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.”

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On the Road!

August was a month for reflection and regathering. Carolyn and I wrote a proposal for our book about the program and we made plans for recruiting new girls. Then, with the start of school a couple of weeks ago, things started to get more lively. Even before our first fall workshop, GS troupe members put on a show!
Last spring, our girls were invited to perform at the September meeting of the Morris County Youth Services Advisory Committee (YSAC). This committee is comprised, as you might imagine, by people who work for Morris County organizations that provide services for youth and families. They include the Family Court system, the Juvenile Justice Commission, shelters, residential programs, and educational programs. Girls Surviving was one of several programs invited to share information at the meeting.
Since we were, for the most part, out of touch with the girls during the month of August, there was a little scramble to find actresses who would be able to find time to rehearse before the meeting and who could leave school early on the performance day. Three girls volunteered. Next Carolyn and I had to think of a scene that could be adapted for three actresses and which could be pulled off with very little performance time. We decided on a scene from the 2015 spring play, Disillusions / Dissolutions. Although the scene was written for five actresses, nearly all of the dialogue was spoken by three characters, so it was easily adaptable for our three girls. Also, two of the girls had performed the scene at our spring performances and could easily reprise their roles, that of a mother and daughter. The third role, the father, would be taken on by an actress who hadn’t performed the scene but who was familiar with it, having been in the troupe that wrote and rehearsed the play.

We set a rehearsal date and, on the Sunday before the YSAC meeting, we all met at my house to rehearse. This process was surprising and quite wonderful. All three of the girls involved have become accomplished actresses, and the two who knew the scene slipped easily into their roles. However, once the rehearsal got rolling, it was clear that having a new actress in the third role completely changed the dynamic of the scene. Past GS troupes have performed with last minute substitutions when a girl became ill or was otherwise unable to attend a performance. When this has happened, perhaps because it was last minute, the actress stepping into the part played as she had seen it performed in rehearsal. Or, at least, that’s how it has seemed to me.
That Sunday, with time to work on the scene, we began to see subtle shifts in the tension between characters as the new actress’s interpretation of the father character changed his motivation in the scene. The other two actresses responded to the change with insight and sensitivity. For much of the rehearsal, Carolyn and I watched open-mouthed as the girls adjusted and refined their reactions to each other’s words. I saw things in the scene I had never understood, even though I had typed at least one revision of it, seen it rehearsed several dozen times, and watched three performances. Without question – we were watching artists at work.

The performance took place four days later. Although I had attended a YSAC meeting several years ago, I had no idea what to expect: what the space would look like, who would be there, how large the audience would be. I had exchanged several emails with the committee chairperson but, other than knowing that the girls would be the first presenters, I was mostly in the dark. (More about this later.) Also, Carolyn would not be with me (She left for a vacation on the day before the meeting), and working solo on the last minute details made me realize how much I rely on her collaboration in all of the GS process.

The girls were terrific. They adapted like pros to the less than perfect venue and kept the attention of an audience that could have been easily distracted. Their performances were nearly flawless. They are, after all, artists.