"I don't want to read my words – they're stupid. OK – I guess you can read them for me. When you read them, they don't sound stupid. Maybe they're not that stupid. Everyone listened at the performance when you read them. I don't feel like my words are stupid any more. Yes, next time I'll read them myself. " Dana R., Project Pride Resident
Dana (name changed) is a 21-year old woman who has been in three of my workshops at Project Pride
. During that time, I've watched her come into her voice
and claim the validity of her words for the first time in her life.
What I hear back from the women at Project Pride, over and over again, is that these workshops affect them on two levels. The first is personal: the process of finding their own voices, telling their stories, claiming their words and life experiences, and sharing them on a public platform. Each part of this process empowers them as much as it challenges them. Each stage draws new skills or dormant talents out of them, accompanied by visible growth and delight as they flex these newfound muscles.
Then there's the group process, the impact of the workshops on the dynamics and relationships between the participants. We, the facilitators, watch each woman take the risk of sharing her truths and vulnerabilities with her peers through her writing. Inevitably, she is met with an outpouring of affirmation and caring from the other women. Colleen Wimmer, primary counselor at Project Pride, tells us this new understanding and support between the women fosters their group process in all other parts of the program. The women themselves tell us how different things are `downstairs' (in the communal residential space) after each KQED workshop – how the whole environment becomes more communicative, cooperative and caring. It seems that the workshops allow participants to move beyond personality clashes, daily irritations, scarce resources, competing needs, to connect more deeply through shared pain and joy – of past abuse, of mistakes made, of hopes for the future, of longings for their children.
It is humbling and amazing to witness the women's commitment to the process. Despite sleepless nights, crying infants, dramatic upheavals during the workshops (on one day, a woman went into labor; on another, a participant had grand mal epileptic seizures), they stay on track. In their determination to craft their self-expression into strong effective final presentations, they move to new levels of creative skill. With each successive workshop, they integrate and build on the writing and performance tools we share with them, and dive eagerly into new forms, such as third person narrative, and dialogue.
Obstacles crop up every day of the workshops. Some of the roadblocks we encounter: "I feel stupid doing these exercises. We're tired. I'm going to look dumb in front of an audience. We don't get the point of this." The women began to understand that all these factors: resistance to the unfamiliar, boredom, feeling ridiculous, tiredness, fear of looking stupid, exploring multiple approaches; are essential components of the creative process. We emphasize that all artists, from Grammy-winning singers to complete beginners, go through this cycle with each new creative work.
Some women ask us, the facilitators, to read their work for the final performance, because "it sounds better in your voice". A chorus of encouragement from other women in the group convinces them to claim their own words. More experienced women coach and mentor the new participants. With each successive workshop, the women have taken on more of the facilitating skills, stepping forward to MC the performances, coordinate the lineup, and put together a coherent and powerful show.
They also demonstrate great generosity towards each other. One woman missed the final rehearsal on the morning of the last show, even though she wanted to practice her piece, because she volunteered to do everyone's hair. Every month, several women voluntarily miss the workshop in order to cover childcare, meal preparation, and other support functions for the women in the workshop.
The show itself always surpasses our expectations. Audience members are moved to tears by the women's renditions of "thug love" scenarios, past abuse, self-empowerment, and visions for their children. Each show ends with a Q & A session, so the audience can tell the women what impact it had on them, and hear from the women about their experiences of the workshop. The feeling in the room at the end of the last show was summed up by one of the workshop participants:
"I shed a trunk fulla junk today. It was a cleansing. Now we know each other like this, maybe we can smile a little more, be kinder to each other. I'm gonna be more mindful of my sisters in the house. I kinda love alla you now."