Girls’ Studio uplifts and inspires young women in Akron community.

By Cassidy Gladieux

Members of the Girls Studio 2016-2017. Photo courtesy of Gum-Dip Theatre

Once a week, girls from the Jennings Community Learning Center school in Akron race to Gum Dip Theatre in North Hill to participate in Girls’ Studio, an after-school theater program. 

The Girls’ Studio, for ages 11-14, originally began in 2017 when Katie Beck worked with South Street Ministries, who had their own women empowerment group. She took her experience using Theatre of the Oppressed and has since been given a grant to do the work with the Jenning CLC school. 

The program, focusing on the girls’ mental and emotional well-being, has a set structure. 

“We can’t just be blind about people’s feelings. Be blunt about people’s day, and how it’s going,” Samantha Byake said. 

Because of this, the day begins with a check-in and is then followed by a “warm up” and some basic theater training involving movement, voice or imagination — allowing them to build their skills.  

A part of theater is all about using your mind, body and soul, so you can’t use all those things if mentally you’re not okay.  

Samantha Byake

“The girls are adjusting, and they’re responsive,” Byake said. 

Using a methodology called “Theatre of the Oppressed,” girls are taught how to express their emotions through their performances and become “co-creators of their world.” 

“I thought it was a good alignment because Theatre of the Oppressed is generally better for communities who don’t do theater regularly or don’t have any exposure,” she said. “So I thought it would work really well because it’s so accessible that in that study, it just seemed like it would align well.”

Samantha Byake, co-facilitator of Girls’ Studio, is a psychologist and helps guide the girls in conversations regarding mental health and career guidance. 

“A part of theater is all about using your mind, body and soul,” Byake said. “So you can’t use all those things if mentally you’re not okay.”  

Building off that mindset, in order to navigate personal mental wellness, Beck says the goal is to “explore your personal experience and build strong relationships.”

After a few setbacks while getting approval from the Board of Education, the Girls’ Studio was able to begin this April, currently has seven students and is continuing to grow. 

Beck explained that each session will have Theater of the Oppressed activities, which will eventually build into a performance that culminates all of the sessions. 

Gum Dip Theater logo courtesy of website.

Known as Forum Theatre, the girls will perform the scene twice, and the second time, the audience is welcome to stop and interject their own ideas and opinions about the situation happening in the scene.  

“All of our stories center and uplift communities,” Beck said. “So we create original plays and we usually devise an ensemble. Usually our productions include stories from different communities and in a way, that is a little bit more unique than the traditional Little Mermaid or examples like that.” 

Gum Dip Theater recently performed “Three Countries, One Mother” on April 27 at the North Hill library. The play is inspired by Neema Bal, co-founder of Gum Dip Theater, and “examines the history and the culture of Bhutanese- Nepali- American people who were displaced from their homeland as part of the Bhutanese Refugee Crisis in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

The final Girls Studio performance is yet to be determined. 

“Gum Dip, it’s also an opportunity, a platform for many people, not only refugees and immigrants, but for all people around to also experience and to learn,” Byake said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *