The Girl Project: Arts Meets Activism not just for girls
It all began as a conversation over coffee at Third Street Coffee between mother/daughter Trish Clark and Ellie Clark, with Vanessa Becker Weig. It didn’t have a shape or a concept yet, just a name: The Girl Project. A year later, Ellie Clark says she and Weig were “deep in conversation, talking about wanting to make sure we made a difference, not just as artists and educators in this community but in the world. How do we do that?” Next, they “reopened The Girl Project chapter and hashed out how we could make it a reality.” Christy K. Burch “reached out and introduced herself and her credentials and said she had to play a part in the project, thus becoming our director of arts and advocacy.” They then,“held auditions and interviews for the girls of The Girl Project hoping to narrow it down to twelve girls. Eighteen auditioned and we couldn’t turn any of them away.”
The 18 girls of The Girl Project are from Laurel, Woodford, Fayette, and Franklin Counties. They come from South Laurel High School, Woodford County High School, The Abler Academy (Home School), SCAPA, Bryan Station, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Henry Clay and one will be attending The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science after finishing her performance with The Girl Project. It’s a performance piece incorporating spoken word, poetry, movement, dance and multi-media. This original work was written by these 18 teenage girls culminating from workshops throughout the year with guest artists from around the nation.
Clark and Weig reached out to artists from all over the U.S. to come and lead the girls in writing, performance and movement. “Every single one said ‘yes’” according to Clark. She proudly adds, “the teaching artists have appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, been nominated for The Pushcart Prize; founded The Teen Howl Poetry Series & Girl Story.” They “are Affrilachian Poets, Conjure Women & Cavecanem Fellows, movement therapists, published writers, writers for Underwired Magazine, regionally known directors and educators.”
She says, “a lot of their interest in the project was personal for multiple reasons. Our teaching artists have overcome incest, molestation, bulimia, rape, abortion, rage. Several of our artists shared their work that tackled these particular experiences, transcending the literal experience using metaphor, language, and brutal honesty.” They were on their way “to a year of workshops taking place at Arts Place preparing our girls to write and devise a piece of theatre that would represent the full spectrum of what it means to be a girl.” To introduce them to the project they bought the rights to show the documentary Miss Representation and viewed it at their first workshop. “The impact was huge,” Clark says.
“One instructor had them do a runway show featuring their favorite and least favorite body part concluding in a writing session where they wrote odes to their least favorite body part. Throughout the year with different artists they wrote pieces personifying America, using Kentucky landscape as a metaphor for their bodies, wrote letters to their younger selves, wrote letters to their future selves, learned a warrior dance, researched female leaders. The girls were empowered and inspired by these artists. It was life changing.” In rehearsal now, and opening August 30 at the Downtown Arts Center, Clark says the project offers “an unapologetic look into the realities that make up the teenage female experience and how these experiences affect self-esteem and choices that will shape their futures.” Clark says, “The girls of The Girl Project, over the course of a year, have become a sisterhood; a solidarity of women based on shared experiences, conditions and concerns.”
Asked how Lexington might be transformed by the project, Clark responds, “After The Girl Project we are
guaranteed eighteen girls who are more articulate about their understanding of activism and feminism. We can only hope that they continue to promote and live up to their highest selves.For the community we hope for a deeper understanding of how the expectations we put on our teenagers challenges them in positive and negative ways. We also hope we will raise awareness of the role media plays in stereotyping and degrading women and that a shift in consciousness will occur in regards to sexism in America. If one person is changed we will be successful.” The organizers are hoping for a diverse audience, as the material transcends politics and gender. “We want men and women of every generation, social and economic status, religion, creed, ideologies and philosophies,” Clark says, adding, “Feminists – humanists – politicians – teenagers – grandparents – parents – artists – republicans – democrats.”
The Girl Project is August 29th – September 1st at 7:30pm
Downtown Arts Center
August 29th is a pay-what-you-can preview performance
An opening night reception will follow the August 30th performance
August 31st at 2 pm – Miss Representation the documentary, Memorial Hall
August 31st at 8 pm – THE BATS at Natasha’s