TRIGGER WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS CONTENT RELATED TO EATING DISORDERS AND RECOVERY.
We chat with blossoming writer Emma O’Brien about her premiering play Measured and how societal bodily standards affect the way women could be seen. Also, we discover more about the background inspiration for the production, as well as the cast bringing it to life at The Hope Theatre between Feb 22nd and March 12th 2022.
Hi there Emma! Welcome to Close Up Culture, and thanks for doing this interview with me. Firstly, congratulations on your new play Measured being shown at The Hope Theatre later this month. That’s a great achievement. How are you feeling leading up to the first show?
Thank you for having me! I’m really excited and can’t quite believe it’s actually happening after the last couple of years of lockdowns and such. This is my first production as well, so I’m trying not to be too nervous and just enjoy it all a bit. After the first week of rehearsals I’m so excited – I feel like a kid at Christmas!
Your play covers the serious subject of eating disorders and will certainly bring it to the audience’s attention. What made you want to produce a play that tackles such a topic?
I wrote the beginnings of what became Measured as part of my MA in Creative Writing a few years ago. I wasn’t really thinking about getting it made, just doing the exercises we were given. At the time I started the MA I was struggling with an eating disorder myself and towards the end was cautiously in recovery – I’d been in treatment for almost a year at this point and there really wasn’t anything else in my life to write about. The more I worked on it, though, the more I felt like I had never really seen anything that addressed the difficulty of recovery-the kind of halfway state where every day is making the choice to recover again, and that’s kind of where Sophie is in the play, struggling to move forward but not really wanting to go back. I hope I’ve articulated it well enough for people to connect with because it’s a really lonely experience when you’re living it.
What do you think about the way society perceives women in the ideal bodily standard, and how do you think this influenced the way you wrote and directed Measured?
It’s tricky to answer this briefly because it’s such a topical question! From the point of view of someone recovering from an eating disorder, although I wouldn’t say my illness was caused by diet culture, it certainly makes it much more difficult to recover and gives you a socially acceptable excuse to hide your disorder behind. I think in producing the play we are trying to be really careful not to glamorize the illness in any way or provide any details that could be used to trigger someone’s disorder. Hopefully, the difficulty will be thought-provoking for people who don’t suffer from EDs as well.
You’ve worked in mental health social work for over ten years, which is truly incredible! Do you think your previous experiences assisted you in any aspects of creating your play?
Something that was very much on my mind was the knowledge that people with eating disorders can collect information like weights, meal plans, and symptoms from texts that are meant to be recovery-focused and incorporate them within their own disorders, so we’ve been really careful not to mention weights or numbers or to describe any symptoms that could be imitated. What I wanted to do was show the emotional state that an ED creates, rather than the physical symptoms.
What are your relationships like with the cast members Juliette Burton, April Hughes, and Aaron Phinehas Peters? What has your experience been like collaborating with this team, and how has this dynamic personally impacted your project?
Juliette has been a friend of mine for years and was really keen and supportive in trying to get the play made. Working with actors is a new experience for me, and this cast in particular are so amazing at bringing out themes in the script and aspects of the characters that I didn’t know were there. I’m currently not present at the last two weeks of rehearsals and am really excited to catch up with them again at the start of the run and see what they’ve done with the script!
Finally, how would you describe the ambiance of Measured in three words and what would you say to anyone going through similar struggles at the moment?
Three words is tough! I would say raw, hopefully funny, and possibly claustrophobic- I think the sense Sophie has of being trapped between her illness and recovery is a really big thing for me, but at the same time I also want people to see who she is without her illness and the real wit she brings to her relationships.
I would say to anyone with any kind of eating issues that recovery is absolutely possible and that you deserve to live a life free of guilt and enjoy food and not numbers.
For Eating Disorder Support – https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/
For the Rethink Mental Illness charity – https://www.rethink.org/?gclid=Cj0KCQiA3rKQBhCNARIsACUEW_az_v1VXAIhqosLx4q_epBzveXWl86DZ2gRR2z6FZoXBW2FGQltqDsaAvQiEALw_wcB
For more information about Measured and for tickets – https://www.thehopetheatre.com/productions/measured/