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LITTLE SILVER: EMPOWERING THEATER, AT RBR

gbh2-8400973Red Bank Regional Visual and Performing Arts Academy graduate Ashley Marinaccio (left) looks on as RBR junior and creative writing major Mya Nunnelly performs her own poetry, during a recent appearance by Ms. Marinaccio’s non-profit, all-female theater collective Girl Be Heard.

Press release from Red Bank Regional High School

Back in 2012, Ashley Marinaccio, a 2003 graduate of Red Bank Regional High School, returned to her alma mater for a special performance with Girl Be Heard, the non-profit, all-female theater collective that she co-founded in 2008. Last month, Ashley and her NYC-based troupe made an encore appearance at RBR, by popular demand. The Source, RBR’s School-Based Youth Services Program, sponsored the theatrical group’s performance.

Girl Be Heard (GBH) has played everywhere from prisons to the White House; China to Off-Broadway. The group’s website describes its mission as, “(Using) theatre as a vehicle to empower young women to become brave, confident, socially conscience leaders, while they explore their own challenging circumstances.”

The group has tackled issues both domestic and global — including sex trafficking and the treatment of girls in the Congo — and was invited to the White House by Michelle Obama to bring awareness to these issues on the eve of her trip to South Africa. Over 100 female performers now comprise the collective. Ms. Marinaccio brought along four members for this program, which covered such issues as relationships, sexual identity, stereotyping, bullying, mental health concerns and suicide.

The Source’s Clinical Supervisor, Stacy Liss, gave a special message for the men in the audience, stating, “Although there are no male performers, we are speaking to you.  We need our young men to support these issues, as they affect you, your mothers, sisters, friends and future daughters.”

Most of the performers wrote their own pieces, which are in part, autobiographical. They are guided by professional directors, playwrights, actors and intellectual who lend their skills to the group.

Performer Jackie Torres expressed her disappointments on how Latinos are portrayed and stereotyped by the television industry. Betsy Perez dealt with the very personal and tragic case of her father’s suicide after losing his job and sinking into depression. Blue Zephra performed a vignette on socio-economic class issues, stating, “How do I explain that economically I am poor, but spiritually I am not?” Emily Clark expressed her feelings of isolation in high school regarding her sexuality in a refrain of “No Homo.”

After the performance, the actors directly engaged with their audience in what they term the “talk back.”  During that segment, they invited RBR students to ask questions, make comments and even perform their own poetry. Creative Writing Major Mya Nunnally took the opportunity to do just that to the applause of her peers, and admiration of the Girl Be Heard players. A product of the same Visual and Performing Arts Academy in which Mya is currently thriving, Ashley Marinaccio was a dance and drama major and became the President of the Cares Club which focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and raised funds to support local HIV/AIDS Community Based Organizations. RBR continued with The CARES AIDS Benefits for years after Ashley’s graduation in 2003.

Ms Liss stated of Ashley, “Even back in high school Ashley was interested in using the arts to improve the lives of others. Ashley is an activist and artist dedicated to creating theatre that challenges the status quo. She is an award-winning theater maker that has received local, national and international accolades.”

Girl Be Heard is available to perform in other locals including school performances, workshops and nonprofit partnerships in the Tri-State area. It encourages others to join the troupe. For more information visit their website at www.girlbeheard.com.

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