By Luray Gross and Maria LoBiondo - Storytellers for Girl Power! held during the KidsBridge to the Arts Camp 2013
|One of the Girl's collage's exploring themes in “Tipingee”|
The girls slouched on couches in a half-circle near the end of a very busy day packed with theater, dance, choir, songwriting, and visual art. It was day two of Kids Bridge to the Arts Summer Camp, and energy was low.
Then one of our nine middle schoolers asked, “Why is this called ‘Girl Power’?”
“Where is your power?” we countered.
The girls perked up. Once the conversation on respect and self-empowerment started, their ideas flowed. Physical power was mentioned first, but then came the power of our words, the ability to take control of a situation, being thoughtful. This was the perfect lead in to writing personal poems that reflected what each girl thought about themselves.
Describing herself as the element of water, one girl wrote: “I would be snow so that I can cover bad things. Then I melt and they are carried away.” Another wrote, “My body is a temple…. Even when it is insulted, it stands strong always.”
The discussion about power also related to the story we would work on for the rest of the week: the folktale “Tipingee.” This story, published by Diane Wolkstein in her classic collection of Haitian folktales, The Magic Orange Tree, revolves around how spunky, savvy Tipingee, along the help of her friends, saves herself from being taken away by a stranger to be his servant.
It had quickly come to mind when we were choosing a story for a group of middle-school girls to hear, explore, play around with, internalize, and – ultimately – present for an audience of fellow campers (ages 6 – 13), teen counselors, and an assorted crowd of parents, grandparents, and other supportive adults.
We wanted a story in which a girl, facing difficulty, takes charge of her fate, and a story that emphasized the role of young people helping each other. Our time would be quite limited, so we needed a story with mnemonic devices and a plot that would not be difficult to learn. Like many Haitian tales, “Tipingee” includes three nearly identical mini-episodes and a chant which listeners are encouraged to repeat. Overall, we wanted a story the girls could have fun with. We were, after all, planning for summer camp, not the heart of an academic program.
We explored “Tipingee” through collage and journal writing as well as discussion. The girls keyed in to the emotions and examples of power in the story through both art forms.
On Thursday, we decided how to divide the story for telling, and one of the girls suggested that her role would be to come up with an introduction. There was just time to try it out and be sure everyone knew where to begin and end.
As the hall filled on Friday afternoon, one of our very capable, but also self-conscious girls, came up and announced, “I’m not telling my part. I can’t, I’m too nervous.”
“But, Kyara,” we said. “We need you. We need all the parts of the story.”
“Is everyone else going to do it?”
“Yes,” we said, counting on no more attempted defections.
Of course, Kyara did not leave her friends in the lurch.
“I’m Tipingee, she’s Tipingee, we’re Tipingee too,” the girls chanted together from their places on the stage at the afternoon showcase, the culmination of the Trenton, NJ, Kids’ Bridge to the Arts Camp 2013. In a week, “our” girls had become a cohesive and powerful group of storytellers. Proud as any parent might be, we watched and listened from the back of the crowded hall.