Students performing theater exercises at the Girls Speak workshop at Guild Hall. Images courtesy of Kate Mueth.
By Dawn Watson
Ten years ago, Kate Mueth had more time on her hands than she would’ve liked.
The actress, director, dancer and choreographer wasn’t happy with the number, or the types, of roles that were coming her way. And she knew that it wasn’t just her—the lack of empowered and empowering roles for women across all the theatrical arts was fairly universal.
A bewilderingly large number of the parts for women in movies, television and on the stage dismally failed the Bechdel Test, a measuring stick invented by comic strip creator Allison Bechdel that gauges the active presence of well rounded and autonomously interesting females in films. The available roles were one-dimensional and formulaic; definitely not of interest to Ms. Mueth, or apparently to approximately half the people living in America.
“Any story told from a woman’s perspective wasn’t valued by the general population,” she recalled during an afternoon outing to c/o The Maidstone in East Hampton last Friday afternoon. “Our stories, when they were told at all, were deemed ‘chick flicks,’ which pretty much meant that men just weren’t interested.”
Even for the very small number of serious and strong female roles, the women seemed to be held to different standards than men, says Ms. Mueth.
“It was all about the looks, the hair, the body type, rather than the substance of the story,” she says, adding that it was frustrating to work so hard and aim for roles that were thinly drawn and marginally satisfying. “We had a lot more to say than what was being offered in the mainstream. I felt there was more that I personally wanted to say, and I also knew that I wasn’t alone.”
So she decided to do something about it.
But Ms. Mueth didn’t want to carve out a niche just for herself. Instead, she decided to use her gifts to help other women in the arts to achieve their own levels of success as well.
“I thought, ‘what can I do within my capabilities to change this?’” she recalls. “That’s what Neo-Political Cowgirls came from.”
Since 2007, Ms. Mueth has led her troupe of female performers to create a women’s dance theatre collective that produces new site-specific theatre, such as “Eve” and “Zima,” as well as theater workshops and educational outreach programs. In 2010, she expanded her vision to add similar opportunities and inclusion for girls, who, after all, would grow up to become women. The next Girls Speak workshop for young ladies ages 8 to 15 will be offered from February 2 to March 3, with a final public performance on March 4 at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
The Girls Speak creative workshops are meant to help youngsters and teenagers explore what’s on their minds and to provide the tools to translate that into dance theater through writing, improvisational exercises, movement and directing. The safe, fun and bully-free environment is all about supporting girls in order for them to develop their own unique voices and creative expression.
“Ultimately, it’s for them to utilize the craft to dive into their inner power,” says Ms. Mueth. “I want them to see that it’s possible to be brave, strong and healthy in who they are.”
According Girls Speak students Sophie Keimbock and Sarah Morgan, both of Springs, Ms. Mueth’s message has gotten through loud and clear.
“After the workshops I got more of a sense of who I was,” reports Ms. Keimbock. “I feel like I could describe myself with positive words instead of focusing on the negative stuff.”
“My very first workshop I felt shy, but then I felt braver by the end,” notes Ms. Morgan.
Ms. Keimbock, who has developed a keen interest in directing due to her time in Girls Speak, says that she won’t soon forget her workshop experiences.
“I knew what I wanted. And it was fun to tell people to do what I wanted. Because that doesn’t really happen in the world,” she says. “I’ve learned that I have a voice.”
That’s exactly Ms. Mueth’s intent, she says. And, she hopes to bring similar feelings of empowerment to as many young girls and women as she can.
“I want them to become their own leaders, teachers and role models,” she says. “I want us all to see that these things are possible.”
The Neo-Political Young Cowgirls: Girls Speak workshops, which cost $230 or $220 for Guild Hall members, will be held at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Tuesdays from February 2 through March 1 and on Thursdays from February 4 through March 3. A final public performance will be held on Friday, March 4, at 7 p.m.