Empowering teen girls to be ‘open, honest and vulnerable’
Twelve teens participating in The Girl Project 2017 at the Woodford Theatre had only been together for nine days, when one told the others, “It feels like nine years.” This lasting, undeniable bond between these teenage girls will continue to strengthen over five weeks. Together, they’ll become more confident in their own voices and themselves as young women. “We’ve grown – not only as a person, but as a group,” said MaKayla Brown, 14. The Girl Project lets them connect with one another, and “not feel alone any more,” said Natalie Hutcherson, also 14. Since co-founders Ellie Clark and Vanessa Becker Weig created this “arts-meets-activism” program five years ago, The Girl Project has evolved, but remains focused on empowering teenage girls to believe in themselves. “It’s helped me … be open and honest and vulnerable and feel confident … in a way that I’ve never been able to feel before,” said Stella Ullman, 15. Now a summer program, The Girl Project brings in guest artists to share personal experiences and inspire these teens to tell their stories with spoken words and performance art. “We’re just giving them a canvas to paint on,” said Weig. “They all have a lot to say, and they’re not always given the opportunity to express themselves…” They have been inspired by guest artists Frank X Walker, a Kentucky poet who encouraged the teens to put their thoughts and feelings on paper, and Kate Hadfield-Antonetti, a dancer/choreographer who helped them find strength and power in their own bodies through movement exercise. “Sometimes,” said Eliza Platt, 17, “there are emotions that words can’t really convey.” Writer Ellen Hagan, who lives in New York City, returned to Kentucky for The Girl Project so she could give back. “Growing up in Kentucky,” Hagan wrote in an email, “I was fortunate to work with writers like Kelly Norman Ellis and Crystal Wilkinson, and they mentored me and built me up – they showed me what it meant to write about culture and the South, about my mamaw and cornbread.” She views The Girl Project as an opportunity for “young women to explore their identity, their emotions, and to discover more deeply who they are through writing and performance.” Spoken word artist Elizabeth Beck has been with The Girl Project since its inception, and “always does some heavy hitting, powerful pieces with the girls,” said Weig. “These girls,” wrote Beck in an email, “are encouraged to take their own life experiences and turn them into art … That experience is empowering and life-changing.” Weig said working with fight director Henry Layton “really empowered (these girls) and they’re doing a really cool stage combat scene” for their upcoming onstage performances at the Transylvania University Lucille Little Theatre on Aug. 3, 4, 5 and 6. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students, with Thursday’s preview performance being “pay what you can.” A staged reading of monologues, poetry and sketch comedy at the Woodford Theatre on Saturday, July 29, (also pay what you can) begins at 7:30 p.m. Like later performances at Lucille Little Theatre, “It gives (the teens) a platform to share their voices and their stories,” said Weig. “…They all have different perspectives.” From six different Central Kentucky counties, the teens in The Girl Project 2017 will bring very personal experiences to performances that can be healing for the artist – and an audience, she added. “Too often, girls are silenced … and I want the audience to take away (from our performances) that we are strong – and together as human beings that we are strong,” said Hannah Tirlea, 16. Tuition assistance is available for teens whose families are unable to pay the cost to participate in The Girl Project at Woodford Theatre, according to Weig.