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, January 24, 2013
Friday, January 18, 2013
Thursday, January 17, 2013
Friday, January 11, 2013
Wednesday, January 9, 2013
We went into last week’s workshop ready for the girls to create the first collaborative scene of this year’s play. During the past few workshops they had taken several steps to prepare for this part of the playwriting process.
-First, they had gotten to know the scene’s characters, their personal histories, and their relationship with each other. They had talked about the characters and developed back-stories by doing character interviews, like the one I described in my post from December 14.
-Second, the girls had improvised a scene between the characters several times, with different girls playing the parts in each version. Paula described some of that process in her January 2 post.
-Third, each girl had written a dialogue based on her interpretation of the improvisations she had just observed.
-Fourth, we had typed, copied and collated all of the girls’ dialogues.
These steps taken, we were ready to initiate step five: read all of the dialogues aloud, then ask the girls to identify the lines they liked the best in each one so that we could cut and paste a draft of a scene that included lines from all of the dialogues.
The dialogues were based on a typical teenage argument. Best friends, characters named Melissa and Bianca, both like the same guy, named Henry. The girls argue after Melissa overhears a conversation in which she thinks Bianca is flirting with Henry. Melissa is particularly upset because Bianca knows that she likes Henry. The dialogues captured the intense anger that occurs in real life situations like this one but not much else.
The goal of this night’s work would be to help the girls create a single dramatic scene from their bursts of angry dialogue. In the first few weeks this fall, the girls had spent most of their workshop time getting to know each other by sharing personal thoughts and stories through discussion and journaling. While they were writing dialogues now, they knew very little about how to craft a scene. Over the years, though, we’ve seen the way static, short dialogues like these, when viewed collectively, can be arranged to create a genuine scene, with a beginning, middle and end. I had read all of these dialogues before the workshop. There were possibilities for combining them effectively. Each girl had contributed a detail, a description, some movement, or a revelation about a character that would help shape the material into a scene. A lot more revision would be necessary to transform it into something closer to drama, but by the end of the evening it seemed likely that a scene would emerge.
What was less clear to us going into the evening was how the girls would react to the intensity of the anger in their dialogues when they heard them read aloud. The language was raw, sexually explicit, and, in some cases, obscene and demeaning to women. Paula and I have worked with teenagers long enough not to be shocked by the obscene language they sometimes choose to express themselves. As teachers of adolescents, we understand their need to vent pent up emotions, rebel against cultural norms, or generally push the limits of acceptable behavior; and we believe writing is a safe outlet for their volatility. Furthermore, writing whatever comes to mind in any order that it comes – uncensored - is a necessary first step for a writer of any age to take in order to fully flesh out her ideas. Free-flowing thoughts sometimes include obscenities; a revised, final version of those thoughts might or might not. Revision is about making choices. On this night the girls would be hearing their uncensored words read aloud for the very first time. We knew from experience that hearing them might convince the girls that revisions would be necessary if they didn’t want an offended audience to get up and walk out of the play that will complete this year.
Sitting in a circle and taking turns, they hadn’t finished reading half of the dialogues before they started laughing, tittering, oohing and aahing at the outrageousness of their writing.
“It doesn’t sound like these two girls were ever best friends. It just sounds like they hate each other!” exclaimed one.
Another sheepishly asked, “Are we really going to say this out loud in front of people?”
They were embarrassed, apologetic, and shocked by the power of their spoken words. Even though we didn’t criticize them for writing uncensored rough drafts, some suggested they immediately re-write the dialogues. After a brief debate, they decided not to do that on the spot, but they all were energized by the realization that they had a lot more work to do before their writing would be ready for an audience to see. They didn’t need to select lines from the dialogues and create a full scene to realize that writing is all about revision. All it took was reading their dialogues aloud.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
|Program art from the Girls Surviving play, Lost.|