by Jack McKeon
Yesterday (8/16) Julie DellaTorre and I attended a performance of a play written and acted by Girls Surviving, the program in Morristown that Paula Davidoff has been a guiding part of for years. It was my second time to watch these girls perform in the summer program and both times I have been impressed by the cohesion, cooperation and even acting abilities of the girls, who must, at first, show up with all the baggage of “girls at risk”, and by the sophistication of the ideas explored in the play itself, written through a process of self-exploration and mutual discussion focused on issues of immediate consequence to the girls.
The play was titled “Hidden”. The concept paired the girls, one as the socialized persona trying to keep to the right path and the other the hidden shadow urging them on to some sort of self-destructive, if immediately pleasurable, behavior. A second theme was dreams, what they are like, what they can give us or unleash in us, and how we can try to make them real. The lovely opening put the girls onstage, the hidden self behind the open one. They began to speak of dreams while performing slow dance movements, hidden interweaving with open. If these kids got that concept, as they must have, what a wonderful thing for them to experience.
As the play went on, I was struck by the fairy tale concept in it. It was, in fact, a good representation of the princess/waiting maid conflict in “The Goose Girl”. I spend much of my storytelling time with this kind of analysis so I was happy to see it open up on stage and, I would think, in the imaginations of the girls. At one point, one of the girls becomes her Dad’s “princess” and her mother tells her that she will always be close to her daughter’s heart. It was an impressive parallel to the Grimms’ tale, even after (Duh!) one of the girls during the post performance Q and A mentioned that Paula had told them a story which had influenced the shape of the play. Of course this was “The Goose Girl”. Paula, I now remembered, had introduced her wonderful analysis by saying she was going to use it in a situation involving “alter egos”.
What a vivid example of the power of story. These girls were able to see the patterns of their own lives revealed in the pattern of the story. They could take that notion, work with it to make it their own and see in it some hope, some indication of the power they have over their own lives. At the end of the play, the two halves embraced or, hand in hand, opened the door to the future. In ”The Goose Girl”, the maid and the princess don’t quite make that accommodation, though I believe that the maid’s self-imposed punishment is carried out, perhaps according to her desire, for the good of the whole. In the Q and A, it became even more clear how these girls, strangers at the beginning, had been drawn together by the experience into a unified, supportive group, a “troupe” as the playbill has it. Even the youngest, an 8th grader, felt accepted and protected by the older girls. They were sharp, articulate and clearly pleased with what they had accomplished. The success of the program in general was evident by the number of alumnae there were in the audience.
Having taught high school for many years and worked at the juvenile facilities in Morristown for the past year and a half. I am always curious about what effect we have on the kids we work with. Sometimes we know, usually we don’t. However, Julie Pasqual (who also worked this summer in the Girls Surviving program), at the Sussex County fair ran into a boy who was at the detention center when I started with the program. He recognized her (big surprise there!), was delighted to see her, proud to be out, going for a GED and working. Julie said he looked like just a kid. It would be nice to think that his joy at seeing her reflects a little of what we all might be accomplishing, of what storytelling can do. Maybe you all have many reports of a similar nature.
Anyway, “Hidden” was a wonderful demonstration of how empowering it can be to tell your story – even if your audience is just a stove.
Not to put you on the spot, JP, but it would be interesting to know about your experience with the girls. The joy seems apparent. What were the difficulties, if any? And, Paula, if I have misrepresented anything, please comment.