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.”

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Great Job, Girls!

It’s amazing how things can change in just four weeks. When we began the summer program, I felt like we had run out of gas. I even wondered if maybe Girls Surviving was at the end of its run and on the decline. Attendance in the first week of July was as bad as it has ever been, even in our very first weeks ten years ago. Not one of the thirty referrals from the middle school had responded to our invitations to join. By Thursday of that first week, we were seriously talking about closing the summer program.
But, on the following Tuesday, girls began to trickle back. Some had been away from home the previous week; others needed time to rearrange work and sibling-sitting schedules. One of the eighth graders showed up, a girl who had dropped out during the school year came back, and by the end of the second week we had a troupe of ten girls. And what a troupe! The girls took charge of the writing process with very little help or input from staff. They worked hard, barely breaking to eat or chat, and they continued revising and improving their script through their final day of rehearsal.
They even took charge in rehearsals which didn’t begin in earnest until the first day of our last week – leaving only three days for them to learn the blocking and get comfortable in their roles.
On the first day of rehearsal, after Carolyn had blocked the beginning of the play, Gia asked us, “Can you just let us run through this with no stops? When you interrupt, we lose momentum and I feel like we’ll never be ready to perform by Friday.”
Carolyn and I looked at each other. We had been interrupting every five minutes, she to rearrange the stage, I to remind them to speak up or annunciate.
“Sure,” we said, “go for it.”
And they did.

Sometimes we forget that, left to themselves, the girls can figure things out on their own. Even after witnessing the autonomy they displayed during the writing workshops, Carolyn and I approached the first day of rehearsal in full control mode. Carolyn had to block the play and we knew that the girls would have problems with volume and diction. What, in our enthusiasm to forge ahead, we forgot was that most of the girls had been through the process several times and knew the drill. They didn’t need our constant reminders to face the audience, or not to block each other from view, or to speak up. When there were problems, they recognized and handled them. When the blocking felt awkward, they figured out something that worked. And when they needed an outside eye, Liz, whose character didn’t enter the scene until near the end of the play, sat out front to take notes which she gave the cast after they had run through each scene.

On the day of their performance, all of the girls seemed confident and relaxed. We talked casually, then did a silly warm-up exercise before running through the beginning and end of the play. The two girls who wanted to memorize their script for the final episod knew the text and their focus and concentration during the memorized segment added depth to the moment.
The performance was terrific – by far the best start-to-finish run through of the week. We had a good audience of friends, family and other members of the community.

The Girls Surviving summer program ended on a high note. From no gas to blast off in thirteen days! Not bad.