I have to tell you about a local play created by the Arts Collective Theatre called A Girl LIKE Me. This blank page has been sitting on my desk to write for over a week and not because it wasn’t a great performance – it just may have caused a dramatic bout of writer’s block that kept me reluctant to post anything on the Internet or even the YQG Rocks website for many days. It’s kept me silent, standoffish and swirly inside. It made me cry, look at things I never wanted to and it hit me harder than anything ever hit me before.
I’ve never faced a writer’s block like this. I mean, it was just a play for heaven’s sake. But it left me feeling a bit like Jerry Maguire sitting there baffled by the son of a hockey player suffering his fourth concussion. It made me sit back and look at the purpose of YQG Rocks and how important this site is as a media source and voice in Windsor.
No one wrote about A Girl LIKE Me – no one. Not our daily paper, not a single website, no one. And this is one play that absolutely needs to be reviewed, discussed and shared – by everyone. It could potentially be the most important play Windsor has ever created and absolutely every student in Essex should experience it at least once.
The Arts Collective Theatre unveiled A Girl LIKE Me to the general public on May 31 and June 1, after a series of school performances. It was a bit of a preview performance as the collective works out the bugs and tightens the musical for future presentations, including another public round at the Windsor Walkerville Fringe Festival beginning July 20.
Based on information collected from several true stories gathered through local workshops, the play talks about school bullying through music and song. And it comes at a time when stories like 13 Reasons Why rule TV sets across the nation.
Much like 13 Reasons Why, or to a lesser extent Heathers The Musical, A Girl LIKE Me shows audiences how important it is to communicate with peers, teachers and family members when difficult situations arise. For seniors and parents, bullying on this level is hard to understand. Technology being used for bullying was never around in the generations before the millennium and its dramatic effects are only increasing as time moves on. While parents and grandparents might not fully comprehend this newer form of bullying, the kids and youth of today are living it every day – striving for likes, hearts and any other emoji’s they can garner. Pushing their moral limits on a daily basis, which is what happens with A Girl LIKE Me.
Nibi, a teen from Northern Saskatchewan, moves to Windsor with her mother and sister following her father’s suicide. As she attempts to navigate through life in a new city, new school and community, she quickly learns that life is vastly different from back home. A Girl LIKE Me is a musical that centers around the impact of social media and how important it is to communicate with peers, teachers, and family members when difficult situations arise. Themes in the play include small town stereotypes, bullying, issues concerning the LGBT community and many other obstacles facing youth locally and around the world.
The play peaks when Nibi is tricked into texting a nude photo with someone she thought was a boy she liked from school. It turns out the photo was sent to a group of girls who’ve been teasing and bullying her at school. The girls then share the photo with everyone at school through social media and eventually Nibi kills herself.
Suicide is a tough subject to talk about, so imagine how hard it is for the actors to sing about it on that stage – especially when everyone involved helped piece the story together and write it on a local level. It was an emotional performance that had both the cast and audience in tears as the show ended and the actors took their bows. If you weren’t crying at this point, you’re not human.
The music throughout the show was fairly somber, with a few upbeat numbers, including the disturbing song Let’s Go Fishin’, which was performed just before the bullies lured Nibi into taking the picture. Memorable numbers include You Can Talk To Me by Nibi and her sister Ayaina and the theme A Girl Like Me.
Additionally, unlike most plays with gay characters, A Girl LIKE Me featured a prominent lead, Rain, who was not only flamboyant and glittery, but also strong and intelligent at the same time. He tried hard to be the rock that held Nibi together as she was being picked on.
The subject matter is tough, but necessary in this day and age and for anyone to think otherwise, they’ve never stepped into a school and just watched the students spend half their lives on phones, tablets and computers. Social media has become part of our lives and it’s giving everyone a sense of false ego and has created a world where picking on people and making nasty trolling comments is the norm. And people weren’t meant to live like that. We all have emotions, feelings and even the strongest can be brought down like a porcelain vase smashing to the ground.
A Girl LIKE Me, even though it’s still being tweaked, is a necessary production. It can open dialog on matters we might be scared to discuss, it can help tackle tough issues we don’t want to talk about and, quite frankly, it could help save a life. In the grand scheme of things, those like Nibi don’t need to die and if A Girl LIKE Me can help even one student, teacher or parent deal with bullying, then the countless hours put into this show are worth every second.
It was a play created by Windsor students about a part of student life that no one seems to want to talk about. They’ve started the discussion, so now let’s talk about it.
Gillian Marshall was amazing as Nibi with a strong voice and loveable vibe, Rami Al-Sharak was fantastic as Rain and Emma McDonald oozed attitude as the popular girl Phoebe. The incredible cast was rounded out by Gina Marshall as Ayaina (Nibi’s sister and Gillian’s real life sister), Tatum Roy, Samantha Elford, Megan Mulligan, Maggie Marchenkowsky, Nick Palazzolo, Reese LaBute, Albert Sharpe, Geri Dowding, Emmy Dubreuil, Ian Joseph MacDonald, Shehed Altamimi and Timothy Hole. Musical Director Kathy Costa contributed an incredible soundtrack to the production and Leslie McCurdy choreographed some great moves, with assistance from production director Moya McAlister and writer/stage manager/assistant director Linda Lord.
The original work was conceived and directed by Chris Rabideau, based on a book by Rabideau and Lord.