Girlstories Theatre Project and Workshops
A girl in an oboe competition learns not to be intimidated by other musicians whose audition pieces may be more dazzling than hers. A middle school student reflects on the best way to respond to friends who are ostracizing her. A girl whose mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer recognizes how a person’s attitude affects their ability to get through hard times.
Those are some of the vignettes included in “Power Up: The Hero Within,” an hour-long play produced by the Girlstories Theatre Project. What sets this Tampa-based group apart is that the script draws on the real-life experiences of these middle school girls, who then perform the play for audiences of elementary school girls.
The Girlstories Theatre Project is an effort to counter the decline in self-confidence and academic performance that has been documented among middle school girls, according to Fran Powers, executive director of Powerstories Theatre Inc.
“Middle school is a time when many girls begin to think about peer pressure and become self-conscious. Their grades can drop, and they can go in the wrong direction if they don’t have guidance that helps them see their strengths,” Powers explains.
The 25 participants in Girlstories—recruited from diverse neighborhoods in the Tampa area—spend six weeks in an intensive summer theater program. Artist-educators help the students identify experiences with positive messages that become the basis for the play. To help them prepare for the production, the girls also receive training in theater skills. They learn how to act, sing, and dance, as well as perform various backstage roles.
Powerstories also runs a separate workshop program in which it partners with social service agencies, such as Girls Clubs, to help at-risk participants identify and present their stories.
“We’re motivated to nurture the girls to speak from their heart about things that are important to them,” Powers says. “We use the theater skills to create these strong, productive, confident young girls. We want them to be skilled on stage, but more important, we want them to be skilled in life.”
Evaluations reveal that the theater experience helps participants strengthen their communication skills, sense of belonging to a group, and belief that they can accomplish their dreams.
“Through their performance, the actors are able to renew their self- esteem, tell stories that perhaps have been hidden for a long time, and establish connections with the other actors that form strong positive relationships.”Art Keeble, Executive Director, Hillsborough County (Florida) Arts Council