On Saturday, April 6th in Hollywood, down a long hallway lined with exquisite photography featuring famous movies and A-list actors, I had the great honor of being a guest at the 2019 Lights, Camera, WriteGirl! benefit event. WriteGirl was founded in 2001 and is “a creative writing and mentoring organization that promotes creativity, critical thinking and leadership skills to empower teen girls.” First lady Michelle Obama honored WriteGirl! with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award in 2013.
The event, which was a partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, was an upscale evening of fundraising that included an initial reception catered by Alligator Pear Catering, a red carpet, a silent auction, celebrity actors performing monologues and scenes written by the WriteGirl teen participants, and a closing reception by Sprinkles Cupcakes. The evening was hosted by actor and mentor Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) and featured performances by Seth Rogen (Long Shot), Keiko Agena (Gilmore Girls), Wendi McLendon-Covey (The Goldbergs), Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Barry), Wayne Brady (Whose Line Is It Anyway?), and Stephanie Katherine Grant (The Goldbergs).
Lauren opened the performances by riffing a bit, talking about how her friend Keiko got her involved in the organization last year. As a self-proclaimed ‘big reader as a kid,’ Lauren loves WriteGirl’s focus on “being creative, playful, and finding your voice.” She also joked that she is “in recovery from eighth grade endlessly” and since several of the mentees are eighth-graders, she didn’t “know who will be helping who.”
The scenes and monologues written by the teen participants were hilarious, thoughtful, and topical, ranging from instructional cereal, evil coconuts, and dream boyfriends to poignant commentaries about abuse, ableism, body dysmorphia, and more. One moment the entire theatre would be erupted in laughter, and the next the audience sat holding their breath, captivated by the heart and honesty that the writers put into their pieces.
Several of the teen participants were audience members and stood up to applause after their scene was performed. I learned from one writer that they were not told ahead of time whether their piece would be performed or who in the celebrity cast would perform it, so it was an even more exciting experience!
A panel of professional screenwriters including Nkechi Okoro Carroll (showrunner of CW’s All American), Lisa Cholodenko (Olive Kitteridge), Heather Hach Hearne (Freaky Friday), Liz Kruger (Salvation), Josann McGibbon (Runaway Bridge), and Lauren Miller Rogen (Like Father) sat on stage and gave their thoughts about the writing after each scene was performed. Phrases like, “You took us on such a journey!” “She definitely knows her power.” “You gave such a great voice to the crazy!” and “I’m blown away that a 13-year-old wrote a period piece!” were some of the comments made by the panel.
Let me tell you, there was a LOT of amazing talent in that room!
The live performances portion of the evening was seamlessly woven around a short and sweet video of mentors working with mentees, show director Clare Sera (Smallfoot) throwing attention to the professional writers for feedback, founding director Karen Taylor sharing more about the population that WriteGirl! serves, Lauren chatting with current WriteGirl! participant Grace about writing, musical theatre, and being an ambivert, and alum Jeanine Daniels telling her no-holds-barred story about falling in love with writing through the WriteGirl! program. (Spoiler alert: she is now signed with ICM and has been staffed on her first show!)
After the performances I spoke with participant Rachel, a high school senior, who shared, “I meet so many amazing women that inspire me to write through WriteGirl.” Rachel wrote a very amusing piece about a college admissions scandal, which was selected to be performed. When I asked her what she wanted to do after she goes to college (WriteGirl has a 100% success rate of sending their participants to college!), she said that she is, “definitely still trying to keep my options open and explore what I want to do, but writing has always been my passion and I want to do something even if it’s not my job.”
Sam, another teen participant, told me that her favorite part of the evening was “watching all of the scenes,” and that she was really excited to see “Wendi from The Goldbergs!”
17-year-old Galilea shared that through WriteGirl! she, “found that it’s important to express yourself and THAT’S the most interesting thing that you can give to the world.” And what was her favorite part about the evening? “Honestly, doing the group monologue, cuz I was a little nervous being in front of all of these celebrities and all of these people, but it was very satisfying being up there and telling people my views and ideas about WriteGirl. I’m very proud of myself that I did that.” She performed the group monologue, entitled “Because of WriteGirl” with three other participants. And which celebrity was she excited to see there tonight? “Seth Rogen. I really liked 40 Year-Old Virgin, he was really really funny!”
The Lights, Camera, WriteGirl! 2019 event may be over, but there are still so many ways to get involved!
Be sure to check out the WriteGirl! website, facebook page, and twitter feed for more information about their latest programs and ways to donate. There are also lovely bound books of the teens’ work that can be purchased on Amazon! It was an incredible event and I look forward to getting more involved with WriteGirl!