Temple Theaters produces a world premiere drama about bullying
Temple Theaters concludes its 2013–2014 season with a groundbreaking new drama, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Adapted and directed by Douglas C. Wager, associate dean of theater, film and media arts, it is based on a pioneering book of the same name by Rachel Simmons, an author and an educator.
For that book, Rachel Simmons interviewed more than 300 students about the silent and indirect ways girls bully each other. She revealed how girls are taught to suppress negative emotions, leading them to resort to expressing anger, jealousy and disappointment with “relational aggression”—harm caused by damaging another’s reputation, social status or relationships.
Inspired by the social struggles of his teenage daughter, Wager began developing the play last spring with a Rehearsal and Performance class that focused on Odd Girl Out. Students used interviews, audio immersion and improvisation to explore the topics Simmons presented.
“In the class, we learned many techniques of the audio-immersion process,” said senior Jaclyn DiFerdinando, a cast member and a student in the workshop class. “Instead of receiving a script and creating a character based on the text, we listen to the recording of an interview and try to become that person. We try to mimic voice and speech patterns and truly embody the person. We also worked in small groups to create pieces based on chapters in the book.”
In creating their stage production, Wager and the cast conducted their own interviews with girls and women ages 8 to 30. As an official university research project, all participants had to be approved by Temple’s Institutional Review Board to conduct personal interviews for research. The actors then conducted more than 30 interviews with Temple students, current high school students, parents and others during the first half of the spring 2014 semester.
DiFerdinando interviewed several people, including high school girls, middle school students and a mother.
“The most surprising thing I learned was how pervasive bullying among females is,” she said. “Everyone experiences it at some point in their lives, and it sticks with them.”
Simmons' book provides a framework in which the monologues (created from the interviews) and short scenes (developed by the ensemble) are performed. The play also includes poems set to original music and video. The cast of 13 women—12 undergraduates and one graduate student—performs a variety of roles, from middle-school-age boys and teenage outcasts to guidance counselors and mothers.
Working on the project has been a powerful experience for many of the actors, including Anna Lou Hearn. “I had an epiphany when I began to read the book for class,” she said. “I discovered I wasn’t alone. Being able not only to help girls have the epiphany I did, but also to give voice to girls we interviewed is a privilege.”
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls runs Wednesday, April 23, to Saturday, May 3, in Randall Theater, accessible through Annenberg Hall. Tickets are $20 (general admission), $15 (students, seniors and Temple staff) and $5 for Temple students. All tickets are subjected to applicable fees.
- Caehlin Bell