As the stage lights up Templeton Secondary’s cast of Girls Like That, ten girls in grey wool dresses and wearing large fluorescent headphones let the words “slut” and “skank” roll off their tongues in perpetual canon.
I’ve been a thirteen-year-old girl before, and I remember being frustrated by blissfully ignorant adults who assumed my brain filtered out bad words and cruel people. Yet sitting in the front row, I still found myself hoping that these girls were just acting. Truly, they couldn’t have experienced slut-shaming at such a young age?
Playwright Evan Placey loosely based Girls Like That on the story of Amanda Todd. In it, a naked picture of Scarlett (Allison Moreau, Grade 12) gets sent to everyone at her small private school, St. Helen’s. Her classmates, despite being raised to believe that St. Helen’s girls are best friends who stick together, quickly turn on Scarlett and make her life miserable.
“Doing this play has made me realize just how common these things happen between girls, specifically in high school,” Moreau, who played Scarlett as well as four of her ancestors, said. “It also taught me how to not let this kind of stuff affect you—you have the choice to let it.”
Templeton Secondary has had the Girls Leadership Program on its timetable for the past three years. It was in this class of 30 girls, between Grades 9 and 12, where performing arts teacher Tanya Zambrano introduced this play’s script.
“I’m really proud of these girls for speaking up after reading the play—that they wanted to audition for it, they wanted to stand up for gender equality in an age of social media and cyber bullying,” Zambrano said.
Not only is the cast all female, the four stage directors are also female students. There are 70 students involved in the production, helping with costumes, set design and front of house work.
“It truly is a family,” Zambrano said.
Shameless Hussy Productions tells “provocative stories about women to inspire the hand that rocks the cradle to rock the world.” Director Renee Iaci had worked with Zambrano several times over the past two decades and knew Templeton Secondary would be the best home for this collaborative production.
“My company has done shows in schools before, we've done professional shows before, but we've never really amalgamated the two,” Iaci said. Her company was able to bring professionals on board to give students pre-professional training in choreography, musical direction and set design.
The performance itself was a multimedia masterpiece that incorporated five song and dance routines, pictures and video. While there were many fancy bells and whistles, it was the organic relationships between the actors that made the show special. Often, the script required the nine ensemble characters to choreograph their individual lines into a monologue. There were several flashbacks of their journey together as classmates in kindergarten to high school graduation. With limited props and a lot of creative staging, the audience was able to travel through the girls’ primary education, all the way back to Scarlett’s great, great, great, great grandmother’s story in the ’20s.
The story is an uncomfortable one to say the least, yet the show still managed to be uplifting, entertaining, and surprisingly witty.
“At Shameless Hussy, we’ve got to have humour in all the topics we do. No one wants to be part of a lecture, or sit and be dragged through the mill of crying and tears,” Iaci said, recalling her companies past production, Love Bomb, a musical tackling the issue of sex trafficking in Canada.
“Sometimes, I think that the best way to learn something is through humour and entertainment.”
Each actor paid an impressive level of attention to the detail of their character traits. As flawed as they were, a lot of them were quite likeable, an effective demonstration on how even seemingly nice girls can make bad decisions under peer pressure.
Templeton’s opening night concluded with Amanda’s mother, Carol Todd, speaking to the entire cast, crew, volunteers and audience members. She recalled the scene in the play where a girl from another school comes to fight Scarlett over a supposedly cheating boyfriend. The ensemble characters had stood and watched, no one intervened.
“That really happened to my daughter,” Todd said.
As the audience cleared out, I stayed behind to take some photos of the cast. They dropped character easily, working as a team to ham it up for the camera. I asked them to show me their warm up routine. Holding hands in a circle, the girls, their producer and director lifted their arms as they inhaled and dropped them on the exhale, starting silent until one of them starts to laugh. Soon they are all laughing, just like their St. Helen’s characters did during their own game.
Girls Like That will run until Friday, November 10 at Templeton Secondary School. You can find tickets here!