During this year's Spring Break camp, generously funded by the Chicago Foundation for Women's 100 Day Fund, we are talking about advocacy. How do we speak up for issues we believe in when we think no one will listen? 

Today, the Viola Girls wrote letters to Congresswoman Schakowsky about issues that are important to them, as young people in Chicago. 

Here are a few. What are issues that YOU are passionate about today? Let us know!

Reflecting on President's Day 2017

Growing up, I never really thought much of President's Day. It meant a 3-day weekend and lots of commercials on TV about special sales (particularly on cars). I also knew it had to do with Washington and Lincoln's birthdays, which were listed on every February calendar. That was really all I thought about when it came to this holiday. 

Fast forward to 2015, when The Viola Project decided to run what would be our first annual day-long workshop focusing on women in leadership - "Every Inch a Queen." Due to its success, we run this program again for the following 2 years -- and plan to continue so in the years to come. 

We've known for a while that this year's workshop was going to be different, though. When we first discovered learned the workshop would be tuition free, thanks to funding from the American Association of University Women, we were expecting to celebrate the first woman president. After two years of looking at statistics showing the remarkably skewed proportions of women vs men in political positions, we were so excited to talk about this advancement of women in leadership in our country. As we all know, this is not how the election turned out. 

Registration went live on our website two days before the inauguration and two weeks later, we had completely reached capacity for the class. As our amazing teachers Jessica and Carlyle planned for this year's workshop, there were many discussions on how to frame the conversation. We wanted the focus of the program to be what it always was -- exploring why more women aren't in leadership positions and what we can do to change that. 

Last week, on the morning of Monday, February 20th, we welcomed 16 girls ages 10-15 to City Lit Theatre. 8 of the girls were returning students and 8 were new. By 9:03am, everyone had arrived for the 9am workshop. If you've ever run a workshop of any sort, you know what a feat that is in and of itself!

They talked about influential women. They discussed what makes a good leader. They created a Girls' Bill of Rights. They laughed and goofed off and performed some of Shakespeare's most famous leaders from Cleopatra to Macbeth to King Lear. 

There was no name calling. There was no bashing of individuals. There was positivity and there was hope. These girls talked objectively about what was happening around them and what they could do to change the future.

Did we leave on Monday having solved the issue of women's lack of representation in politics? Of course not. But we did leave knowing that the future generations are in very good hands. 

- Rebecca
   Program Director

Meet Jasmine Henri Jordan, our new Community Outreach Liaison!

We are thrilled to announce the addition of Jasmine Henri Jordan to The Viola Project administrative team! Jasmine is our Community Outreach Liaison and she can't wait to help us strengthen our local community partnerships. This position is funded by a grant from the Latin School of Chicago's Young Philanthropists Fund.

Meet Jasmine:
Jasmine Henri Jordan loves the work that Viola Project does and is so happy to be a part of it. One of her other hats is as Audience Development Manager for Victory Gardens Theater. Jasmine is also a teaching artist for Northlight Theater and has taught for Mudlark Theater Company and American Theater Company. Jasmine makes a lot of weird art and performs with a collective called Hot Kitchen. She is a proud Florida State University alumna. 

1. Where are you from?
    Melbourne, Florida

2. How long have you been in Chicago?
Two years

3. What is one of your favorite places in Chicago?
This is so hard. The Museum of Contemporary Art on a Tuesday night is pretty rad!

4. When did you first encounter Shakespeare?
Middle school with a paperback copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

5. Do you have a favorite Shakespeare play or character?
    King Lear!

6. What inspires you about The Viola Project?
The students never cease to amaze me with their curiosity, courage, and tolerance.

7 . What's your favorite ice cream flavor? 
Green Tea!

Welcome, Jasmine!

Introducing our revamped core values!

At The Viola Project, we believe in three core values:
Play, Empathy, and Strength.

Play is the ability to take risks, commit to actions, and follow through without fear of being “wrong.”
- Viola Girls commit with full body and voice while performing Shakespeare's texts. 
- Viola Girls take risks when speaking up and learn that their opinion is always valuable no matter what others might think.
- Viola Girls know that it's okay to be silly, serious, loud, and opinionated and no one can tell them how they are "supposed to" behave just because they're girls. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and be aware of others’ feelings and experiences in order to form connections.
- Viola Girls know that our classroom is not just a "Safe Space," but it's also a "Brave Space." We don't shy away from difficult conversations. We challenge our girls to view issues from multiple perspectives. 
- Viola Girls support the learning and experience of other girls by recognizing both their differences and similarities.
- Viola Girls reach beyond their personal scope of the world to build bridges between herself and others, whether it be Juliet, a fellow student, or a world leader.

Strength is the ability to express what you feel, believe, and know in order to take ownership over both personal growth and that of the overall community.
- Viola Girls ask questions and challenge themselves to go beyond expectations
- Viola Girls advocate for their own needs and opinions and fight for inclusion in their personal lives as well as the entire world.
- Viola Girls know that they can Just Be. There is no question.

Most of all, we believe that Viola Girls are the future and Viola Girls can change the world. 

In honor of our girls who cannot vote...

 A few girls that will not be voting on November 8

A few girls that will not be voting on November 8

In the last 24 hours, my social media feed has exploded with information on where to vote, how to vote, my voting rights and how important it is to vote.

