Glitter, Hairspray & Nature Valley Bars: My Show Choir Experience

This article was originally published on She In The Cle in June of 2018.

I’ve been thinking a lot about high school lately. I know that’s not something that many twenty-somethings want to admit, but here I am, putting it in writing. As my sister and I (Too Pink Pictures) are in the midst of preparing for production of our first ever full-length documentary, it feels like someone burned a bundle of glitter-and-hairspray-infused sage inside my brain. We’re creating a documentary about show choir— yes, show choir— the all-consuming, ultracompetitive extracurricular that plays such an iconic role in Ohio’s cultural landscape.

Though I ultimately was in one for two years, I was not a particularly obvious prospect for show choir: the level of unabashed earnestness needed to pull it off expertly wasn’t exactly in my wheelhouse as a greasy, pop-punk loving fifteen-year-old. Plus, it was a known fact that show choir was a cult, and I was already in several other cult-like cliques (art kids, music kids, drama kids, etc). I didn’t anticipate ever wanting to be in show choir…until the end of my freshman year of high school.

It was a fateful day in 2010 when a sudden held-breath hush fell over the previously rowdy crowd at Solon High School’s spring choir concert as a man’s voice came on over the PA, one that rang of showbiz. I sat in the audience, surely wearing something from Deliah*s, fully unaware of what I was about to witness.

“For over twenty-five years, Solon High School’s Music In Motion show choir has been entertaining audiences with their high-energy shows,” the voice recited. The lights whispers of other kids in the audience buzzed around me. As the voice continued to list all the facts and figures of the show choir, the excitement in the air grew more and more palpable.

“Sit back, relax, and enjoy the eight-part harmonies of Solon High School’s very own MUSIC IN MOTION!” I felt secondhand nervous for whoever was standing behind the curtain…until I saw them.

They were so beautiful. Standing in inhumanly perfect third positions, the female upperclassmen of MIM were real life Disney Princesses, standing onstage before our very eyes. Their knee-length baby doll dresses, composed entirely of royal blue sequins, sparkled like a fantastical ocean beneath stage lights surely hung and focused by cute, wise-beyond their years, male crewmembers.

The girls of MIM began to sing and I was absolutely blown away, practically transported into a parallel universe, or Broadway, or some glamorous place far, far away from Solon, Ohio. They were a gaggle of sirens, crooning out to an audience of potential show choir members, tempting them to submerge themselves into the alluring waters of the competitive choral world. I was but an unsuspecting sailor, being sucked into the wake of glitter and the promise of positive female role models who would maybe even tell me I was good at something.

As MIM’s first song melted into their second, I couldn’t pry my gaze away from the senior girls singing and dancing flawlessly, untouchably, in the front row. They all drove cars. They all made out with boys in nice refurbished basements— and not just on dares. They all got to walk around the halls of SHS with those MIM zip-ups. And they all had endless occasions that required wearing false eyelashes. I wanted to be one of them so badly.

I would, in fact, eventually become one of those girls— sort of— but the road to get there would grow to be one of the most defining sagas of my high school experience, if not my life. It took sweat, tears, and hours of practice just to be good enough to get in… and that’s when the real fun began.

Hundreds of hours of practice, gallons of sweat, (not too many tears), hair extensions, dozens of pounds of lost weight, dyed blonde hair. A diet composed purely of 2% cottage cheese, Nature Valley Honey and Oat Bars, Fruit Nuggets & Chipotle. As someone who had to audition for the group multiple times, I was constantly comparing myself to all the other girls around me. Was I the skinniest? Was I the most well-rounded? Was I doing well enough? Was I obviously the worst dancer? Being in show choir drove me to shoot for perfection, and for about eight months of my senior year of high school, it enabled me to feel like I actually had obtained that. I weighed 128 pounds and had a solo. That, simply enough, was really all it took.

That was my experience, but being in a competitive show choir is an intensely personal experience that varies widely from person to person. It’s more than just a borderline-embarrassing hobby, it’s more than just a high school resumé builder. Like most things that happen during high school, it’s a formative experience.

That is why my sister and I are making this documentary. Even while we both had somewhat fraught relationships with show choir, this sensational, emotionally supercharged world brought so much joy and confidence to our high school lives and continues to do so for kids today. If you’re a musician, an educator, a coming-of-age-movie fan, or just a hopeful teen at heart (aren’t we all?), this film is for you.

Hayley Williams: The Complicated Queen We Still Need

Like any good emo tween, I had an all-consuming obsession with Hayley Williams throughout my entire middle and high school experience. Hearing “Misery Business” on the bus one clammy afternoon after a grueling day of eighth grade was a revelation: what was this visceral, supersonic girl-power I was experiencing? After googling “wooooah, I never meant to brag” upon getting home, Paramore was officially my new favorite band.

