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What Are Teenage Girls Really Facing? The drama "Slut" lets young women speak for themselves

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

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Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney want to create theatre that honestly evokes the lives of teenage girls, and they want real teenage girls to help them do it.

"No one understands the teenage experience better than actual teenagers," says Cappiello. "When adults play teenagers, they very, very often get it wrong." McInerney adds, "Adults are always finding a way of simplifying the experience or dumbing it down or judging it. [Teenage girls] are living this every day, so to have someone else put that on doesn't make sense."

That's why Cappiello and McInerney founded the Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company, which lets young women create their own art. The adults meet with a group of girls for a year or more, talking about whatever's on their minds, and those conversations inspire plays that the teens perform themselves. "It's roundtable discussions that lead to free-writing exercises that lead to improvisations that then lead to scripts," Cappiello says.

Slut, the company's latest play, runs August 19-25 in FringeNYC. Co-written and co-directed by Cappiello and McInerny, it follows a fictional girl named Joey who gets drunk, gets in a cab with some boys, and then gets sexually assaulted. Soon enough, she's hounded by social media accounts of what supposedly happened and a growing assumption that everything was her fault.

The story resonates with notorious incidents like the Steubenville rape case, and to that end, it will be presented at StopSlut, a conference on sexuality, bullying, and rape that convenes in New York City on October 18 and 19.

But the show is also rooted in what girls told Cappiello and McInerney. "This word 'slut' was popping up in every conversation," Cappiello says, and McInerney adds, "Right away, we saw the complexity of the word. One minute, it's a badge of honor they're trying to own, and then one minute later, it's a scarlet letter being used to tear each other down."

While the adults have written Slut's official script and directed the Fringe production, the girls have had a say in every phase of the production. "We write down the things they're improvising, then I go home and put these scenes together, and then I bring them in for the girls to workshop and approve," Cappiello says. "They'll say, 'This works. This doesn't sound like me. This sounds exactly like us. This doesn't work.' It's a genuinely collaborative process"

The play's structure underscores the holistic approach. Crucially, we don't meet Joey in the midst of her sexual trauma or during the slut shaming that follows. We meet her as a normal kid, joking and silly and happy. "You have to see her before this incident," says McInerney. "You need to see her being jovial and carefree. It allows us to see everything she has and everything she's losing."

In other words, Slut doesn't only define Joey by what happened in the cab. "She's everyone's daughter," Cappiello says. "Our goal is to actually give a real voice to this girl."

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Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor