The cast of WAM Theatre’s 2012 ‘like/unlike’ project rehearses last year. The project’s theme of the effects of social media on
The cast of WAM Theatre’s 2012 ‘like/unlike’ project rehearses last year. The project’s theme of the effects of social media on individuals,
families and communities will be addressed in a new WAM Theatre program for students of Girls Inc. in Pittsfield -- one of two performance-based programs geared to empower girls. (Linda Badami / WAM Theatre)

PITTSFIELD -- WAM Theatre is branching out beyond the stage this fall to debut two new education and outreach projects -- both designed to empower girls and young women to use their creativity to address and explore social issues that affect them.

The first project is an after-school program partnership between WAM Theatre and Girls Inc. in Pittsfield, through which pre-teen girls will create their own theatrical performance to present in December.

The second project brings theater professionals from WAM Theatre together with students from five Berkshire County partnerships, including: Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School, Flying Cloud Institute; Girls Inc., Multicultural BRIDGE, and Rite of Passage and Empowerment for Girls Program.

"It's very exciting," said WAM Theatre Artistic Director Kristen van Ginhoven, who co-founded the company with Leigh Strimbeck. "Theatre education is part of our background so I'm particularly thrilled to launch these programs as part of WAM Theatre's fourth year in operation as a professional theater company,"

Now through December, fall resident WAM Theatre actor and teaching artist Barby Cardillo will work with about a dozen girls, most between the ages of 10 and 12, to create an original piece of theater that explores the impact of technology and social media on young women's lives.

"It's all going to be original work, whether it's poems or theater scenes," Cardillo said. "I met with students for the first time last week and learned that some play instruments and some sing. I want to use everything they have to put into the piece."

Cardillo has been creating and directing drama workshops and productions since 1992 throughout Berkshire County, and has worked with young people through venues like Shakespeare & Company's Shakespeare in the Courts program, Barrington Stage Company's Playwright Mentoring Project, Community Access to the Arts, and Valley Head School.

"This program will teach [girls] the skills they need to help them use social media in a positive and imaginative way, which is perfectly aligned with our mission to focus on empowering young people, in particular young women," said Kristen Shepardson, program officer at Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center.

This project is an extension of the "like/unlike" project created and directed by Strimbeck while the company was in residence at the 2012 WordXWord Festival. This next phase of the project continues the discussion on how living and relating online, both anonymously and publicly, affects individuals, families and communities.

The after-school program takes place for an hour each Tuesday at the Gladys Allen Brigham Center through Girls Inc., and is sponsored by Brabson Library & Educational Foundation, Greylock Federal Credit Union, and the Pittsfield Cultural Council.

The second program, known as the "Emilie: Education Outreach Project," is supported through a Mass Humanities grant and will tie in age-appropriate discussions and activities based on the themes present in WAM Theatre's November production of "Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight."

Known as a mistress of Voltaire, Du Chatelet (1706-1749) was also one of the leading interpreters of modern physics in Europe, as well as a master of mathematics and linguistics, during the Age of Enlightenment.

Through sponsorships from Berkshire Bank Foundation and Interprint, part of the proceeds from the production -- which will run Nov. 7 through Nov. 24 on the St. Germain Stage of Barrington Stage Company -- will benefit the Rite of Passage and Empowerment Program for girls and its annual college tour.

Van Ginhoven said this program is designed for girls ages 12 to 20, who will be able to participate in a social media campaign, utilize a new education study guide that's being developed about the play, help with information boards in the lobby during show performances, and attend special pre-show information sessions.

Scholars involved in this project include: Amy Holzapfel, associate professor of theater for Williams College; Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez, associate professor of comparative literature, media studies and gender studies of Bard College at Simon's Rock, and playwright Lauren Gunderson.

"Hopefully it will empower them to think, ‘Here's what this young woman accomplished in the 18th Century. What am I capable of?' " van Ginhoven said.

To reach Jenn Smith:
jsmith@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6239.
On Twitter: @JennSmith_Ink

On the web ...

To learn more about these projects and WAM Theatre, visit www.WAMTheatre.com.