When my best friend and I ran into Hayley in the concessions line during Paramore’s 2009 stadium tour with No Doubt, I soaked in every detail of her being— her perfect eyeliner, her 5’3” stature…she was a goddess, as far as I was concerned. I spewed at her about how she was my inspiration for being in a band with my gal pal, that I played guitar and sang, and my BFF played bass. She was courteous and took a photo with us before high-tailing it backstage. I left the venue shaking. It was quite literally the highlight of my life up until that point.

This isn’t a unique story: in fact, I would guess that there are hundreds of girls all around the world that feel and have felt the same way about Hayley Williams as I do: that she’s always been a rose-gold forged statue of courageousness and optimism, in spite of having been in the public eye for over ten years. But Hayley doesn’t want that to deal with our expectations anymore, and it’s resulted in some totally rad music.

While listening to Paramore’s highly-anticipated After Laughter, a tonally chipper, but lyrically morose odyssey through Hayley’s psyche, it is beyond apparent that her years in the spotlight – and the type of interaction I had with her at the No Doubt concert—have taken their toll. Alex Frank, in an in-depth interview for The Fader, documents Hayley’s struggle to discuss the content of After Laughter. In the interview, Hayley boldly asks Alex what she owes people and explains how irritated she becomes when she’s asked to spill legitimate tea about the drama behind the band’s music. Alex described Hayley almost like one would the most popular girl in school— sunny, enticing, but with an intent that’s hard to decipher.

As a longtime Hayley stan, this was obviously jarring to read, but I couldn’t blame her for standing her ground. It’s intense to imagine how much pressure she’s been under, not only as an individual living in the world, but as a symbol for the female presence in punk-pop and alternative music— a scene that definitely bears its own problems when it comes to the inclusion of women. She’s been characterized as the embodiment of musical lightning, an unstoppable voice and persona in the scene since the mid-2000s. How could she possibly be all of these things all the time?

Well, she’s not, and she’s not pretending like she is anymore. It’s clear on After Laughter’s “Idle Worship” that she’s fed up with having to deal with pressure from fans, with scorching lyrics about how she can’t be everyone’s hero anymore:

“Standing there like I’m supposed to say something, don’t hold your breath, I never said I’d save you honey, and I don’t want your money…Just be sure to put your faith in something more, I’m just a girl and you’re not as alone as you feel.”

A little bit stinging for the diehards? Maybe, but we’d never admit it. Because that’s the thing: for all us young women who have idolized Hayley from middle school onward, it’s extremely meaningful to see her evolve over time, both as an artist and a person, even if that means leveling with the fans in an extremely direct way. She’s taking what’s hers, and she’s had lots of life challenges to warrant that sort of directness— from lineup drama to her divorce from New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert announced this summer. I doubt she ever thought she’d have to write and perform another song in the vein of Paramore’s "Last Hope," a song about forcing oneself to go on in spite of feeling horrendous about life, but here we are, blessed with the beautiful and heartbreaking "26" four years later.

The honesty and clarity with which she talks about the harder parts of life is necessary work, especially for someone who’s built her legendary status around seeming unbreakable. Even heroes falter, and seeing our queen take a few Ls makes us all feel less alone. She’s taking the space to be true to herself— in interviews, in her lyrics, and in her performances, as messy as that can be. As much as positivity and invincibility are impressive traits to aspire to, that’s not real life, and that’s not Hayley Williams. She’s not apologetic for being self-preserving in her Fader interview. She doesn’t feel that she owes anything to anyone. And truly, that’s even more inspiring than her supercharged persona of the orange-haired era.



10 Times RuGirls Gave Us Life on Insta

If you haven't gotten into the RuPaul's Drag Race gig yet, girl, I have no idea where you've been. Since 2009, RuPaul's iconic reality competition series has been informing The Culture in seemingly endless ways. From the proliferation of "yas, queen" and "spilling the tea" to the popularity of contouring-- perhaps with a slight assist from the Kardashians-- it's evident that Drag Race and its hundred-plus superstars are making huge waves. Still not sold? Check out these queens' INSANE Insta-artistry and tell me you're not shook. 

1. Valentina - Season 9

While Valentina may have been a controversial figure on Drag Race's most recent season, it's undeniable that she's an absolute princess. Her snakeskin outfit an homage to her hot-and-cold reputation with Drag Race fans, she looks amazing in this look. 

2. Farrah Moan - Season 9

One of my all-time favorites, Farrah Moan is known for her incredible level of sensitivity and her jaw-dropping highlight skills. Here she is giving us full Gigi Gorgeous in the boudoir. 

