(Re)embodying girlhood : collective autobiography and identity performance in Rude Mechanicals' Grrl action

Myers, Sarah Lynn, 1976-
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In 1999, Austin-based Rude Mechanicals theatre ensemble created Grrl Action, an autobiographical writing and performance program for teenage girls, one of many advocacy and empowerment programs focused on female youth nationwide. Still today, Austin-area girls come together each summer to generate original performances based on their own life experiences. Their final collaborative production, which combines solo work with group pieces and covers topics as disparate as body image and illegal immigration, illuminates the ways that girls perform different, multiple, and shifting identities, both collectively and individually. This dissertation posits Grrl Action--part of a more general trend towards collective autobiography in girls' cultural production--as an ideal lens through which to examine the complexity of teenage girls' identity performance(s) in the United States today. I situate Grrl Action as an embodied site where girls deliberately play with (and among) multiple selves onstage and, in effect, challenge commercial constructions of female adolescence and expand the very definition of girlhood. As a former Program Director and Instructor for Grrl Action, I build on what Dwight Conquergood might call my role as ethnographic "co-performer" to examine not only live theatre events, but also the material circumstances that create them. My introduction provides an overview of identity performance discourse outside of theatre settings and posits my study of Grrl Action as a means of borrowing back the language of performativity for girls exploring their identities in theatrical settings. Chapter One focuses on girls' performances of non-normative sexuality to examine how Grrl Action might be considered a new kind of feminist theatre collective. Chapter Two looks at girls' I- and you-statements to analyze the ways that female youth cast both themselves and their audiences in nuanced "definitional ceremonies." Chapter Three centers on girls' tears and traumatic testimony to situate Grrl Action as a site of affective transference between girl-performers and women-spectators. My conclusion is self-reflexive, as I suggest ways that women who work with girls might put their own identity performances on the line both inside and outside programs like Grrl Action.