Tag: Riot

Monday, July 31, 2:57 PM written by AFT Theatre

Brave Like Them Third Coast Review

The About Face Youth Theatre is staging an energetic and thoughtful world premiere, titled Brave Like Them, which revisits the riot grrrls punk movement of the 1990s. The movement countered the male dominance of the punk scene, while celebrating female musical empowerment through girl bands, zines and concerts and was centered in the Seattle/Olympia area.

Brave Like Them, in a script devised by the ensemble, introduces us to Danni (Kyla Norton) and Jamie (Sandy Nguyen), two friends who find they have different ideas of feminism and “the patriarchy machine.” Directors Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell not only direct the action, but choreograph punk bands and their audiences.

Danni and Jamie are excited at first about being involved with “Hannah’s band,” a riot grrrls punk group, which promotes its creativity and ideas through zines and concerts. But Danni connects with three other musicians and joins their band as a bassist. They’re genderqueer or trans and people of color; they see the riot grrrls as a white cisgirls movement (“Girls to the front!”) that makes them invisible.

Other band members are Noa on drums (Jude Gordon), Chris (Ben Flores) on guitar and Coe (Jimbo Pestano) as lead singer. The scene where they try to name their band is very funny and realistic.

Some of the influences on Danni are her mom Lydia (Mia Vivens), who tries to understand what her daughter is going through, but wants Danni to be happy and less angry. The record store manager (Sharon Pasia) dispenses words of wisdom along with record revelations for Danni. (The B52s, Dead Kennedys and Prince.)

Brave Like Them is staged at the small Buena stage of the Pride Arts Center. The walls are pasted with posters for riot grrrls and punk bands like Bad Religion, Joan Jett, Sleater-Kinney, Fugazi, Bratmobile, Pansy Division and Bikini Kill. The cast uses two gig cases, large and small, for all their props and furniture. The bands perform on a small stage.

Set design is by Scott Penner with lighting by Kaili Story. Nicholas David directed the music with sound design by Brandon Reed and choreography by Erin Kilmurray. Jeanine Fry created the costumes.

The script is adapted from the Riot Grrrl Collection, a book of zines, images and musings from the movement. Some lines are recreated verbatim from Kathleen Hannah’s Riot Grrrl Manifesto. The directors’ note comments, “Just as zines should be passed hand to hand, revolutionary ideas can be passed the same way. As you read this program … be open to the vital history of the riot grrrl, while keeping a keen eye on how movements are born and maybe more importantly, why they die.”

Zine writers were the bloggers of the 1990s. Today’s bloggers should find this play eye-opening in the zeal and energy with which writers and artists worked to get their ideas circulated by placing zines in public places like record stores and concerts and passing them around hand to hand.

The About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble is made up of performers and artists 13 to 23. Before the play began, performers mingled on the stage and occasionally interacted, in character, with audience members. They asked questions and marveled at our smartphones. “Is it like a Game Boy?” “Can you play cassettes?” After all, in 1994, a Walkman was a revelation and telephones were attached to the wall.

Brave Like Them by the About Face Youth Theatre runs two hours plus a 15-minute intermission. See it Wednesday-Sunday only through August 6 at the Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets are $20 or pay what you can. Get them online or by calling 773-784-8565.


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Monday, July 31, 2:53 PM written by AFT Theatre

Brave Like Them is Recommended!

Bikini Kill. Bratmobile. Sleater-Kinney. Heavens to Betsy. Excuse 17. Skinned Teen. If you’ve never heard of these bands then you’re probably unfamiliar with the feminist Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990’s. This underground hardcore punk rock crusade originated in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in the state of Washington. It began as a growing subcultural trend called third-wave feminism that sought to challenge the male-dominated punk rock scene. It addressed such issues as sexuality, domestic abuse, rape, racism, patriarchy and female empowerment. The movement inspired such queercore groups as Team Dresch and The Third Sex. In addition, the crusade spread beyond its musical roots, giving impetus to political activism, a DIY ethic, art and the creation of amateur, self-expressive “zines,” in the hope of quelling homophobia, sexism and, especially, physical and emotional violence toward women.

This two-act play with music was devised and created by the young actors of the About Face Youth Ensemble, under the guidance and direction of Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell. Inspired by The Riot Grrrl Collection, a sampling of original zines, posters and other printed matter from this pre-internet era, we have an historical drama by and about the feminists who had had enough. The result is a play that features a cast of 13 teenage gay, lesbian and gender-fluid actors playing characters who seethe with anger, passion and a need to be heard. The story is loud, earnest, filled with candor and empathy and as raw as anything seen on a Chicago stage.

Staged in the intimate Buena Theatre venue, with the audience seated up close on both sides of the playing area, this production bellows and brays, performing practically in the lap of each theatergoer. The show opens with the cast slam-dancing with rambunctious abandon to an ear-splitting grunge soundtrack. The story then settles down, focusing on Danni and her best friend Jamie. These two high school students are filled with all the typical teenage angst and anger we’ve come to expect from most contemporary adolescents.

Wandering over to the local record shop, they run into Sam, a punky fangirl who invites the two friends to a secret location where Hannah, a local alternative musical celeb, is playing that evening with her band. Danni soon notices how Hannah and her followers seem to contradict the principles they profess to support. For all their branding and boasting, claiming female power for all girls, Hannah’s band has turned into something very exclusive. Their group only includes white, middle-class women. Danni, a reticent, yet intelligent deep-thinker, sets out to right this wrong by joining with a band of other high school students, some who were born female but now identify as male. They’re shunned by Hannah and her group and that’s when the conflict arises.

Kyla Norton stars as Danni, sensitively portraying this quiet, introspective teenager on the verge of self-discovery. She lives with her recently divorced mother, a character played with humor and terrific strength by the remarkably talented Mia Vivens. As Jamie, Sandy Nguyen is fidgety, feisty and possessive over her friendship with Danni. She’s also filled with a hidden rage, the origins of which we discover much later. Ophelia Ashley Murillo makes her stylish About Face debut as a flirty, opinionated Sam. Other standouts in this cast include the gifted Sharon Pasia, so very funny as the drugged-out record store shopkeeper. She’s an older, kindred spirit who enjoys imparting warmth and wisdom to her customers. Ben Flores is strong, sincere and beautifully eloquent as Chris, one of the trans band members of Danni’s new band, led by the dynamic Jimbo Pestano, as lead vocalist, Coe.

Currently enjoying its world premiere, this play probably won’t be everyone’s piece of cake. Its raucous, in-your-face production can be hard to take. However, About Face Theatre’s ensemble of earnest, young actors, and the artists who support their production, are to be highly commended for their gumption and talent. They’ve clearly worked very hard to shine a light on an important social and political issue. The relevance of this 90’s movement and this ensemble’s energy speaks directly to each and every individual of the LGBT community, especially its younger members. Here is a courageous and spunky production, filled with power and passion, that offers an important, thought-provoking slice of American history…or, perhaps, herstory.


Reviewed by Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre Review 

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