A troupe of teen actresses telling their stories through writing and performance

Welcome to the Girls Surviving blog. We are creating this blog to reflect on the process we use in our work with teenage girls. We are two artists, Paula and Carolyn, who have been teaching writing, theater, and storytelling for many years. We are also mothers of daughters who had a hard time navigating their teens. We believe they would have benefited from a program that provided them with a safe place to talk about what it's like to be a teenage girl and to discover their unique artistic voices. Seven years ago, we began to form a troupe of teen girls who, we thought, could write and perform plays based on the experiences that inform their lives. Since then, we've watched the girls in the Girls Surviving troupe begin to take control of their lives with self-confidence and courage. We are writing to parents, teachers, counselors, and other artists who interact with girls in the hope that this blog will raise awareness of and open conversations about the lives of girls who are growing up in our complicated times.

“I have lived a very hectic life. I would consider myself as not a survivor but as a girl surviving.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Early Days

As I remember it, the seed that grew into the Girls Surviving program was planted one day when Carolyn and I were driving together to a workshop located a couple of hours south of our town. During the long car ride, we began talking about the challenges of living with teenage girls. At that time in my life, fears for my own daughter had taken up permanent residence in my soul. I could forget them when I was distracted by work or social interactions, but as soon as my mind was free, the fears swarmed back, crawling into every hollow of my thoughts like the little monsters in a vision of Hieronymus Bosch.
My youngest daughter, who was about fifteen at the time, was experiencing a hard and, for me, frightening early adolescence. She was my fifth child, but the first whose troubles had left me at a complete loss. Although I knew she needed help and advice, she emphatically did not want it from me, and the conventional resources of therapy and medication weren’t meeting her needs. I was frustrated and scared, and one of the things that was most frustrating to me was that I couldn’t find anyone who would admit to having similar problems with their own children. This seemed so weird to me because everyone knows teen years are hard. Not all teenagers face crises, but many do. So why not share experiences? Yet, even the mothers of my daughter’s friends, kids I knew were taking the same risks with their health and safety, wouldn’t talk about it. After every attempt to broach the subject, I walked away feeling as if I had just revealed a shameful family secret, like something was wrong with me because my child was having problems.
  So, it was a relief to find Carolyn was willing to talk. Her daughter was no longer an adolescent, but she recalled the anxiety she experienced during the girl's teen years.  One thing we agreed on was, in the ten years that spanned our daughters’ teenage experiences, our community had added few, if any, options for girls who needed to talk about their lives, to analyze their doubts, fears, and expectations, and get answers to their questions about the choices confronting them.

Girls need a safe place to talk about the things on their minds and, usually, that means a place where there are no boys. There are too many layers of social interaction going on in co-ed groups of adolescents for anyone to be completely frank and open. And co-ed environments often either stifle or bring out the worst in teen girls. In addition, girls who feel like my daughter did in her mid-teens can only speak frankly in a parent-free environment. Parents want to control the situation and they just can’t.

Carolyn and I began to talk about what this “girls’ place” would look like. We decided (1) it would be led by women who are artists, (2) it would offer an artistic process that would help girls find their voices, articulate their thoughts, and take control of their actions, and (3) that it would be a place where girls always felt safe and comfortable to be themselves. Creating the process was something we could definitely do. We are both word artists, performers and writers whose raw material is the English language. We know, first hand, the power of successfully presenting work you have composed yourself and which you believe to hold truths you want to share. The process of creation (composing and rehearsing) forces reflection and increases understanding, and performance takes those insights to the next level.
During that car ride, we constructed the perfect writing and drama program for teen girls. It would:
-       be available to any girl who needed it,
-       be small enough to promote the trust and intimacy necessary for open expression,
-       be ongoing and long-term so girls could rely on it for as long as they needed,
-       allow girls to engage in a creative process and perform their work for the others,
-       motivate girls to be independent learners who are also successful collaborators,
-       be facilitated by teaching artists but led by the girls, themselves.

Then reality set in. Where would we set it? Who would pay for it? Given the issues we’d be addressing, we’d need a counseling staff. Who could that be? How would we get girls to join? By the time we got back home, the program we had built was nothing but wisps of ideas. But it didn’t go away, and in the weeks and months that followed, we began to build a real foundation for the dream. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The troupe's most recent play, "Selective Truths," was performed on August 17, 2012.