(July 10, 2019) Catherine Read sits down with Executive Director Rhonda Eldrige and Program Facilitator Erin Villaronga, of the nonprofit Speak*. Their summertime interdisciplinary arts program for girls aged 12-18 encompasses all aspects of creative performance. From writing to dance to direction, the girls work together to create a performance that culminates in a show for the Capital Fringe Festival in Washington, DC.
Modeled after a sister program that has been running in Nashville for the past 10 years, Eldrige brought Speak* to Northern Virginia as a way to empower young women. Her arts retreat is an opportunity for these young women to author their own life, as well as write and tell their own story. This program offers a safe space for young women to explore and express their feelings.
Speak* takes place over a two-week period. In the first week the girls focus on process. Each day, they have a writing prompt which helps them to build a collection of stories. During the second week, the participants figure out how all of the pieces can work together. They incorporate music and movement to bring the entire performance to fruition.
In an example of how this program works, a writing prompt asked the participants to write a letter to one of their parents. One of the girls wrote a letter of appreciation to her Dad where she was able to express her gratitude and love for him. Another participant wrote to her Dad about the pain she felt after he left their family, and how sad she was that he was absent for most of her life. The juxtaposition of these two pieces highlights how each one of us goes through life by looking at the world through our own lens.
These two young women then presented their pieces side by side for the final performance. There was not a dry eye in the theater. This is just one example of how this program gives the girls an opportunity to explore their feelings, be validated for speaking their truth, and be empowered by their own thoughts and words.
The program culminates in three final performances at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC during the Capital Fringe Festival. To learn more about the program, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.