The workshops began about 10 years ago, when Synchronicity raised a production of “Breath, Boom.” The play by Kia Corthron follows girl gangs in the Bronx through decades of violence, manipulation, abuse and emotional warfare, if they survive that long. The show’s cast wanted to reach out to girls in Atlanta, girls they knew were in similar situations, whose real lives were like the ones actors portrayed on stage. They organized a workshop inside a Georgia juvenile detention center, and it only took a day for the theater pros to decide they couldn’t stop then, after just one.
“It sparks this light in them that they do matter,” says Spear Purcell, the Playmaking for Girls program director. “Their voice matters and they can speak up and they don’t have to do it in a negative way. Even through continuing horrible, hard situations … they do have a voice.”
Since then, the theater group has returned to Georgia juvenile detention centers several times a year to help girls write plays about drug addiction, rape, abusive parents and cheating boyfriends, but also plays about finding love and making amends.
“When you meet these girls, they’re funny and they’re smart and they’re articulate and they’re confused and they’re mixed up and they’re complicated,” May said, “but they’re not a 30-second sound bite you can just easily dismiss.”
At the close of each detention center workshop, the Playmaking for Girls instructors wish the actors well, and say they hope to never see them there again.
But they do want to see them on the outside. A few years after the detention workshops began, Synchronicity created a one-week summer program for girls who had been released. It gave them something to do, a freer space to be creative and a public stage to show off the work they’d done. Girls memorized scripts, dances, songs and staging. There were costumes and lights, and a real stage to perform on. Volunteers brought meals for the cast, and the girls were paid $100 for the week, if they showed up on time every day.
This is a world that usually casts them as bad girls, if it remembers them at all. Here, everyone gets a new role.
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