SPARK partnered with viBe Theater Experience and with the African American Studies department at Fordham University to produce BodyVOX!, an original play written and performed by an amazing ensemble of 9 teenage girls in New York City.
We analyzed media representations of girls and women in television and print advertisements, movies and television programming, popular culture, music videos and music lyrics. We discussed the ways that girls and women are sexualized and the impact this sexualization has on the girls and their peers. The girls shared personal stories about street harassment, body hate, sexual violence, peer pressure, dating, “slut shaming” and self-sexualization. We explored the fuzzy lines between “feeling sexy” and “feeling sexualized.” The girls articulated their frustrations and rage about the ways in which girls are represented. And most importantly, we then strategized how to create text and storylines that present alternatives, and guide audiences to take action and advocate for change. One of the characters in the play says, “Society is brainwashing young boys and girls on what sexy is. Truthfully, sexy is whatever you want it to be.”
In addition to the discussions and media analysis, the girls wrote and choreographed pieces related to the themes and issues we discussed. We then articulated a narrative thread to connect the vignettes, dances, monologues, poetry and scenes and we wove the text and movement together into a script for a one-hour performance. Co-directed by our ED Dana and Fordham professor Aimee Meredith Cox, on May 12 and 13, 2013 we performed the play with lighting, sound and costumes. We invited two activist organizations to set up tables with information and action stations in the lobby of the theater to engage the audience before and after the performance. FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture set up a photo booth where they invited audience members to make signs about how they define sexual consent. Then they were photographed holding the signs. Girls for Gender Equity, a New York City girls’ activist organization, set up a table with information and resources about strategies to prevent street harassment.
The show was a hit with standing ovations after every performance!
Within the performance, we paused for an interactive activity where the performers invited the audience members to pause and reflect on who in the world needs to hear the performers’ message about ending sexualization. Each audience member had a piece of paper and a pen at their seats and the performers led the audience through a writing activity to write a letter to someone in their life who needs and has the power to make a change related to ending sexualization. Audience members wrote to teenage daughters, nieces, television producers, magazine editors, reality television personalities and many other people. We invited them to give us the letters and promised (if possible) that we would send them to the appropriate recipients. This activity provided audience members with hope and strategies for ways that they could take action in their personal lives.
Following the performance, we invited the audience to stay and share their thoughts and opinions about the production as well as talk with the performers about the process. We heard so many comments from audience members sharing that the performance inspired them to talk with their daughters or students about sexualization. Audience members also requested that we find a way to share the performance with a wider audience. One woman told us that she felt the show should be performed in every middle school in New York City. Though we do not have the resources to tour the production, this abundantly positive feedback inspired us to build a video/education curriculum.