The Girl Project Comes to Lexington

What do you get when you put arts and activism together in the same space? Meet Voices HEaRd, one of the three branches of the Kentucky-based summer arts program, The Girl Project. Co-founded by Ellie Clark and Vanessa Becker-Weig, The Girl Project is part of Woodford Theatre’s Education Program and is focused on empowering girls of all ages through the arts.

The Girl Project’s third annual Voices HEaRd is set for its biggest year yet. The event was met with such success last year that they decided to spread the workshops and scheduled festivities out over an entire weekend and relocate Voices HEaRd to Lexington. Vanessa Becker-Weig, who is the Program Director and a Co-Founder of The Girl Project said, “It was out at Versailles at Woodford Theater. Woodford is kind of the home base for The Girl Project, but most of our base in terms of patrons for The Girl Project is in Lexington, so we just moved everything here.”

The idea for Voices HEaRd was formed in 2016, “post-election” Becker-Weig said as she chuckled with Jeni Benavides, who is Associate Director of The Girl Project as well as a lead guest artist.

“The first year, it was just one performance, and then the second year we expanded it to two nights of performances.” said Benavides. This year’s Voices HEaRd event will feature theater, music, visual art, spoken word, dance, workshops, and community organizations during Mother’s Day weekend. “This year, we switched it to Mother’s Day weekend because we kind of wanted to switch the focus a bit and make it feel more celebratory of relationships, like the mother-daughter relationship, the mentor relationship, that kind of thing.” said Becker-Weig.

Another new addition to the event is a ten minute play festival. “Before, we just kind of did this collective, and we’re doing that again this year, but we’ve also decided to start this ten minute play festival, and that’s kind of Ellie’s baby, if you will. She’s reached out to some different female playwrights and they’ve submitted pieces, so we’re really excited about that.” said Becker-Weig. Ellie Clark is a Co-Founder and Co-Director of The Girl Project.

Benavides added that there will also be a community tabeling event this year in an effort to involve more community organizations and give them the opportunity to connect with others. Tabling events involve organizations setting up tables with information and sign-ups to share what they do for the community and how people can get involved. The Voices HEaRd tabling event will also feature The Horse’s Mouth storytelling group. “What they do is facilitate the community to get up and tell stories, so we’re bringing them in and they’re going to facilitate a storytelling hour for anybody that wants to tell a story. The people who are coming in with their organizations and at the tabeling event will get a chance to tell their stories. It’s a really cool way for even more stories to be told and it’s not staged, it’s just sitting in a circle telling a story.” said Benavides.

Curtain Call, 2018 Voices HEaRd

The theme for the past two Voices HEaRd events was centered around violence against women and speaking out against it, while this time, the event is more inclusive of different relationships and involves more of the community, which is something the co-founders wanted to emphasize. One of the ideas that formed Voices HEaRd came from wanting to give back to the community, which is easy to see with all of the Lexington businesses who have partnered with this year’s event. Some of them include Centered Yoga Studio, Ranada’s Bistro and Bar, Downtown Arts Center, and Chocolate Holler, where they will be hosting the weekend’s events like the spoken word performances, the PlayFest, and tabling event.

“The first year we did Voices HEaRd, we decided we were going to choose a co-beneficiary, so the proceeds from voices heard will be shared between us, The Girl Project,  and whoever that community partner is. The first year it was Greenhouse17, last year it was the Step by Step program, and this year it’s The Nest. What’s really cool about that too is that we can then bring their stories to light.” Said Becker-Weig. The proceeds from this year’s Voices HEaRd event will benefit The Nest, a nonprofit community resource center for women, children, and families. All of the programs that The Nest provides are completely free and serve women, children, and families in the community who are in crisis.

Ellie Clark added in an email correspondence, “It is a community event. We are looking to reach as many people as possible. I hope everyone hears one story, sees one painting, watches one dance or attends one workshop that speaks to them, inspires them, encourages them to pay it forward. It is a labor of love and passion for all the artists involved and certainly for us. I find it an honor to be a part of all of it. It takes a village and in a world where we sit with our devices all day sometimes we forget how inspiring another human being can be, how inspiring live arts can be.”

“I think that it’s really been great seeing all of the different artists that come together for this project. Our background is primarily as theater artists but it also includes spoken word artists, singer-songwriters, visual art, things like that.” said Benavides. “Part of this idea of celebrating these relationships in our lives, one of the things we’re doing is having a day of mentoring and self-care over at Centered Yoga Studio. They’ll be hosting all of these great workshops along with the visual art.”

“We had a little preview night of pieces that you might see by doing a spoken word night at Chocolate Holler, and that was so successful that we said, ‘this has to be a part of the weekend now’!” Exclaimed Benavides. “You’re looking at the audience of Chocolate Holler and it has Girl Project alumni, members of the community that have come out to support, and different spoken word artists, and the line is out the door. People are sitting on the floor to listen to what these people are saying and people are standing outside able to hear it because all of the attention is focused there. That’s a rare opportunity sometimes to have that captive audience. It’s like wow, we’re doing something right.”

Becker-Weig added, “Almost everything is one person for $15 and two for $25 because we’re trying to encourage people to bring their mothers, mentors, daughters, or fathers. If they want to come to the play fest, it’s $10 per person or 2 for $25, or if they want to come to the collective, it’s the same thing.” The spoken word and music night will accept donations along with a full bar where other things can be purchased. “We have one special workshop that will be targeted towards college students. One of the playwrights is coming in and doing a workshop on basically how to submit and write a 10 minute play, and I think she’s going to charge $25 for that. We’re going to be reaching out to a lot of the universities because we’re really looking towards that kind of academia.”

Benavides wanted to emphasize that the Voices HEaRd event is open to everyone. “This is not just an event for women, we have male artists that are part of it and definitely deal with the issues that women and girls face but we also try to be inclusive about other kind of marginalized groups, the LGBTQ community, race, and there’s definitely a lot of different stories.”

Voices HEaRd will be held May 10th-12th. Learn more information about the schedule of event here.

From top, clockwise: Margaret McGladrey, Vanessa Becker-Weig, Ellie Clark, and Jeni Benavides.

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