When I was a teenager, I spent most of my nights and weekends at the Davis Discovery Center, which was a county government run theatre for children and teenagers. There were all sorts of programs at Davis: theatre, art, dance, and music classes. I gravitated to the Shakespeare classes. Every Saturday afternoon, about 20 teenagers would get together to workshop Shakespeare, led by John Heisel, who was also the Artistic Director of the Rosebriar Shakespeare Company.
Those classes were a very stable influence in a very unstable time – once a week, I got to be Beatrice or Helena and I became elegant, witty, poised and beautiful. I was a pretty socially awkward, often depressed, acne-ridden teenager, so that transformation was life changing in many ways. Saying those words made me someone else for a few hours – someone whose life was much more managed than my own. I created friendships that stay with me, and we will still reference old jokes created in those hours where two dozen unstable teenagers became kings and queens ; heroines and heroes. As a group we were transported to somewhere wonderful. We were a bunch of often extremely depressed teens made whole by performing Shakespeare for two hours a week.
From taking classes, I auditioned for shows both with Rosebriar Shakespeare Company and with the Davis Discovery Center itself. Because of my physical type (5’10’’ and slightly overweight), I was often cast in supporting roles. I played Lady Montague in the Davis production of Romeo and Juliet; for Rosebriar, a whole slew of third spear carrier types, starting with Lucius in Julius Caesar. I eventually realized that if I perused acting, I would be relegated to character roles, and started to write.
While I think writing was the right fit for me in this profession, I never forgot the times when I got to play Beatrice, my favorite Shakespeare heroine. It was one of the few times during my teenage years where I really felt worthwhile.
Flash forward past college, when I met the amazing Reina Hardy. Reina’s primarily a playwright, but she had co-created The Viola Project, a series of Shakespeare workshops for girls. It was like my teenage experience – but even better. Girls not only got to play the amazing female roles of Shakespeare, they got to play Hamlet, Richard III, and Macbeth. How cool is it to have a place where girls can not only learn to feel beautiful, elegant, and poised – but where they also got to play roles where they could be strong and demanding or play roles that more accurately reflect their experience, such as Hamlet, the ultimate indecisive teenager?
This is why I wanted to borrow The Viola Project model for City of Refuge. There are so many ways that girls are beaten down in our society. There are all these messages telling girls that they are not good enough. Why not have a refuge, where for two hours a month, they can become anyone from Beatrice to Richard III? It changed my life when I was 16, and hopefully I can help change the lives of others.
So starting this Saturday March 17th at 5:30 PM at the Ft. Lauderdale Children’s Theatre, girls are going to speak the speech, go once more into the breach, and give their kingdoms for a horse. [UPDATE as of 3/16/12 – We have to postpone the project. For more information, contact Andie Arthur – see below.]
This is planned to be the first in a series of monthly workshops. If you can’t make it this time, we’ll soon be posting the next location and date. We want this to be an ongoing project, to change the lives of girls one role at time.
If you have any questions or wish to volunteer, please contact Andie Arthur at firstname.lastname@example.org.