their bravery and passion, and I can’t wait to write more about what it was like watching Never Have I Ever onstage.

NEVER HAVE I EVER, photo by Stewart Edmonds

To be continued!