DC Metro Theater Arts spent a day at rehearsal with the cast of Round House Theatre Company’s season opener:
School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play. Not only is this play a fabulous female-centered production featuring an all female-identifying cast, an all-female design team, and esteemed female playwright (Jocelyn Bioh) and director (Nicole A. Watson), it also features beautiful costumes by designer Ivania Stack.
'School Girls' rehearsal photos. All photos by Anu Dev.
Fresh off two sold-out, off-Broadway runs,
School Girls tells the story of Paulina, the reigning Queen Bee at Ghana’s most exclusive boarding school. The Miss Global Universe pageant is coming up and Paulina just knows she will win, until Ericka arrives. The new girl, with her lighter skin and Western sensibilities, throw Paulina, and her hive-minded teenage minions off-kilter.
Ghanaian-American Playwright Jocelyn Bioh has been praised for creating in
School Girls a gut-bustlingly funny story that explores the serious issues of colorism, girlhood, colonialism, and beauty and for highlighting the universality of the teenage girl experience.
Meet the fierce performers of
School Girls in their pageant dresses. All photos by Anu Dev. Kashayna Johnson plays Paulina: “Paulina is the Queen Bee, the most popular girl in school. All the other girls follow her and do what she wants, like her little minions… What I like most about this story is how universal it is in terms of going to school and having insecurities and dealing with bullies and identity. It could be anybody’s story.” Photo by Anu Dev. Claire Saunders plays Ericka: “Ericka is the newcomer and that comes with all the stereotyping you would expect. She is vulnerable but not interested in being walked over. For me, this role speaks specifically to my background and what it means to be biracial and the difficulties in navigating those different worlds.” Photo by Anu Dev. Debora Crabbe plays Mercy: “I was born and raised in Ghana and I moved here in 2002. People might not fathom that a story like this could happen outside of America but living up to standards of beauty is universal. What makes this play funny is the reality of how teenage girls think: one minute we are all about the clothes, or a celebrity we adore, or how we feel about a certain outfit. Our minds are everywhere at once.” Photo by Anu Dev. Moriamo Temidayo Akibo plays Gifty: “My favorite part of the show is the pageant. It’s like we enter a world of magical realism. I love dropping into that world and then dropping back into high school and all the awkward things that come with it.” Photo by Anu Dev. Awa Sal Secka plays Ama: “I think a lot of the time, people assume that young people are exaggerating their emotions or that their frame of reference is less real than older people. But their feelings are very real and translate into who they become in adulthood. My favorite thing about this play is that it gives those emotions a platform. Also its portrayal of African girls: We often see pain and struggle in Africa, but we don’t see joy and laughter and sisterhood and friendship and everything else that comes with being human.” Photo by Anu Dev. Jade Jones plays Nana: “Nana is one of Paulina’s followers. She is shy and quiet, smart and focused, but she also struggles with body image and acceptance. It’s hard for her to learn to love herself while she’s under Paulina’s spell… but her story has a happy arc.” Photo by Anu Dev. Shirine Babb plays Eloise Amponsah. “My favorite thing about this play is how we sneak information in between the laughter. I love how Jocelyn Bioh has balanced humor with human issues specifically about African women and found a platform to share that with the world in a comedic way.” Photo by Anu Dev. Theresa Cunningham plays Headmistress Francis. “Having an all female-identifying cast has been really exciting. The energy, the way we feed off each other and support each other has been really encouraging and impressive and enjoyable throughout the process… Jocelyn Bioh’s writing is so empowering and authentic. This is how teenage girls talk to each other and about each other. The authenticity of it really rings in my heart.“ Photo by Anu Dev. Costume Designer Ivania Stack designed the 1980s-inspired pageant dresses and other costumes for Round House Theatre’s production of ‘School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Musical.’ Stack says, “With every show I do, I get to learn a new story. What’s great about this show, is that it’s set in a very real place – the Aburi Girls’ School in Ghana – so there are a lot of photos and Instagram accounts that I can use for inspiration. This show is set in 1986 which was the challenging part, doing a deep dig on fashion from the 1980s. I think what I ended up with is an amalgam of now and then.” Photo by Anu Dev. plays through October 20, 2019, at Round House Theatre – 4545 East-West Highway, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (240) 644-1100 or go School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play . online