Go Deeper

Voicing what’s Unacceptable to Voice: Judy Freed makes a show about eating disorders

Posted August 5th, 2009

“When I was younger, I wanted to be two things: a therapist and a star,” says Judy Freed as she laughs. Check off the first one; she’s now an established psychotherapist and social worker, specializing in eating disorder treatment. “I didn’t always want to be that type of therapist, because it felt too close to home,” she says, having dealt with the issue herself. “But it called me, I didn’t call it.”

And the second one? “My mother was an opera singer, and my dad was a magician,” she says, “so performance was always a part of my life.” Freed has performed as a singer-songwriter with The Folk Factory, and released a CD titled Chipping Away.

In Food Fight, a blend of song, monologue, and movement, Freed explores her personal and professional experience with eating disorders through one of her lifelong passions, performance. It might seem like an odd topic for a show, and Freed knows some are wary of the usually private and largely misunderstood realm of eating disorders. But her show is really about healing, and about hope. “It speaks to the human condition,” she says. “And isn’t that what theater’s supposed to do?”

She stresses that the message isn’t just doom and gloom. “There’s so much darkness surrounding all this,” she says, “so I want to also show the lightness.” Freed touches on the “ridiculousness” of professionals and mental healthcare experts (odd, she knows, because she is one), and shows the humor in her journey too. “It’s part of the whole story,” she points out.

After the jump, learn how Freed constructed Food Fight.

By reliving her experiences onstage through performance, Freed’s goal is to take away the shame of eating disorders, and to help people “voice what’s unacceptable to voice.” For those who haven’t suffered from eating disorders, Freed wants to “enlighten them, give them empathy . . . and just let everyone come together and share.” She continues, “It’s inspired by something specific, but it speaks to everyone . . . we all have fights.”

Several pieces in Food Fight are pulled from a full-length, life-story work that Freed previously assembled called 40 Years of Wandering: It’s Not Easy Being Freed. In Food Fight, she plays piano and guitar for self-contained songs, and incorporates more storytelling and motion.

Throughout her life, Freed has found solace in performance. “Having that artistic voice of expression has been a healing thing,” she says. Her professional life taps into her performer side as well–she’s a specialist in psychodrama, a form of therapy in which patients experience movement instead of just talking. She also holds workshops to teach other therapists her technique.

This isn’t Freed’s first Fringe appearance, though her others didn’t look much like Food Fight. For several years she joined Bobbi Block as a director of P3, a body percussion group, for a show she describes as “Stomp without the props.”

She hopes her next project might be a book about “things she doesn’t get,” or a peek into the brain of someone who has been through eating disorders.

“Like, let’s say you work in an office where sometimes someone will bring in bagels. So, do people not eat breakfast before they go, thinking maybe today there will be bagels? Or do they eat, and then if there are bagels, they have two breakfasts? I don’t get that!”

Among the other confusing gustatory phenomena on Freed’s list are brunch (“Is it one meal? Is it two?), “grabbing a bite,” and being so busy you forget to eat. “What about being so busy eating you forget to do other things?” she says.

It’s this sort of insight Freed hopes to bring to those who have never thought about it that way, or taken the time to understand what it’s like to have a food-related addiction.

The most important thing about her show, she says, is that “it’s not a lecture on a subject, it’s not a wake-up call. It’s not me saying, ‘if I can do it, so can you!’ That’s ludicrous. Those messages have only made me feel more alone and misunderstood. All I can offer is my truth in the moment.”

–Mara Miller

See Food Fight September 5 & 6 at 3pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration,6900 Stenton Avenue (Mt Airy). Click here for tickets.

Photos courtesy of the artist.