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.”

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Hanging Around

On Wednesday, I was walking home after doing some errands in town when I ran into one of our Girls Surviving alumni. We both had some free time, so we went into a coffee shop for a chat. The alumna, whom I’ll call Shauna, has just finished her third semester at community college. She was recently promoted to manager at the store where she has been working since she graduated from high school, so she is busy. She plans to do another semester here, then transfer to a four year school in another state.
I, on the other hand, am doing nothing this summer.
“I know!” Shauna said, when I gave her my news. “I heard that there is no Girls Surviving this summer. Wow, I can’t believe it! Andrea (another alumna) and I were just talking about it the other night. We said we don’t know what we would have done without Girls Surviving to get us through the summer! It was such an important part of what we were”
Shauna’s words echoed those of our current troupe members when we informed them that there was no funding for a summer program this year. It is hard for the girls we serve to find productive ways to spend their summer days in our town. Most summer programs are costly, and in the present economic climate, it’s hard for teens to find a summer job. Most of our girls will probably spend the summer watching television or hanging around the neighborhood.

And I feel their pain. It’s not really true that I’m doing nothing this summer. I have a garden, a grandson, and a guitar, and I have things to read and write, but I already miss the G.S. summer program. Because the work of the summer program is condensed (the girls write, rehearse, and perform a play over a six week period), it is intense. There is always something exciting happening at our summer workshops, and there is a lot for Carolyn and me to do in between. It’s not full-time; we teach three hours a day and usually have another hour of work for each one we teach, but there are long weekends between our teaching days. It’s a perfect summer job: fun, meaningful, creative, and for me, it provides the focus that helps me prioritize and organize the rest of my summer time. 

I think the Girls Surviving program does something similar for the girls. When our girls talk about the program, the words they use make it clear that they feel part of a Girls Surviving discourse or culture. It is different from, but usually compatible with, the cultures of school and home and friends. I think that, in much the same way the summer program helps me organize the rest of my time, their experience in Girls Surviving provides a lens through which troupe members can assess the other aspects of their lives. And it doesn’t end when they leave the troupe. One of our alumna once told us that, in her post-high school life, when she is confronted by a young woman who is rude or otherwise uncomfortable in social situations, she thinks, that girl needed Girls Surviving.

I feel certain that the girls in our current troupe will be fine this summer. Because the program is based in the community where we all live, they will hang out together. Carolyn and I will hang out, too. We’ll write and reflect and plan for next year.