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news: ontario woman writes, stars in “twisted comedy” about eating disorder

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Title/Topic: Ontario Woman Writes, Stars in “Twisted Comedy” About Eating Disorder
Posted On: 6/30/2009
June 30 2009, Ontario, Canada (Niagara Advance) – When Emma Hillier debuts her play in Toronto tonight it will be a one-woman show, but it has been a family affair to get it to the stage.

A family that includes the Shaw Festival, where Hillier grew up as a back-stage child of the theatre while her mother spent two decades as a stage manager. Hillier, who baby-sat for ensemble members, began her acting career at the Shaw, with parts in a couple of plays as a teenager.

But with a degree in theatre from the University of Windsor under her belt that included writing her one-woman show, The Venus Way, she now has her own theatre company called Controlled Disorder and is performing The Venus Way at the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival.

Hillier calls it “a twisted comedy” that approaches eating disorders in a way never before seen.

Now fit and healthy, Hillier speaks freely about the eating disorder that she was battling when she wrote the play.

She was in her last year at Windsor when she said to her mother while home to celebrate Christmas, “Sometimes I make myself throw up after I eat.”

She was finally acknowledging to herself and her family that she had a problem she could no longer ignore.

That insight with the help of therapy while finishing her last semester at Windsor has led to her success at overcoming it, she says.

Hillier says that the choice she had to make was to get healthy or give up any hope of a future in theater.

It really wasn’t a choice, she saidshe loves theatre way too much to give it up.

Her mother, Carolyn MacKenzie, is directing her in The Venus Way, and together in recent weeks the two have been refining the script and performance, using Shaw Festival rehearsal space as they prepared for the Toronto production, which will run from the July 2 opening to July 10.

Emma’s brother Mac is doubling as the designer and stage manager, and her father, artist Rod Hillier, constructed the set.

The production has become a family affair as they all work to ensure its success, whether it’s going over lines at the rehearsal hall or discussing set design at the dinner table

The Venus Way, says Hillier, is a seminar which introduces its participants to the basic practices of eating disorders under the guise of a healthy lifestyle program: it teaches that in order to be the happiest you can and achieve all your goals, you quarter what you eat (sometimes with a meat cleaver), exercise every day and purge when necessary.

It allows the audience to enjoy a laugh at Venus’ expense, while looking through a window into the eating disordered-mind.

It’s easy to understand why Hillier would choose her mother to directtheir ability to communicate, to understand each other’s thoughts, the lack of tension that often exists between a parent and a young adult making her own choices, is evident as mother and daughter talk about their shared love of the theatre and Emma’s upcoming performances.

“Of course I’m thrilled and delighted,” says Carolyn at being given the opportunity to direct her daughter’s production.

“I feel privileged. It’s a very exciting opportunity. We’re working hard, rehearsing hard, but we’re having fun. I can’t tell you how proud I am.”

And relieved that her beautiful, driven daughter recognized her symptoms and sought help.

“I had come to the realization that her eating habits were strange,” says MacKenzieher daughter is a vegetarian who has gone through several stages of what she would and wouldn’t eat.

“I didn’t realize it had gone to the next level. I think the fact that she had self-identified her problems relatively early and got some help made her recovery easier.”

Emma has always had a slim, athletic bodyshe played sports, including soccer, in NOTLso her weight loss didn’t seem extreme.

One of the lessons Hillier had to learn was that eating disorders are not about weight so much as feeling out of control.

She admits to being an “overachiever,” and with a goal of working in the theatre, body image was important, she said. That “opened the door” to moving to an unhealthy extreme as a bulimic, exercise fanatic and borderline anorexic.

She took what she learned in therapy, turned it around and made it into something she could put on stagenot drama therapy, but an opportunity to put that behind her and use her talent to raise some awareness and educate people from her personal perspective about eating disorders.

A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Sheena’s House, a centre offering support programs for people affected by eating disorders and their families.

Tickets to The Venus Way at St. Vladimir’s Theatre on Spadina are $10. For reservations call 416-966-1062.

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