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News / Life / Clark County Life

‘Girls Roar’ gives voice to young storytellers

Local women’s storytelling series focused on empowerment expands its roster

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 22, 2017, 6:01am
4 Photos
These Roaring young women will make their storytelling debut at the Kiggins Theatre on July 27: Kyah Jones, 14, from left; Jay Royce, 14; Olivia Dalton, 16; Antoinette Hastings, 15; and True Ware, 12.
These Roaring young women will make their storytelling debut at the Kiggins Theatre on July 27: Kyah Jones, 14, from left; Jay Royce, 14; Olivia Dalton, 16; Antoinette Hastings, 15; and True Ware, 12. (Contributed photo) Photo Gallery

Something about women freely expressing themselves seems to drive the culture a little crazy.

Ever since Erika Worth decided to stop censoring her opinions, she’s been the target of random hate messages and obscene emails from male strangers. Worth grew more vocal after the last presidential election, she said — and so did her audience of eager haters.

Worth, 47, shrugs them off. Their gratuitous rage proves that she’s put her finger right on a cultural button, she said. There’s no way she’s going to stop pressing it.

“I’m tough,” Worth said, after working for years as a private investigator whose mission is protecting vulnerable females and taking down “bad guys” who exploit them, as she put it. “I have a passion for protecting women and children.”

If she sounds powerful and sure, she grew up anything but. Worth survived a really rough childhood in a stereotypically broken home, she said: a missing father and voiceless mother who was both oppressed and oppressive.

If You Go

• What: “Girls Roar” inaugural show, featuring: True stories by five local girls, ages 12 to 16.

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday.

• Where: Kiggins Theatre, 1011 Main Street, Vancouver.

• Tickets: $15 online, $18 at the door.

• More Roar: Next show will be “Love” on Sept. 21.

• On the Web: www.roarvoices.com

“She had no voice to give me,” Worth said. “Women have not been allowed to express themselves, and every generation silences the next generation.

“Boys are encouraged to express themselves,” she said. “Girls are encouraged to be Barbie dolls and wait for Prince Charming to rescue us.”

Roaring back

Worth isn’t just a righteous investigator but also a lifelong writer and poet, actor and performance artist, storyteller and motivational speaker. Even if she inherited no sense of self-expression from her mother, she said, what’s always been inside her cannot be held back. Given last year’s current events, she said, she decided to ante up and launch a local women’s storytelling series focused on women’s empowerment.

Just take a look at any day’s headlines, Worth said. The White House, the Congress, the business elites and power brokers: the vast majority are still white men. Forty years after the feminist revolution, she said, too little has changed.

So Worth invited a talented group of women storytellers to come “Roar” at the Kiggins during a bimonthly, live-on-stage, “Moth”-style program: short, first-person, true tales that are developed and rehearsed behind the scenes with the help of storytelling coaches and the whole group. The first “Roar” was held in May, the month of Mother’s Day, and mothers was the theme. The tales shared by those first five storytellers ran the gamut from heartbreaking to hilarious and intimate to universal (and you can still catch them, in video form, on the Roar website: https://www.roarvoices.com).

Another thing they shared, Worth added, was mutual support and encouragement. “Women don’t trust each other. Women are taught to be very critical and very self-critical,” she said. At Roar’s storytelling workshops, she said, that kind of nasty nonsense is simply banned.

“We always feel we are so different from each other, but what we always learn is, we are much more alike than different,” she said.

Thursday’s show theme was freedom, and the Sept. 21 theme will be love, Worth said. The September show will feature some truly special and diverse guests from around the globe and even right next door, she said: Asha Deliverance, the mother of one of the good Samaritans stabbed to death on a Portland MAX train in May, will be one of the storytellers.

Biebs? No Biebs

Meanwhile, the quick success of “Roar” at the Kiggins this spring prompted Worth to extend its reach well into the future — by striving to catch ’em while they’re young.

She spread the word to local schools, informally, during the last week of classes and hooked five storytellers between the ages of 12 and 16 for Thursday’s show called “Girls Roar.”

During a quick break on their first day of meeting and workshopping, Worth and her two coaching partners — Jen Gerould, a drama teacher and actor, and Stephanie Wichmann, a social worker and drama therapist — said they were already finding their new mentees “so far ahead of us,” Gerould said.

That morning, the girls were prompted to break the ice and start brainstorming by writing 350 words each on three topics they’re passionate about, as well as sharing some entirely spontaneous spoken tales about their lives.

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That got them thinking about what really matters to them, Worth said, as well as approaches to sculpting a story that will bring an eventual audience along on an entertaining and meaningful ride.

Serious subjects that got explored right on that first morning: Peer pressure. Gender identity. Body image. Bullying. Racism. Dreams of suicide.

Oddly enough, Worth noted, “Justin Bieber did not come up.” But if he had, that would have been OK. “There’s absolutely no censorship,” she said.

“It took such courage” for those girls to confess their innermost concerns on day one, added Wichmann, the storytelling coach.

“It takes such vulnerability and authenticity. You don’t usually see that” in girls, she said.

Courage, guys!

Do men have the courage, the vulnerability, the authenticity to attend “Roar” performances? They’re certainly invited, and Worth said she’s been pleased at the positive and thought-provoked, energized reactions that males in the audiences have shown thus far.

Look at it this way, dudes: Women are used to accompanying men to their favored forms of entertainment, such as football games and action movies.

“Can men stand to sacrifice two whole hours from their lives,” Worth wondered, “to go hear what women have to say about things?”