Girlpower: Survival Of The Fittest

Girlpower: Survival of the Fittest is one of the most unique FringeNYC 2010 offerings I've found so far. It is brought to the festival by the Project Girl Performance Collective and Co-Op Theatre East. This show delivers what the postcard promises. Directed by Ashley Marinaccio and Jessica Greer Morris, the female performers, aged 13 to 21, take "deeply personal material based on real interviews and experiences" about "issues they face growing up in today's world." The performers devised and created all the pieces presented in Girlpower. However this is not a show about self-pity, indulgence, or attention-seeking. This is an honest with no apologies show that takes issues girls struggle with every day, from body image and bullies to rape and absent fathers. The girls use these subjects and transform them into a theatrical experience using song, dance, poetry and rhyme, storytelling, and some humor. The girls bond onstage, have fun, and present themselves as a confident and supporting ensemble.

More than 40 individually titled pieces are presented in the program; the show is listed as being 90 minutes, but the performance I attended did run over by a few minutes. The show flows as one piece bleeds and transitions into the next, working towards creating a complete, uninterrupted experience. For myself I found a few of the pieces especially striking. I laughed in camaraderie at "Diet Song" by Camille Theobald. Emily Rupp's "Beds" is disturbing and heartbreaking, but I felt so proud the girls in the stories (played by Emily Rupp, Camille Theobald, and Katherine Scott) follow through to justice against their rapists. It wasn't so long ago that women were encouraged to stay silent about those violations and injustices. Dailyn Santana's "Street Harassment," performed by Andira Rodriguez, started by giving me the shudders, telling the story of improper touch on the subway and then had an intelligent and humorous conclusion with a cat-caller. Nora Kennedy's inspired tribute to Bette Davis is adorable. I was pleased by Lillian Rodriguez's intelligent "What About Lynn Nottage?" Through the use of a dialogue, Rodriguez is able to point out the inequality between male and female playwrights on Broadway. Kristen Gonzalez's "My Hood," performed by Kristen Gonzalez, Lillian Rodriguez, and Dominique Fishback, takes three different voices on gentrification and left me wondering about the cost of what is repeatedly called progress. Bringing "Tools of Survival" to the audience and encouraging participation was one of several ways they kept us engaged and active.

The "Reality Checks" sprinkled throughout the program provide facts about various topics brought up in the vignettes and the historical references to women's suffrage and liberation in Emily Rupp's songs nicely juxtapose with the personal moments and kept the show in context for me. While female equality and views about females have come a long way, there is still the pressure of physical perfection, over-expressed sexuality, repressed intelligence, and suppressed individuality and freedom. There are still walls to break down.

All the young performers take chances and shine, and I wish I had enough space to compliment them all. At the beginning of the show they were a group of young female performers; by the end I saw them all as individuals with their own voices and opinions. This is a show that will affect each individual audience member differently, depending on their individual experiences, but I think each audience member with an ounce of empathy will find themselves affected in some way by these brave girls. When I walked out of the theatre I found myself wishing there had been something similar to Girlpower for me when I was navigating the pressures of high school and college.

I hope the Project Girl Performance Collective continues on after this festival and continues to do this work with performers and non-performers alike. It provides an outlet and means of individual expression and empowerment not available anywhere else.