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Women’s Visionary Award and Lunch at Sardi’s…

June 7, 2013

Some exciting life news… I am the recipient of the 2013 League of Professional Theatre Women’s Lucille Lortel Women’s Visionary Award for my work with Girl Be Heard. There was an awards luncheon at Sardi’s where I received the award in front  of hundreds of NY theatre bigwigs. I can’t even begin to express what an honor this is and how much it means to all of us at GBH. It was my first time ever having lunch at Sardi’s and I was so nervous that I only had a few bites of the delicious salmon and sweet potatoes. Below, find my acceptance speech. It’s such an honor to share this with the Green Room community.

with legend Judith Malina, founder of the Living Theatre.

…with legend Judith Malina, founder of the Living Theatre.

***

When Kelli told me about this award I started to really think about how artists envision and enact social change.  I’m actually always thinking about that. I work primarily downtown where even in the darkest of political and economical times artists are making theatre with the vision that art can and will lead us to a better world.

More so, with the work that Girl Be Heard does, this award is a reminder that we as teachers and mentors to young women need to serve them in helping not only develop as future performers and practitioners but as leaders, thinkers and visionaries who will look beyond their given circumstances and use their art to move us toward what this world could be.

A few months ago I had a phone discussion with a grant maker from an organization that funds radical ideas for social change. We spoke for a few minutes  and after a short pause this grant maker says, “I just don’t understand the role theatre plays in social change. Never heard of such a thing. Looks like the challenge is going to be explaining to our board of directors how putting on plays is real social change, Little Lady.”

And yes, she called me Little Lady.

Girl Be Heard’s work puts a face on the alarming statistics of violence against women here in out very own communities and across the globe. Through theatre, we drive the issue home and make it personal.

The girls tell us:

“I didn’t know I was funny until I got up on stage and everyone laughed.”

“I never had a safe and loving community before Girl Be Heard.”

“I never thought so many people would identify with my story and words.”

The issue of writing on behalf of someone vs. providing them with a space to tell their own story is one that is a constant conversation we’re engaged in. Girl Be Heard was founded on the premise that girls must be empowered to tell their own stories. All girls upon entering our program take part in the year long Girl Power curriculum, which is designed to help them engage in the issues affecting them they find most pressing and create work around it.  Through the development process of our global curriculum, we’ve met women and girls across the globe that also want their stories to be told by our Company Members, so they share them with us in hopes that by hearing the personal experience of a girl who is forced into marriage at 13, or gang raped in a conflict zone or trafficked in Atlanta, or struggling with depression in the suburbs of NJ, their stories can change laws, minds and hearts.

In January, 2012 we began the development of Trafficked, a full length show written and performed by our girls about child exploitation and sex trafficking. The show is based on extensive research, interviews with and testimony from survivors.

After our company members learned about sex trafficking in their neighborhoods and abroad, Girl Be Heard participants began to take part in rallies, press conferences and lobbying efforts to pass bills protecting exploited girls and incarcerating the perpetrators — pimps and johns. We used monologues, scenes depicting violence between pimps and girls, a step dance where actors were incarcerated girls being punished by a system that allows their pimp to go free and spoken word to put a face on the statistics and help move legislation that protects exploited children. Company members and those who witnessed these performances experienced firsthand the power that theatre has in moving legislation, changing laws and advocating for justice. The girls saw their art make change.

Over the course of the journey with Trafficked, our creative team has never experienced a reaction like the one we received on a recent tour in Dallas. Following the show, our cast was met with tears and hugs and women and men lined up to tell their own stories of sexual abuse.

“I’m 55 years old,” a woman told us. “and this is the first time I’ve ever spoken up about my abuse.”

Another woman told us, “My father started touching me when I was 8. I thought I was alone. I have been living with the shame all these years. Hearing these stories told publicly helps to take away my shame.”

At the conclusion of all our shows Girl Be Heard proposes the following:

What can we do long after the show has ended, when we’re back in our communities and homes? How can we take what we’ve seen here and use it to change our lives and the lives of those around us?

The answer is simple and clear: Create safe spaces to share stories. Make theatre.

Stories give us a reason to care and theatre gives us a reason to take action. Theatre allows us to connect and identify with experiences beyond our own. Girl Be Heard’s stories give audiences perspective into the struggles of marginalized communities whether it’s a girl 4000 miles away or next door.

When we returned back to New York, this Little Lady followed up with the aforementioned grant maker.

“Girl Be Heard… I remember you,” Grantmaker says.  “So it’s like theatre, right? … youth theatre? Theatre for girls?”

I replied.

Girl Be Heard… it’s theatre for humanity.

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Ashley Signature

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2013 9:53 am

    Congratulations!! This is amazing and that cheesecake looks to die for.

    Thank you for posting your acceptance speech; this is the first time I’m really getting a good look into Girl Be Heard and what it’s about. I think it’s amazing that you are working with something so powerful. This is what the theatre’s about. Keep going! And keep us posted. Congrats congrats congrats!

  2. June 10, 2013 8:55 am

    what a wonderful speech. Congratulations on this well-deserved award. Thank you for all the work you do.

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