by Nancy Cason, PhD, Art Education
In a room full of teenage girls, you might expect the conversation to revolve around friends, fashion, or Facebook . . . unless it’s the Germantown studio for Act Like a GRRRL (ALAG). There it’s all about getting in touch with who you are—and who you want to become. Hannah Silverman puts it succinctly: “Act Like a GRRRL is helping me to realize my true self and helping me to be my best self . . . like, all the time.”
Founded in 2005 and facilitated by actress, playwright, and director Vali Forrister, ALAG is an innovative writing and performance program for girls aged 12–18, held during the month of June. For six hours a day, girls from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds, schools, cultures, and faiths gather to write about and share their life experiences and beliefs. At the end of the program, with mentoring from professional females in a variety of creative fields, the girls turn their stories into a public performance involving poetry, art, music, and dance.
“Teenage girls that seek this out are looking for the community they’ve always dreamed of. They get to decide what that looks like and hold each other to that,” Forrister explains. But recognizing commonalities and building deep friendships within a diverse group of girls is only one outcome of ALAG. Forrister is passionate about unmasking the pervasive media messages targeting adolescent girls and counteracting the low self-esteem and anxiety that too often lead to self-destructive behaviors. “Teenage girls often do things they don’t want to do, simply because they haven’t articulated their thoughts and values,” she adds. By providing a nurturing environment in which girls can safely make sense of their lives and voice their dreams, ALAG invites girls to become GRRRLS—strong, confident, creative, and self-determined.
“I want to help create opinionated, thoughtful leaders who know what they stand for and can help others find themselves,” Forrister said, although her idea of paying it forward has taken ALAG in unanticipated directions. In 2011 Forrister and a group of veteran GRRRLS were invited to perform their stories at the 100th anniversary celebration of International Women’s Day in Costa Rica. In July of this year, they will team up with 15-25-year-old women in Bolivia, where females have only recently begun to attain equal rights and protection. The empowerment of girls and women—a goal for model programs such as Act Like a GRRRL—has become a foreign policy initiative in many countries, including the U.S., that recognize that strong women make strong communities.
Act Like a GRRRL will perform June 28 and 29 at Belmont’s Black Box Theatre. For tickets email email@example.com. To learn more about ALAG and Forrister’s program for women, Act Like a Big GRRRL, visit www.actlikeagrrrl.org and http://youtu.be/L522Cw_wwCU, or contact Vali Forrister at firstname.lastname@example.org.