Not-So Quiet Riot: About Face Youth Theatre Takes On Riot Grrrls in World Premiere

About Face Youth Theatre presents Brave Like Them

Rome wasn’t built in a day nor was today’s feminism. It came in waves.: The first being the most significant when suffragettes risked their lives to obtain voting and property rights for women at the last turn of the century. During the 1960s-’80s, the second wave followed up on movements of the first, fighting for women’s reproductive rights (still in danger), among other issues, including the Equal Rights Amendment which, if passed, would guarantee equal pay for women.

Since the goals of the second wave have yet to be legally secured, it seemed premature for another wave. Yet from 1990 to 2008, a third wave emerged with an agenda to redefine feminism: focusing less on political change and more on individual expression. Rather than fulfilling the legal progress of the second wave, third wavers opted to appropriate the sexual openness, punk fashion and hardcore music already established by their predecessors during the 1960s-’80s.

Enter the third wave’s riot grrrl subsection, which gave way to Bikini Kill and Bratmobile—names not as well-known as Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem of previous waves. Perhaps that’s why About Face Youth Theatre (AFYT) is staging “Brave Like Them,” a 90-minute play about the riot grrrl trend. The world premiere is devised and performed by ensemble members aged 13-23 with the help of Education and Outreach Director Ali Hoefnagel who, in addition to co-directing the show with Education Coordinator Kieran Kredell, spoke to Rebellious. 

Janet Arvia: Why should audiences see Brave Like Them?

Ali Hoefnagel: In a country struggling to move through a political tempest, this play is wildly relevant. You would be surprised how similar things were in the ’90s, from a political standpoint, to today. With all the movements that are happening in response to the sanctioned genocide of black folx in this country at the hands of police, a fascist president, and the denial of climate change, to name a few, the creation and dissolution of movements are more relevant than ever, and centering the voices of POC and trans folx in these ongoing movements is key. This play examines that and what happens when interactions are ignored while white feminists are allowed to commandeer the mic. 

Despite its efforts to be all-inclusive, riot grrrl was criticized for speaking mostly to white middle-class females. How does the show address this?

We aim to celebrate the movement for all it did right, while really picking apart how it failed queer folx, folx of color and trans folx. The movement was a revolution, but a revolution that was mostly for white, middle-class, cisgender women and girls. Intersections, while briefly mentioned in the manifesto, were not fully embraced, and because of that, this movement was simply not for QTPOC [Queer and Trans People of Color]. We aim to show this, unapologetically, and learn from the mistakes of grassroots movement creators from this time period.

Brave Like Them by About Face Youth Theatre performs from July 29 through August 6, with previews on July 26-27 at Chicagos Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway. For details, visit aboutfacetheatre.com.

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Ms. Arvia is a freelance writer, former filmmaker, artist and Janet-of-all-trades who is pleased to contribute to our magazine since she’s always been Rebellious.