2015 Capital Fringe Review: ‘Act Like a GRRRL’

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You had me at grrrl. Act Like a GRRRL is a showcase of work developed and performed by teen girls, in which personal stories are shared as a process of empowerment and an act of defiance against narrow and damaging social pressures. The work dealt candidly with body positive self-love, gratitude towards family, disordered eating, self-harm, loss, regret, and the various masks we wear to navigate the world. Written texts were read from personalized journals, with additional original song and dance.

grrrl

As we took our seats, Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” set an energetic tone.

Act Like a GRRRL was developed in a workshop by the same name, “an autobiographical writing and performance program.” Act Like a GRRRL (ALAG) started in Nashville, TN in 2005 by Vali Forrister, producing artistic director of the Actor’s Bridge Ensemble. This production is from an offshoot of the original program which was founded in 2013 in Northern Virginia.

The workshop leaders acted as MCs, who introduced the performers and talked about the program. They said they use the spelling “grrrl” because the old word “girl” is permanently pejorative, evidenced by the phrase “… like a girl,” as in “throw like a girl.” So, this new “grrrl” can be self-determined and move beyond outdated sexist ways of thinking.

The first work was a kind of collective manifesto outlining the characteristics of this new “grrrl.” It was great. It was smart, funny, and politically on point. Another work acted out past ALAG participants passing on advice to newcomers, such as “your writing doesn’t suck” and the promise of a supportive, safe, and non-judgmental space to explore challenging ideas and grow together.

Some of the writing was remarkably strong, and all of it was refreshingly honest. For example, one thirteen-year-old talked about her personal experiences and proclaimed, “The perfect body is a myth!” Yes, grrrl!

I was disappointed that in the framing speech the MCs did not at least mention the Riot Grrrl movement that originated in the early 1990’s. They said that ALAG is a new movement, and that the significance of the spelling was in the open potential for individuals to define for themselves the meaning behind the “extra R’s.” Important as that idea is, it is equally important to recognize our predecessors whose advocacy and significant contributions to music and Feminist thinking make a program like ALAG possible today. However, on the Actor’s Bridge Ensemble website, there is indeed a page that talks about drawing inspiration from Riot Grrrl.

It’s wonderful that this program uses Fringe for its culmination, giving the participants real experience of putting on a public show. There is an ALAG tradition, I was told, that moms can’t sit in the first row, so I happily took a spot in front. I was so moved by these young artists’ skill and generosity in sharing their stories, and thrown back into my own experiences at that age. This show was really a treat.

Running Time: 60 minutes.

Act Like a Grrrl is presented by Actors Bridge Ensemble, a company based in Nashvile, TN, all the work was devised and performed in a Northern Virginia branch of Act Like a Grrrl

Act Like a Grrrl plays through Sunday, July 19, 2015, at Dance Place: Brookland Artspace Lofts Studio – 3305 8th Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, visit their Capital Fringe Page.

RATING: BEST OF THE 2015 CAPITAL FRINGE FOUR-AND-A-HALF-STARS8.gif