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.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

Discover Night

“With us you’re more than just part of a group.  You’re important,” Alyssa writes in her brand new day-glow orange-covered GS notebook. 

It is Workshop Number 1 of the 2016-17 school year.  The girls are expressing their feelings about the program on paper because they want to include quotes in a brochure they’re creating to promote the program to other girls – girls like them – girls who are looking for a safe, stress-free environment in which to talk about their lives, write plays based on them, and share their writing in staged readings with a community audience.

They would have an opportunity to encourage girls to join the program the following week at Discover Night, a Morristown High School event. The annual event brings together eighth graders and their parents from all of the public, private and charter schools within the Morris School District who are considering Morristown High as their next four-year school experience.  One of the highlights of the evening for prospective students is a chance to talk to MHS students who belong to one or more of the school’s myriad clubs or sports teams and meet their advisers. Every extra-curricular activity offered by the school is invited to set up a display table in the cafeteria and staff it with club members and faculty advisers who are eager to talk about their programs.

GS was there for the first time this year and the girls were thrilled to be part of it.  Below are some of the other quotes from the first workshop that we decided to highlight at the event:

“We're always there for each other.”
                                                             By Gloria

“We’re friends; it’s all good.  From the ride to the program, to walking in the building, I’ve just felt so included.”
                                                              By Natalie

“Sisters by chance.  Friends by choice.”
                                                               By Andrea
Unfortunately, when Paula and I put the brochure together, we realized that we didn’t have enough room to include the quotations.  Instead, we printed them large and pasted them on the poster that we’ve used previously to promote the program. The poster is a collage of pictures of the girls and samples of their writing. 

It looked colorful and inviting as the backdrop on our display table at Discover Night the next week. The newly minted brochure looked great too.  The five troupe members who came to help that night agreed. It looks “very professional,” they said. They were busy setting out a basket of Halloween candy and a sign-up sheet for those girls who might express interest in the program. A laptop computer sat on the table playing a video of one of the girls’ past performances.  We were prepared and excited. We mingled and talked, waiting for eighth graders to stop by.
           We looked around the cafeteria.  We saw other tables like ours set up in rows on both levels of the cavernous space.   Pictures, banners, pamphlets and other handout materials that describe the clubs and other extra-curricular activities offered at MHS were being placed on them.  High school students who participate in these clubs and their faculty advisers laughed and talked as they organized their displays.
            We looked at our watches.  It was almost 7:30, a half hour after the start and not much was going on. Because we’re first-timers, we didn’t know what to expect, but the waiting created some anxiety.  Could parents be lingering upstairs, chatting outside the auditorium after the formal presentation by the administration?  Clarissa went upstairs to check. 

Meanwhile several of our more senior troupe members and past participants who were representing other clubs at Discover Night stopped by to give us hugs.  Marsha, a sophomore, was baking cookies with the cooking club to hand out later to the crowd.  Vera, a senior, was hanging out with the Drama club.  Grace, also a senior, was busy with the Peer Group Counseling program.  How wonderful to see these girls, who first came to GS as shy, insecure 13-year olds, spreading their wings.

Older MHS girls who don’t know the program at all began to check out our table too.  Bored at their own display tables or wandering the school for other reasons, they spotted our display and recognized the girls working with us.  Some were interested.  A couple of them continued to hang around, chat with the girls and nibble at the candy.  They say they like to write and decide the program is right for them.  They put their names on the list and promise to come to our next workshop.

Things were looking up.  By the time Clarissa returned, the room had begun to fill with adults and their kids.  Our girls swung into action.  Clarissa, who is a senior and has been in the program since the eighth grade, took the lead.  The younger, newer girls watched her every move as she described her experiences.  One parent took me aside to praise her presentation.  “She’s so passionate about it,” the parent exclaimed.  I glanced at the sign-up sheet.  The first page was full of names.

Clarissa took a well-deserved break.  Immediately the younger girls moved to action.  Marla and Serena stood in front of the table, arms around each other, and started to sing.  Their energy, enthusiasm and beautifully harmonized voices filled the space around us.  More people stopped by and our girls, well prepared after listening to Clarissa, knew just what to say and how to say it. More girls signed up.

During a pause in the action, Marla noticed a girl standing some distance from our table, looking at it hard and long before hesitantly turning away. In a flash, Marla was running after her.  The girl was more than halfway through the cafeteria before Marla caught up with her and brought her back to the table, talking the entire time.  It was too noisy to hear their conversation, but I could see the intensity on Marla’s face as she spoke gently into her ear to be heard above the din. The girl picked up the pen and wrote her name on the list. 

Before she left, I spoke with her just to make sure that she didn’t feel pressured by Marla to sign up.  Far from it.  In fact, she seemed happy that Marla noticed her interest. It took a person with considerable sensitivity and keen perceptivity to act as quickly, surely and correctly as Marla did. Watching her in action was an inspiration to all of us.

In fact, observing Clarissa, Serena, and all of the other GS girls in the cafeteria that night  - whether they are current or past troupe members, whether they were promoting our program or another after-school activity – made me feel proud to know them. 

The Discover Night experience confirmed for me what I wrote about our girls at Workshop Number 1 when all of us were thinking about what’s important about GS:

“I’ve seen girls come and go in this program and I think that the girls who find GS and stay with it represent the very best of what it means to be a human being.  Our girls are there for each other in times of need, but not one is so needy that she can’t stand on her own. The fact is…our girls are incredibly brave.  They’re willing to take risks in their writing, their acting and in their daily living. They’re fighters who dare to live strong for themselves and each other.”