Sexual violence, prostitution, drug abuse and neglect are issues that often plague the lives of young girls in the foster care system. These experiences can bruise and sometimes break the psyches of these girls, leaving them fragile and vulnerable as young women.
As they age out — or turn 18 and leave their foster homes — they are often forced to cope with the harsh realities of adulthood and many are unable to deal with the transition into the real world.
“Suit My Heart” is a play that deals with the trauma many of these young women carry around, and its truths are close to home: Most of stories in this play are of former foster youths in Fort Myers. The play is the second in a Performance Constellation series, a co-production of Florida Gulf Coast University and Footsteps to the Future, a nonprofit group that helps women who have aged out of foster care. Twenty percent of the ticket sales to its performances, which begin Wednesday, will go to Footsteps to the Future.
Michelle Hayford, FGCU assistant professor of theater, directs the ensemble performance, which features dance, song and music as well as drama. She uses these elements to tell the tales of the battered souls who have endured life in the foster care system. Hayford, 32, calls this type of theater, ethnodrama, or reality theater.
“It’s civically engaged theater,” Hayford says. “Theater that is looking around at the local community and responding to what’s going on in our own back yard.” The dialogue from this play is authentic. Hayford uses interviews conducted by her cast of FGCU theater students, from mentors at Footsteps to the Future, and from mentored women who have recently aged out of the system.
According the the Florida Department of children and families, the state had more than 19,000 children in the foster care system, in 2009. Many of them came from families that neglected and abused them.
Hayford has woven some of the turmoil from her own childhood into the narrative.
“Suffice it to say there was drug addiction. There was violence,” Hayford says. Her personal experience, she continues, makes this a special play for her. Hayford says she can identify with many of the women she and her class has interviewed. So can one of the plays performers, Arkita Hunt. She says she was never in foster care but did experience turbulence in her home life as a child.
It led Hunt, now 19, to discover Footsteps, where she found a refuge from maelstrom she faced at home. Mentors in the program put her in contact with Hayford and since Hunt says she loves to act, she knew she wanted to be apart of this play. She is not playing her own autobiography, but that of another’s story.
The subject matter of the play resonates with Hunt, and she says it’s therapeutic go on stage and act out.
“I like how we let emotions really come out and let people know, this is what really happened to me,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Who: “Suit My Heart,” staged in the Florida Gulf Coast University Theatre Lab
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and again April 13-17; matinee performance 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: FGCU Theatre Lab at the Arts Complex
Price: Tickets are $7 and can be purchased at www.fgcu.edu/CAS/TheatreLabsite or at the door the night of the performance; 20 percent of ticket sales proceeds will be donated to Ticket information: (239) 590-7268
About Footsteps to the Future: (239) 275-5834