Sexting, viral nudity and feminism

by Lenise Willis

Strong and courageous ladies throughout history have paved the way for women’s rights, spreading a message for women to claim empowerment. And that was without the extensive arm of the Internet. But is the digital age now unraveling that liberation and hindering the movement?

After a small hiatus, Paper Lantern Theatre Company is back on stage and ready to ruffle a few feathers. The theater, known for producing both lesser-known and thought-provoking works, is back on stage for its ninth season and is starting with the femalecentric production, Girls Like That, in which a group of young women are visited by feminist icons from the past as they attempt to navigate the tempting and confusing digital word.

“It tells an important story in a bold, theatrical style,” says co-founder Amy da Luz. “It’s different. I’ve never read anything like it before.”

The play explores issues of “sexting,” sexuality, feminism and friendship, “in an honest and truthful way.” Director Kianna Scanlon added, “It never seems forced. I think what makes the text so striking is that we have all heard these lines being said in our lives, and so we instantly connect to these girls. The play presents an interesting contrast on feminists throughout history, and girls in our modern society. When we see women in the past fighting for rights, equality and freedom””compared with these young girls tearing each other apart, obsessed with their appearance and publishing their emotions on social media””it’s quite alarming.”

“I think this play addresses incredibly relevant issues facing today’s youth in an honest and authentic way,” added actress Alexa Erb. “Girls Like That does what art is supposed to do: challenge us to reexamine.”

“This play is so incredibly relevant for all of us: teenage girls, growing feminists, parents, sisters, friends,” Erb continued. “Each of us can find ourselves within the story.”

The cast and staff say they hope the audience will not only talk about the big issues facing women today, but will come away from the production with the motivation to be kind toward one another. “We need to support and celebrate each other, instead of gaining power and status by tearing each other down,” said Scanlon.

“I feel this play is extremely relevant, what with the development of social media and a growing disregard for privacy, ” said Sophie Wisenbaker, actress. “People think they can hide behind a screen-name and share things that weren’t meant to be shared. The sad thing is, this happens all the time.”

Beyond the message of the play, the production also gives 15 young, local female actors an incredible opportunity to spread their wings and participate in a piece of relevant, contemporary work””an empowerment in itself.

The actresses themselves have learned a great deal from the production and have even developed advice of their own for their peers.

“I would tell young women to remember their self worth,” said actress Tracy Wegner. “It’s so easy to place your identity in what other people say about you, but how you see yourself is the most important thing. Love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin and the rest will follow.”

Each performance will be followed by a talkback with the cast, creative team and a guest moderator so that the audience can delve into the important topics brought to light.

“This is an essential addition,” said Scanlon. “This piece is so powerful and thought provoking that we felt the conversation needed to start immediately. And with experienced moderators guiding these talkbacks, we hope to offer some professional insight into the ‘sexting’ phenomenon that children are being forced to deal with today.”

The rest of Paper Lantern Theatre’s season includes the Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival in February, an all-female arts festival for performing and visual artists. Wrapping up its ninth season in August will be Born Bad, a play that da Luz says she’s been waiting to do for three years.

“(Our season) is very female centered, which was intentional,” da Luz said. “(We’re) getting some girl power out there.” !


Paper Lantern Theatre Company’s Girls Like That runs November 20-22 at the Mountcastle Forum at Milton Rhodes Center for the Arts, 251 N. Spruce St., Winston-Salem. Tickets are a suggested minimum donation of $15 as the production is a fundraising event. For tickets and more information visit