LISTEN: My Experiences and What I Learned
by Joanna Seifter
Hello! My name is Joanna Seifter, I am fifteen years old, and I am currently interning at the Other Side. Before, however, I participated in two drama workshops with Melanie, Kerri, Becca and my friends Cara, Katherine and Maryam. These workshops were called LISTEN. In LISTEN, we discussed highly interesting topics, such as female equality, freedom and empowerment. Using the information we gleaned and prior knowledge, we turned our sessions into short sketches, which would become two plays. We performed and filmed them in January and May, and sent them to an all girls’ school in India.
The first session of LISTEN centered on what we refer to as “umbrella topics”. “Umbrella topics” are general issues and events that concern people (in our case, women and girls). Since we were creating this play for girls in India, we started the workshop by doing research about the unfair situation for women in India. Then, we thought about scenarios that women today have gone through, equal and unequal. Using these two factors and non-fictional poetry written by Melanie, we came up with our play. We performed it and sent off to India with Melanie.
Some time later, Melanie returned with the school’s reply to us. The girls performed pieces similar to ours, in the sense that they were improvised (but still well-structured, well-thought-out and well-acted) sketches. In addition, the girls sent us heartfelt letters and beautiful jewelry. Their perseverance, kindness, heart, generosity, enthusiasm and spirit inspired us when we created our next show.
The second session of LISTEN differed from the first, because it centered on the same subjects as before but in a more specific way: our personal experiences as young women in America. We used techniques such as the “cop in the head” to widen our understandings of our own hidden oppressors, and exercises such as “following and leading” to determine the causes and effects of leadership. Our past experiences where we felt we were treated unfairly served as most of the sketches (I must say, it felt wonderful to take liberty with how we portrayed our oppressors!). After performing and filming LISTEN II, we sent it, along with letters and jewelry, to the school with Maryam.
Despite the fact that we completed the two workshops, the things that I learned from them will stay with me forever.
I knew that women were strong and self sufficient before LISTEN. However, I had no idea just how brave women—even less specific, ANYBODY—could be. The girls in India showed me that no matter how unfair their lives could be, they could still be courageous, strong and cheerful. Their words and movements inspired me to be more active and positive as a woman.
I also feel that LISTEN helped me grow as an actor and writer. Performing a five-minute segment filled with silent gestures gave me a whole new meaning for the term “actions are louder than words”. The improvisation techniques we used will surely influence me in future. The way we used our past experiences for sketches has made me realize that I could use them for my personal writing.
LISTEN also taught me the importance of teamwork. I learned that four girls together could do anything, from creating wonderful things to boosting morale, while four separate girls could do far less.
My established goal for my participation in LISTEN was to send out positive messages to women everywhere and improve myself. I feel that I succeeded on both grounds.