About Face Youth Ensemble Explores Riot Grrrls Movement in Brave Like Them

Flores, Pestano and Norton rehearse. Photo by Emily Schwartz.

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.

Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at nancybishopsjournal.com, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.