by Guest Blogger and Go Girls! Camp Teaching Artist, Caroline Parsons
The first starring role I had in a play was the Ugly Duckling in 4th Grade. According to my interpretation, she had a Brooklyn accent, wore flippers and shiny spandex, and made the audience guffaw uproariously with her antics. It may have been the most fun role of my acting career. Second to that, my favorite role to play was Macbeth, an opportunity thrust upon me because I went to a women’s college where we played all the men’s parts. It was bloody, physically strenuous and exhilarating. After college though, the real world often cast me as the girlfriend, the quirky woman looking for love, or the princess, with names like Tiffany, Allison, and Jessica. I lost that expansive feeling of embodying characters that I was not able to play based on my age, looks, and gender. That radically fun and empowering role playing of my youth had been transformed into the serious game of being who people wanted me to be, even during my make believe career as an actor.
Imagine my delight when, four years ago, as a new Teaching Artist with Go Girls!, I was asked to act out the following “characters” during our teacher training: Justice, Friendship, Loneliness and… a pig. Yes, the regular old oink oink kind of pig. I was fully re-immersed in the boundless imagination of theater-making! As I played with this group of talented Teaching Artists, I refound the joy I had felt playing in my younger years. Playing characters that were non-traditional allowed me to remember that making theater, and teaching theater to people, is about creating compassion. When girls (and all people) get to act out the story of someone or something that they perceive as “other” than them, they empathize with the other so deeply that those perceived boundaries collapse. As I high fived my scene partner, the other pig, I knew I had arrived with the right group of people
There is one particular aspect of the Go Girls! program that I wish I had personally experienced growing up: the campers choose their own characters in the play that we create and perform. Returning campers will often run into camp on the first day and with maniacal intensity say, “Do you know what I’m going to be this year?!!!??” I don’t, of course, since it’s up to them, but they know, and they are really excited about it. My role is to support them in becoming that character through staging and acting skills, not to tell them who to be. Looking back on my own theater training and career, I realized that no one had ever asked me: who do you want to play? or who do you want to be? And I wish that someone had. Afterall, it’s not that far a leap from choosing to play a character from your imagination, to living your life as the person you know yourself to be inside.
And one word about princesses, the childhood version of all the “Tiffanys” that I played, because there tend to be a lot of girls who want to be princesses in the play! At first I was concerned that the playing of princesses was, well, not empowering. But …the power is in the choosing. It’s different to play a princess because you’re a girl and therefore you’re supposed to play the princess role, than it is to say, “ I am a princess!” no matter what anyone may say to the contrary. Especially when it’s okay if that princess is also a cat or only wears tennis shoes or anything else that you may know about princesses that the canon of Disney films has forgotten. The power is in the choosing.
I hope that everyone, big and small, gets the opportunity to play and choose like a Go Girl! sometime! And in my experience, the sooner the better.