By Shelby Peck | Staff Writer
What do Accutane and fencing have in common? They each provide their own unique perspective into the ups and downs of life as a teenage girl.
As three theater arts students memorize monologues in preparation to grace the stage for the upcoming production of “Athena,” they also prepare to tell the unexpected yet simple story of two high-school girls who fence in honor of “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” the theme of Women’s History Month 2023.
“The show is all about … sharing the female experience. And it’s not because we’re trying to justify the female experience, but we’re just seeing it as OK, well, we know that women can do what men can do in high school,” Westlake Village, Calif., senior Kayla Jou said.
Jou, who plays Mary Wallace — a hard-working and dedicated high school student — said she relates with her character’s desire to achieve her goals and make her family proud.
“I really liked Mary Wallace, and I relate to her because I also feel like that hard-working girl,” Jou said. “I just want my family to be proud of what I’m doing, even though I know they already are, and I think she feels the same way.”
The show explores the highs and lows of high school, emphasizing the weight teenage girls force themselves to carry when pursuing their passions. Mary Wallace stresses about college and scholarships, what Jou describes as the show’s portrayal of many people’s “life or death” mindset in high school.
“It’s interesting to see throughout the play how her passion kind of changes from just doing fencing for scholarships to doing it because she loves it,” Jou said.
To portray her character well, Jou said she must feel a bit “younger” on stage. She said the role requires less of her reminiscing her high school experience but rather “channeling that energy” and forces her to grow as an actor.
“[The role is] not only very physically challenging, but there’s only three people on the stage so there’s a lot of lines … it’s also vocally challenging, which is something that I haven’t really done in this department since I’ve been here,” Jou said. “I have grown a lot as an actor, because experience is practice, and that only helps me.”
The three actors said they have found community with one another and have been able to share their own high school experience in hopes of bringing a sense of realism to the show. Even though their high school years may have looked vastly different, they said they can all relate to the experience of being female.
“It’s kind of hard to … find your group and find your niche within that group,” Signal Hill, Calif., senior Lauryn Bedford said. “Especially in high school, you get to figure out what kind of person that you want to be. You want to be the worst in the group, that you can take inspiration from the people who are ‘better than you.’”
Bedford, who plays Athena, said being on stage during this show feels like being under a “microscope,” as she only exits the stage once. She said the challenges she faces as an actor, however, mirror the challenges faced by the characters, who are in constant competition.
Athena depicts the female high school experience through her struggles with Accutane, trying to make new friends and wishing to perform better academically. Bedford said Mary Wallace provides Athena the “competitive partnership” she so desperately seeks.
“That’s why she starts training with Mary Wallace, because I finally found someone who could potentially beat me because the other people I’ve been with are nowhere near close,” Bedford said.
Jou said this show is a bit “ironic” to her because she had a friend in high school who competitively fenced and eventually played in college. Even though most people associate men with fencing, Jou was instantly reminded of her friend when she first heard about the show.
“I hope that this play causes that for some people who maybe don’t have a connection to fencing … they can think of women just as quickly,” Jou said.
Through the production of “Athena,” Jou said the goal of the director, crew and actors is to simply portray the female high school experience in an untraditional, unexpected way — asserting that high school women can do things well outside of their stereotypes.
“Women are just as strong. We’re just going to show that women are just as strong,” Jou said. “The show is not necessarily a pretty show.”