Hi! Gail Burns here, your WAM PR & Marketing gal. I love it when I get to take a “field trip” and see what WAM Theatre is doing out in the community so I can share it all with you here on the Web. Last week I got to be part of the test audience for the group our Education Associate and Teaching Artist Barby Cardillo has been working with at Girls Inc, in preparation for their public sharing process. The girls have SO much energy! I was tickled when I got to join them for the warm-up exercises, and impressed by how much they had learned about presenting themselves on stage as well as the stories of the remarkable girls they were sharing. Read on to learn what they told me about their experience.
Barby Cardillo began her affiliation with WAM Theatre in 2011, and has been leading the WAM Girls, Inc. program at the Gladys Brigham Center in downtown Pittsfield, MA since the fall of 2013.
This fall she has been working with seven girls ages 9-13 to create an original piece of theatre around an issue of importance in their lives. The theme they picked this semester is ‘Remarkable Girls from Around the World’.
“We were looking at the photos of peoples of all cultures on the wall here in the Girls, Inc. room. We first brainstormed around culture in general and then narrowed our focus specifically on girls,” Barby explained. After more research, the girls had to work as a team and learn how to use their voices and bodies effectively on stage through improv, theatre games, devising, and vocal work, along with memorizing facts about the girls they are portraying.
Among their choices of remarkable girls – recent Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist for girls’ education Malala Yousafzai who was born in Pakistan; Olympic gold-medal winning Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci; Dutch Holocaust victim and diarist Anne Frank; and Americans Helen Keller, who overcame the double handicap of being deaf and blind to earn a college degree, become a author, and travel the world; singer Aaliyah Haughton, the “Princess of R&B” and “Queen of Urban Pop” who tragically died in a plane crash at age 22; and Claudette Colvin, who at age 16 protested the segregation of buses in Montgomery, Alabama, nine months before Rosa Parks.
The biographies of the remarkable girls are punctuated with song, dance, and improvisation, which the young performers tackle with evident glee.
While Barby has 25 years of theatre experience as an actress and an independent teaching artist working with young people of all ages and abilities in a variety of settings, her assistant, Girls Inc. Group Leader Becca Hover, had minimal theatre experience before this fall.
Starting work at the Brigham Center in 2010, right out of high school, Becca worked her way up to Group Leader in the Girls Inc. Room, “In school I mostly did sports, but last year, when I started helping Barby, she asked me to also be in the play with the girls,” Becca said. “I was really nervous about being on stage with all those people watching, but I found the experience to be a confidence booster and I see that in the girls here too. Isabella (10) and Taj (9) are two of the shyest girls in our group, but I notice that they are speaking up more and really coming out and participating, even when its not theatre time.”
Becca has also seen the girls using some of the listening and problem solving skills they’ve learned in conflict resolution, “Arianna (10) and Akira (11) were part of a cheerleading group whose members were having a dispute, and they stepped up and apologized and helped end the fight,” Becca explained.
This is also a first exposure to theatre for Marilyn Wilson, a BCC student interning at Girls Inc this semester, who enjoyed watching and helping as Barby, Becca, and the girls worked and played together. Often she would go home and share the theatre games with her own children.
The Girls Inc program offers support and activities for girls ages 8-12. This year, two young women who have worked with Barby on this program since the fall of 2013, 13 year olds Amber and Shakia returned to the theatre program as WAM Theatre’s first ‘junior mentors’. They have been assisting Barby, acting as role models for their younger peers. Both are 8th graders at Herberg Middle School and bundles of energy, listing basketball and dance as their passions alongside theatre. Shakia enjoyed being in a production of the Just So Story “How the Leopard got his Spots” with the Berkshire Theatre Group and Amber has happy memories and many crowns and trophies from participating in beauty pageants as a young child.
“I’ve enjoyed being a junior mentor, its a little more creative than being just a member of the group,” Amber explained. “I’m proud of what we’ve been able to contribute.”
Shakia noted that she felt right at home at the Brigham Center, where she’s been involved with programs since she was five. “I am shy at school but I’m really comfortable here.” Both girls are involved with the community service oriented Teen Outreach Program (TOPS) where they are working on a short Christmas play to take to local nursing homes.
“We are thankful to our sponsors for making it possible to return to Girls Inc. for our third semester,” Barby said. “Each session the girls learn more drama and collaboration skills. I look forward to expanding on this work with Cindy Parrish of ACT NOW! in the January Semester and then, to hopefully working with some of these girls in the expanded WAM Theatre after school theatre program that is set to launch next year.”
In 2015, thanks to multi-year grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Greylock Federal Credit Union, the Dylandale Foundation, the International Schools Theatre Association, and Petricca Industries, WAM Theatre will expand their after school Education Outreach to include more girls from across Berkshire County. This expanded program will focus on working with the participants on creating original works of theatre around issues of importance in their lives.
Inspired by their work with WAM Theatre, these girls are already moving in that direction all on their own. Becca reported that Jennifer (11), Arianna, and Akira had created and written an original play about how a young girl dealt with her depression. “I was really impressed!” she said.
Whether or not theatre becomes a life-long passion for these girls remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that their WAM Theatre experience with Barby has already enriched their lives and taught them valuable life skills that will serve them well as they grow into womanhood.
WAM Theatre thanks sponsors Greylock Federal Credit Union and Pittsfield Cultural Council for making our 2014 Girls Inc. program possible.