It is important to vote.  No amount of cynicism can change this for me.  Every election I have ever partaken in has been billed as "the most important", "the most critical", "the most serious".  But this election feels starkly different from those I've witnessed in the past, namely in regards to gender bias.

The girls that The Viola Project works with do not have the benefit of the vote.  They cannot take part in the democratic process, though they will live with the outcomes of this election for years to come.  And however one tries to shield young people from hateful rhetoric, I assure you, they are more aware of what the nominees think of them than you would suspect.

It is because our young women cannot take part in this election that I ask you to directly invest in organizations that serve them.  The Viola Project provides a space and a platform for middle school girls to boldly combat and defy gender bias.  The Viola Project validates and celebrates the experiences of young women.  By making a gift to The Viola Project, you are cultivating a movement of respect and equality for girls and women, whether or not they can cast a vote.

I can't tell you who to vote for.  That is up to you.  But I can ask you to give our young women an example to follow by who you vote for and to give them an affirming space to be in after school by making a gift.

Fund an equal future. 

And please do vote.

Skyler Schrempp

Change the Conversation!

While exploring the roles/expectations of women in comedy through the years, the Viola Girls of Sigh No More, Ladies decided that they wanted to change the conversation.

Here are some of their thoughts! It goes beautifully with the Girls' Bill of Rights that were written by the ladies of Every Inch a Queen this past February during our President's Day workshop!


"What's the new news at the new court?"

It's time to revitalize Viola's blog!

What types of subjects or themes would you like to see written about here? 
Viola Girls / parents - want to be a guest blogger? Let us know!

Be on the lookout... Viola's new and updated blog is on the way!

The Viola Project


A Message from Artistic Director Skyler Schrempp

I teach drama in an elementary school to boys and girls.  Last year I taught 4, 5, and 6 grade. This year I am teaching 4, 6, and 7 graders.  My 4th grade girls are funny, they’re loud, they speak up, they get mad when someone hurts them.  A few weeks ago, one of my students did something that I really hope she will do for the rest of her life:  she had raised her hand, been called on, and was contributing to class.  As she was talking, another student started a side conversation with someone else.  And the student stopped what she was saying, turned around, made eye contact with the offending student, and in a firm clear voice said, “Can you please stop talking while I’m talking?”  It was very simple.  A classmate was infringing on her ability to be heard and she stopped it.

My girls in 6th and 7th grade however, do not speak.  They are incredibly polite, they are kind, most of them work really really hard, but as far as their voices go, they're silent.   My 6th and 7th graders wait to be noticed rather than draw attention to themselves. While my 4th grade girls are comfortable laughing loudly, my 6th and 7th grade girls either do not let sound pass over their vocal chords when they laugh or the laugh starts and they physically stop it from coming all the way out with their hands.  Did I mention they were less likely to get involved in class discussions  or advocate for what they need?  They are. I want you to take just 5 seconds and really think about what the implications of this are.  What the short term implications of this are, and what the long terms implications of this are.  We cannot stand here and be upset that women make up only 20% of congress and the senate if we are not willing to address this problem of what happens during adolescence that causes girls to loose their voices.

We are a girls’ empowerment program. One of the pillars of our program is to pair classical texts with  21st century skills that we believe help girls lead their lives with more agency and confidence.  We will always be partnering with organizations to teach our students self defense, financial literacy, a better understand our legal system, etc.  But if you can’t put your finger on why acting, why performance, why Shakespeare, I’m going to tell you right now.

Shakespeare’s characters use language to get what they want.

Viola (our namesake) does not sit meekly in the background hoping that the audience will cheer her on by observing the darting of her eyes, her smile, or what she might be wearing. Instead, Shakespeare’s characters lay their needs, their desires, their dreams, their prejudices out with specificity, determination, and promise of action. Shakespeare's characters are determined to get what they want, to be understood, to be listened to. They advocate for themselves, whether it's for a kingdom or a kiss. There is no better teacher for how to use language to make your voice heard than William Shakespeare.

If you know a girl whose head is filled with ideas but may lack the courage to speak out with conviction in front of her peers, send her to The Viola Project. Allow her to be Cleopatra, or Lady Percy, or Juliet, or Hamlet for a day. There is no better teacher for how to use language to make your voice heard than William Shakespeare.

-- Skyler Schrempp
    Artistic Director


Dear Viola Project Friends and Family,

With the holiday season upon us, we can't help but be thankful for the wonderful family we have. It is because of you that we celebrated our 10th anniversary this year of empowering young women through the works of William Shakespeare. 

Today is #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back and celebrating generosity. 
Please consider celebrating #GivingTuesday this year with a contribution to The Viola Project. We need you to help us reach another 10 years and beyond of empowering girls to find their voices. 

Your donation will embolden the next generation of Beatrices, Hermias, Kates, Rosalinds, and Violas. Your contribution will directly help in the creation of on-going scholarships, provide support for our teachers and guest artists, teen leadership and college apprenticeship programs, long-term strategic planning, and more. We welcome you to designate your gift to an area you most wish to support. 

What does The Viola Project mean to you? We'd love to hear your thoughts and stories to add to our developing testimonials page on our website.
Email if you'd like to share your perspective.  

We are so grateful for The Viola Project family. Thank you for all your support and for allowing us to play a role in your daughters' lives and the lives of other Chicagoland girls.

The Viola Project