What began as an award-winning Off-Broadway musical NORMAL (now called PRETTY TO THE BONE), has become a series of evidence-based arts and mindfulness programs, live events and curricular materials — created in collaboration with researchers in medicine, psychology and dietetics. With a decade of experience integrating science with art and education, our hope is to build resilience through engaging programs in schools.
A 3 minute excerpt of the musical is here, featuring our Founder, Robyn Hussa:
In 2005, Hussa produced NORMAL Off-Broadway with the theatre company she co-Founded with Jack Cummings III — also Director and Developer of NORMAL. The impact of the show inspired Hussa to begin touring the rock musical to schools, universities and conferences. In 2006, she connected to Eric R. Christiansen — Theatre Director at Greendale High School in Milwaukee Wisconsin — and together they adapted the script for schools and toured it to festivals and medical conferences across the nation. The musical and resulting evidence-based curriculum was so impactful, they created NORMAL In Schools — in 2006 to deliver the program to more schools.
Hussa learned very early on that more needed to be done to raise awareness of debilitating mental health issues affecting one in four children in America in schools. Her work in the trenches across the country led to valuable research and publications in public health: the bottom line — educators were not safely managing mental health disorders in schools. In fact, they were avoiding the topic altogether. More had to be done …
In 2009, Hussa began working with her husband, Tim Farrell, to create documentary films and educational curricula with leading prevention researchers to educate more individuals about how to safely manage and prevent eating disorders and mental illnesses in schools. They traveled the country and filmed more than 50 medical experts in neuroscience and psychology, dietetics and medicine. They developed media-based educational tools and evaluated them with researchers.
In 2013, the Board changed the name and mission to Mental Fitness to build resiliency in youth through arts programs. Since the time she first produced NORMAL in New York, Hussa has directed and performed in more than 200 productions of the show, with over 25 casts, for more than 10 years. The musical program has led to more than 3,000 individuals connecting safely to appropriate treatment for an array of mental health disorders.
Today, Mental Fitness offers many arts programs as well as online workshops through our partners at SharpenMinds.com. Examples include:
1. Our evidence-based training for school professionals / faculty / parents — How To Manage and Prevent Eating Disorders and Mental Illnesses in Schools was recently published in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention in 2017.
2. FLOURISH Peer-Led Resilience program for high school and elementary aged students. High school students learn arts and mindfulness techniques that have shown to build resilience. They then teach elementary aged children some of the age-appropriate methods.
3. NOURISH ARTS PARK — a fun and engaging outdoor event that builds resilience by connecting evidence-based, engaging arts activities to kids and families.
4. Seminars and workshops to connect more educators and parents to programs for kids.
Our work will forever be connected to NORMAL the musical — the only evidence-based rock musical program (when used in collaboration with Mental Fitness’s educational tools) that has shown to prevent eating disorders and serious mental illnesses in K-12 schools. A portion of the musical can be seen on our evidence based ED 101 program, here.