In student actor Odeosa Eguavoen’s bedroom is an entire dressing room and stage. With ring lights, mics, webcams, and green screens, Eguavoen and the cast are bringing “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” into audience’s homes.
Written by Ghanaian-American writer and actor Jocelyn Bioh in Oct. 2017, “School Girls” takes place in the 1980s at a prestigious boarding school in Ghana. Paulina, the popular girl at school, has her eyes set on the Miss Global Universe pageant. However, with the arrival of Ericka, a charismatic and noticeably lighter-skinned student who catches the eye of the pageant recruiter, tensions rise and Paulina is ready to do whatever it takes to get the crown.
Paulina Sarpong – Be’net Benton
Ericka Boafo – August Stevens
Ama – Diamond Moore
Nana – Ananda Brooks
Mercy – Tiona Jenkins
Gifty – Naar Edwards
Headmistress Francis – Brittani McBride
Eloise Amponsah – Odeosa Eguavoen
Presented by African American Theatre Arts Troupe (AATAT) and directed by Don Williams, the founder of both the AATAT and Rainbow Theatre, “School Girls” is a pre-recorded show broadcasted on Zoom and uploaded to YouTube.
“I know that we’re going to be forced to do our presentation online,” said Williams in an interview in January. “Hopefully with these new formats today they got out here, we’ll be able to master it.”
For AATAT’s last production, “Sweat,” the cast acted together in-person and pre-recorded their show for audiences. For this season’s production, cast members performed scenes in front of same-colored walls and spoke in front of their webcams. The production was brought together by the magic of editing.
A Sneak Peek At The Gala
At AATAT’s 30th anniversary virtual gala, “Honoring Our Roots, Uplifting Black Voices,” Williams shared an excerpt from “School Girls.” Emcees and AATAT alumni Niketa Calame-Harris (Oakes ‘02) and third-year Cameron Rivers (Stevenson ‘22) were thrilled after watching the scene, along with the audience who flooded the chat with compliments on their performance.
“I’m going to sign up to watch that to see what happens next,” said Calame-Harris during the gala. “Did you see that stare?”
Rivers agreed and added that she was “offended for Eloise.”
In the clip shared with attendees, student actors and third-years Brittani McBride and Odeosa Eguavoen played longtime rivals, Frances and Eloise.
“Our scene that was featured in the preview had quite a bit of tension and as an actor, you always hope that whoever you’re acting with gives you the right amount of energy to work with,” Eguavoen said. “It’s a bit like a tug of war and in order to make a good scene both parties have to ‘give it a good tug,’ meaning both have to be fully present.”
Both McBride and Eguavoen had kind words to share about working together. McBride said that she learned a lot from Eguavoen throughout the process and that she’s a great scene partner.
Despite living in an African country, the young girls competing for the Miss Ghana Beauty Pageant are bound to European beauty standards. In the play, Eloise notes to Frances that Ericka, the new girl played by third-year August Stevens, has a better chance of winning because her lighter skin tone is more fit to the beauty pageant’s standard, reflective of the ongoing conversation around colorism.
Colorism is a form of discrimination that results not from racial categorization, but rather values associated with skin color itself—which as a result causes different treatment from others.
Bioh was inspired to write the play to voice this struggle within the Black community. She never compared herself to white people but told Playbill in her 2018 interview that she always felt inferior to lighter-skinned women of color.
McBride hopes the audience will gain knowledge about the ongoing social issues within the Black community today.
“The biggest takeaway for audiences is the tumultuous effect colorism has on the Black community. We already have many struggles pitted against us,” McBride said. “This play highlights that while those struggles may be there, it is important for us to stay unified together.”
The first Black woman to win the Miss America Beauty pageant was not crowned until 1983, all previous pageants having been won by white women.
Working From Home
Third-year August Stevens, who was cast as Ericka, found the transition from the stage to the screen difficult at first.
“It’s weird trying to channel the energy required [to act] when you’re yelling at someone through the computer screen or cracking jokes,” Stevens said. “Making it natural is one of the challenges.”
The show is a dramatic comedy, with a cast of eight being forced to find new strategies for rehearsal and production through the Zoom landscape.
“There are definitely challenges. Timing, expressions, and reactions are difficult when everyone is not in the same place,” said second-year Bene’t Benton, who was cast as Paulina. “I can’t make eye contact with a scene partner through Zoom so it’s a lot more work than imagining yourself in the scene.”
Alongside Williams, the cast pushed themselves to increase audience participation and make it feel as if they were all on stage together, despite the distance between them. While taking the stage digitally was difficult, the cast and crew made it work and started on schedule with their show.
The play spreads awareness about ongoing issues and flaws in our global society, which have been here since its construction.
“There is no blatant racism and no white people in the show whatsoever committing racist acts toward the characters,” said student actress August Stevens. “However, it’s something that is embedded into our culture and something that will need constant correcting until all aspects of it have been eradicated.”
The AATAT is allowing viewers to open their devices and stream its show wherever they want. The entire play will be streaming on YouTube from Mar. 4 through Mar. 9. Live talkbacks with the full cast and director will be held on March 4 and 9. RSVP here for access and event updates.