Stage & Dance

The Girl Project empowers young girls, presents performance in Lexington

The Girl Project

Scene from The Girl Project. Video by Matt Goins.
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Scene from The Girl Project. Video by Matt Goins.

Hannah Wathuge “always came to see shows” put on by The Girl Project and she “just thought it would be fun” to be part of the now-annual summer event.

The Franklin County High School sophomore got to be part of The Girl Project and says the best part of the program was getting to know the 11 other girls.

“We’ve all become so close … it’s just like finding a new sisterhood,” Wathuge said.

The Girl Project is an “arts-meets-activism,” as organizers refer to it, summer arts education program for high school girls, run through The Woodford Theater. Ellie Clark and Vanessa Becker Weig, co-founders and co-directors of The Girl Project, started the program to use their “art form of theater to really make a difference,” Becker Weig said.

Clark, an actress from Lexington who has worked with the Actors’ Theater of Louisville and the Saratoga International Theatre Institute in New York, and Becker Weig, education director at the Woodford Theater, met through Clark’s mother, Trish Clark, artistic director of Woodford Theater. The two began talking about creating a program for young girls, and The Girl Project was born.

“We were both passionate about arts and activism, and how we could affect young girls’ lives, and empower them through our art,” Becker Weig said.

This summer, 12 girls from six Central Kentucky counties were accepted into the fifth annual Girls Project, and performances will be held throughout this weekend at Transylvania University’s Lucille C. Little Theatre.

I feel like I really found who I am through this project.

Hannah Broomhall, The Girl Project participant

The six-week summer program began on July 5th, with “closed container” sessions led by Margaret McGladrey, research and advocacy director for The Girl Project. The participants in the project attended lectures by McGladrey and from several guest artists, including former Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, poet and writer Ellen Hagan, and professional stuntman Henry Layton. The girls were also writing in their journals everyday, McGladrey said, and those journal entries eventually were woven together into a script that will be performed this weekend.

McGladrey said the performance is made up of several different pieces, including comedy, spoken word and monologues. Becker Weig said the comedy aspect, the largest part of the production, comes from learning to “poke fun at yourself,” and learning that “laughter is very healing.”

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Maddi Mutchler, left, Natalie Hutcherson and Hannah Broomhall during a rehearsal for The Girl Project in the Lucille C. Little Theater at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, August 1, 2017. Matt Goins

Additionally, with the help of lead guest artist Jeni Benavides, the performance includes a documentary theater piece based on time the girls spent with a Congolese refugee.

“With all of the issues that women face in today’s America, it’s also important to remember that there’s a whole big world outside of us as well,” Benavides said. “That does shape our experiences, but also, in learning how to be an ally for our own community ‘ecosystem’ of people. There are other ecosystems that you can help and impact.”

Clark said the program helps teach girls to say what they are feeling, without apologizing.

“We’re giving them permission to be as expressive and as opinionated as possible, and showing them that people will support them and people will listen and people will come and hear those stories,” Clark said.

This is something that’s ours and that we made together, and that we are showing together.

Hannah Tirlea, The Girl Project participant

Hannah Broomhall first heard about The Girl Project from friends who had participated in the past.

“Everything they said about it was so positive,” Broomhall, a junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, said. Nearly a month after beginning the summer program, she said it has taught her how to “just be yourself.”

“I feel like I really found who I am through this project,” Broomhall said.

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Hannah Tirlea, right, and others during a rehearsal for The Girl Project in the Lucille C. Little Theater at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, August 1, 2017. Matt Goins

Hannah Tirlea, a junior at Scott County High School, said she heard about the program through Becker Weig and applied because it combined two of her favorite things: writing and theater. Tirlea said her favorite part of the program was working with the guest artists, specifically one who encouraged them to write poetry about their bodies and being alive, which changed the way she thought about herself.

“It was like, ‘Wow, I don’t have to be ashamed of my body,’ or I can notice little things that make me happy and find goodness in them,” Tirlea said.

Tirlea said The Girl Project production is “so different than any other show,” because it’s something that people have never seen before.

“This is something that’s ours and that we made together, and that we are showing together,” Tirlea said. “I think it’s very special and there’s nothing else like it.”

Monica Kast: 859-231-1320, @monicakastwku

If you go

The Girl Project

What: Theatrical performance created by the 12 participants in the summer arts education program

When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 3-5, 2 p.m. Aug. 6

Where: Lucille C. Little Theater, Transylvania University, 300 N. Broadway

Tickets: Pay-what-you-can Aug. 3, $15 adults, $10 students all other performances

Online: Thegirlprojectky.org

Call: 859-873-0648

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