Isabella, a 2019 National Gold Award Girl Scout, tells us about writing and directing a play to shine a light on violence against Native American women.
I go to a performing arts high school and just love theater. When you get a bunch of people on stage to tell a story and the audience is there to absorb it all, you’re creating this incredible connection and sharing ideas in a way that will truly stay with people. Witnessing events unfolding right in front of you—experiencing them, rather than reading them in a book or hearing about them some other way—gets to a deeper part of your soul and makes you really think about the issues at hand.
One problem I noticed in theater, though, is that there still isn’t enough diversity in terms of whose stories are being told and who’s telling them. Telling the same few stories over and over isn’t just less interesting but also detrimental to society, because it leaves out so many other perspectives and experiences that need representation.
There was one issue in particular that I knew needed to be brought to the stage—one that affects people in my own culture. More than eight in ten Native American women have experienced physical, sexual, or psychological violence in their lives, and the rate of missing and murdered women on some reservations is ten times higher than that of the rest of our country’s population. Nobody’s talking about this, though, and it’s devastating.
I wanted to transform traditional stories from the Cahuilla tribe—especially those that touch on missing and murdered indigenous girls—into a play that could bring hope and healing to the community. But I didn’t know how I’d go about taking on such a big project.
That’s when I heard about the Girl Scout Gold Award and learned that Girl Scouts has a whole framework to help girls like me take on ambitious goals with focused support. I hadn’t been a Girl Scout since I was little, but when I realized Girl Scouts could help make my dream come true, I signed right back up.
I’d never written a whole play before, let alone directed a cast of 30 people (many who’d never acted before)! It was a huge project, but my mentors kept pushing me in the right direction, urging me to ask the right questions and pause to think when I needed more inspiration. I learned so much about connecting not just with audiences but also with my own cast and with the community while networking to figure out when and how the play would be produced.
It turned out, people were hungry for these stories, and I got a lot more support than I expected. So far, the play, Menil and Her Heart, has been performed in front of about 300 people, and we have more performances planned.
For me, being on stage isn’t about the attention or the glamour, it’s about activism and giving strength to my community. I feel the same way about being a Gold Award Girl Scout. Yes, it’s obviously exciting to have so much attention put on my work, but what I hope for most is that the message gets out there and that more stories from the Native American culture are given the spotlight they’ve so long deserved.