WAM Teaching Artist and Education Associate, Barby Cardillo, and Dr. Cindy L. Parrish, Artistic Director of ACT NOW, have spent the spring semester collaborating with six girls ages 10-12 in the Girls, Inc. program at the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pittsfield, thanks to a grant from the Brabson Library & Educational Foundation . The resulting film, “Coming Together: A Tale of Divas and Vampire Lovers!” a redemption story about two rival gangs, was screened on May 7 before an enthusiastic invited audience. Barby and Cindy were kind enough to share their experience with us.
WAM THEATRE: ACT NOW and WAM Theatre are two different non-profit groups from very different parts of western Massachusetts. How did this collaboration come to happen?
Barby Cardillo: I met Cindy when I was acting in a WAM event at the 10X10 Festival in Pittsfield, and our WAM Artistic Director Kristen van Ginhoven had already worked with her since WAM’s first 24-hour Theatre Project in 2010.
Cindy Parrish: After Barby reconnected us, we all talked and realized we were a great fit for a collaboration. So we wrote a grant for Barby to teach a fall semester class on devised theatre and for ACT NOW to do our filmmaking “playshop” (we don’t have workshops!) in the spring at the Brigham Center. At the last minute my colleague Meg Agnew was unable to work with me, so Barby stepped in.
Barby: It’s been a blast working with Cindy, learning filmmaking techniques, and continuing my relationship with the girls. We’re working with all the same girls I had in my fall group who devised and presented “Remarkable Girls” in last December.
WAM: Tell our WAM supporters more about ACT NOW, Cindy.
Cindy: ACT NOW is an improvisational movie-making program for girls, and emotionally challenged youth, designed to promote self-esteem, problem solving, and teamwork. ACT NOW players create an improvised movie through the “MOVIExperience”: improvisation, location scouting, storytelling, casting, and filming their own movie. Since our founding in 2000 more than 750 girls have collectively made more than 50 movies. Our focus is to help our participants find their creative voices and nurture their abilities to be teachers, leaders, team-members and organizers.
Research at Mt. Holyoke College has shown that MOVIExperience participation significantly increases self-esteem and leadership qualities in adolescent girls. We’ve been expanding our work in the public schools inviting boys and co-ed groups and covering a wide array of topics including: bullying, wellness, relationships, behavior and more.
In 2013 ACT NOW merged with the Cutchins Programs for Children & Families in Northampton. Cutchins is a leading, nationally-recognized agency that treats children and families experiencing challenges brought on by abuse, neglect, and trauma, and we share a like-minded mission of nurturing children’s well-being and resilience while developing instruments through which children’s voices can be heard. ACT NOW playshops provide a means to develop a stronger presence in the community, and to integrate Cutchins children with the wider population.
WAM: How wonderful that this collaboration at Girls, Inc. is bringing your program to the Berkshires. Let’s talk about “Coming Together: A Tale of Divas and Vampire Lovers!” That’s quite a title – dare we ask about the plot?
Cindy: It’s the tale of two rival groups of girls at a boarding school: “The Drop Dead Divas” vs. “The Vampire Lovers.” Think feather boas vs. goth. They have trained themselves to dislike one another, however there is one girl in each gang who realizes that the rivalry and bullying that goes along with it are useless and mean. These two want nothing more than to be friends. Meanwhile, the headmistress, Ms. Barby, is encouraging collaboration and community, and suggests a dance performance to help with that. However, when Ms. Barby eats processed sugar she becomes Ms. Beelzebarb—an extremely tense woman who actually encourages competition.
Barby: This plot twist was inspired by a reversible jacket that I own.
Cindy: Ms. Beelzebarb pushes the girls to really compete with each other during the dance performance, which everyone does except the two girls who want to be friends, they dance together instead causing Ms. Barby to announce that they are all winners! But then Ms. Beelzebarb kidnaps the two friends and the rest of the rival girls realize that to rescue their teammates, they must band together. Whew!
WAM: Amazing! Talk about your creative process.
Barby: We start by working on acting, improv, and vocal skills, then there is a story pitch day. We take elements of all the ideas, piece them together, and rehearse a little bit, but it’s all improv once the camera rolls.
Cindy: Because all players have a stake in the outcome, the process encourages problem solving and teamwork. The end result reveals hidden capacities and talents in everyone, allowing formerly passive viewers to become active makers.
Barby: Personally, it’s been a terrific surprise experience for me since I wasn’t expecting to get a chance to work with Cindy. Film is so very different from theatre and yet they are related. The girls can see how skills we learned in the fall, like improv, apply to what they’re doing now. Because of their new, strong improv skills we seldom need to do a second take. We got to play with costumes and make-up, which our devised work in the fall didn’t require. I was as excited as the girls to learn green screen techniques!
WAM: Is green screen something new for you too, Cindy? Or have you been doing it for a while?
Cindy: I learned green screen a couple of years ago while teaching video production at Buxton School in Williamstown. We got the green screen and together with students I learned how to use it for a multi-media production of The Odyssey that the entire school was performing. It was particularly fun for filming Athena on Mt. Olympus and Odysseus in the Underworld. The green screen is where the “magic” of digital filmmaking really takes over!
WAM: What is in the future for ACT NOW, Cindy?
Cindy: ACT NOW will continue to do playshops for girls and for co-ed school groups and for kids with emotional trauma. We are also teaching workshops in playwriting for elementary school kids. These young playwrights author the plays and then we organize a troupe of adult and teen actors to perform the plays for the playwrights and their community.
We’re excited to be at the inception of this collaboration with WAM! We hope to begin a program of summer workshops together – devised theater weeks followed by improvised movie-making for girls.
WAM: And we have an exciting year ahead for the WAM Education Program too, right Barby?
Barby: Absolutely! I’m starting my visits to our nine pilot schools – Bart Charter School, Hoosac Valley High School, Lenox High School, Lee High School, Monument Mountain High School, Mount Everett High School, Pittsfield High School, Taconic High School and Waconah Regional High School – to do workshops with potential participants for our new Girls Ensemble for ages 14-19, launching in September.
Our community program at Girls, Inc. is continuing with another devised theatre workshop next fall and more filmmaking with ACT NOW in the spring of 2016. And of course we will continue our outreach programming around our fall main stage productions. We have just announced our fall 2015 production will be the first developmental workshop production of Catherine Trieschmann’s new play “Holy Laughter.” You can find out all about the WAM Education Program here: https://www.wamtheatre.com/wam-education/