The Shape of a Girl hauntingly familiar

By Claire Cummings

The memories lurk in the mind of every adult–the life and death struggle of junior high school, where survival was determined by what colour your socks were, who you ate lunch with and whether Brad checked the "yes" or "no" box in your do-you-like-me note. While we might not remember why life felt so desperate, we likely remember with a blush how we treated the awkward, friendless kids who wore the wrong clothes or had the wrong accent.

The dark underside of teenage life, full of merciless cruelty for the unpopular, is explored in the new Alberta Theatre Projects production The Shape of a Girl. Playwright Joan MacDonald was inspired by the murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk in Victoria, B.C.

"Joan’s written a couple of shows for teens," said Jenny Young, who plays the story’s only character, 14-year-old Braidie. "She has a massive heart; she cares a lot about kids. Also, she’s a mom."

Young said MacDonald was fascinated by the criminal trials of the young girls who beat Virk to death. MacDonald was also moved because the crime took place close to where she lives on Bowen Island.

Young, a recent graduate of Vanvouver’s Studio 58, worked for the last year and a half with children’s performing group, Green Thumb Theatre. She said her work with children’s theatre enabled her to get inside the weird world of a teenage girl.

In The Shape of a Girl, Braidie witnesses someone she knows being ganged-up on. Not only is she terrified of what others will do if she tells, but also what could happen to their victim if she doesn’t speak up.

Young said she now better understands why this would be a hard choice for Braidie.

"You have to understand that for them, of course it is a big decision," Young said.

"To them it’s the end of the world."

In exploring the role, Young said she was forced to examine her own adolescence.

"So many memories have come up. Did I participate in this sort of thing? Did I stand by people who got picked on? I guess sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t," she said. "I forget what it’s like to be that age, but then it all comes back. I think my God, I did that, I said that and I’m only 23, not that far off. For a 40-year old mom it must be even harder to remember."

Young said she hopes teenagers will relate to her character and get deeper insight into their own choices. She hopes adults, especially parents, will glimpse the true struggle of young adulthood and realize that teens who get pulled into violence aren’t necessarily from bad homes or difficult backgrounds.

"We like to think, ‘my kids aren’t like these kids,’" said Young "The story to be told here is that what happened, happened. These things don’t just happen to people we don’t know."

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