Look at our glamorous dressing room 😍💁🏼🌟✨#waronthecatwalk @mppresent

A post shared by Farrah Moan 🍸 (@farrahrized) on

3. Adore Delano- Season 6 & All-Stars 2 (For, like, a sec)

A fan favorite of the show, Adore just dropped a brand-new Seattle-inspired grunge album and has slowly been revealing a significant weight loss. This Adore look is a CLASSIC and honestly, #goals. Who knew Converse could still look legitimately edgy?

With eyes as red as blood.

A post shared by Adore Delano (@adoredelano) on

4. Roxxxy Andrews- Season 5 & All-Stars 2

Traditionally known for her meticulously-conceived showgirl outfits, this picture of Miss Thick 'n' Juicy herself is one of just a simple, beautiful woman with excellent tattoos making her way to the beauty salon. You go, girl.

Caught by the paparazzi haha

A post shared by Roxxxy Andrews (@roxxxyandrews) on

5. Violet Chachki- Season 7 Winner

Violet, the winner of season 7, is a known burlesque and aerial silks performer, touring with the likes of Dita Von Teese. Aside from this, she's an extremely talented makeup artist, unafraid to stray away from mainstream drag looks and into more vintage-inspired ones (like the one pictured here)! She's flawless, and everyone knows it. 

7. Shea Coulée- Season 9

Previously pegged as the winner of Season 9, Shea won endless challenges and truly did give us life all season long, particularly with her performance as Black Chyna in Kardashian: The Musical. Sasha Velour may have ultimately emerged the victor, but whatever-- you're right, Shea, glitter does really fix everything. 

✨Glitter fixes everything.✨

A post shared by Shea Couleé (@sheacoulee) on

8. Kim Chi- Season 8

Kim Chi is arguably the most artistically-gifted contestant in all of Drag Race herstory with looks ranging from the anime-inspired to the handmade-out-of-paper. While often made fun of for her runway walk, Kim Chi's level of artistry is truly astonishing. This is just one of her MANY stunning looks. 

9. Manilla Luzon- Season 3 & All-Stars 1

Manilla Luzon, known for her feisty lip-synching style and long-standing excellent taste, looked like a vision in rainbow at San Diego Pride this year. 

Happy San Diego Pride 🌈#expresslove @americanexpress

A post shared by Manila Luzon (@manilaluzon) on

10. Alaska 5000- Season 5 & Winner of All-Stars 2

Beginning and ending this list with a controversial fave, Alaska, while a longtime fan favorite, received some criticism after some seemingly petty behavior near the end of her glorious time on All-Stars 2. In spite of being beraged with snake emojis, Alaska has finessed her way back into fan favor-- and never stopped looking amazing. This classic Alaska look references her snake-y history while still delivering true Alaska-ness. 

"An Interview with Francine Volpe"

This article was originally written for Queen Bitch Magazine in May 2015. 


Francine Volpe, a New York City-based playwright, screenwriter, dramaturge and professor is currently a member of New Dramatists (and also one of my favorite people in the entire world). After graduating from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Dramatic Writing, Volpe furthered her studies at The Juilliard School with professors Marsha Norman and Christopher Durang. I was lucky enough to be placed under Francine’s tutelage during my freshman year at NYU, and needless to say to those who know her, Francine’s presence (as both an artist and a friend) in the lives of her students and peers is truly irreplaceable.

To those who are unfamiliar with you as a writer and an artist, how would you describe yourself and your work?

My plays take place at the intersection of class tensions and sexual tensions.

Tell us a little bit about your background as a person.

I grew up in Queens, where Queens borders Brooklyn, which is the home of the badass. I’d answered this in another interview once before this way: Joe Ramone, and of course his brother, John McEnroe, Salt n Pepa, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, John Frusciante, Paul Simon, anyone you know who’s a badass…grew up in Queens. Johnny Thunders! Yeah.

When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer, both in a general and dramatic context?

Well, I think that I’m a person who is very sensitive, and I think that the only requirement for being an artist is that you express the way you feel. And the more exquisite your expression, the better you are. I started off writing poetry [at age 17]. I went to a Catholic prep school and everybody prepared to go to choice schools except for me, because, like most things in life, I sort of thought that if I didn’t think about it, it would just go away. So I didn’t really apply to any colleges or take the SATs.

So for my first semester I went to a local college just to get my act together, and I took a bunch of poetry-writing classes and I excelled and I thought that I was gonna become a poet when I got to NYU, and then I heard a rumor (which proved to be untrue), that if you go to Tisch there’s more scholarship money, and also I wouldn’t have to make up as many credits.

As it turned out I received a nearly full scholarship to NYU, at Tisch. I learned later how incredibly rare that is, but I thought it was because I had made this savvy move! So I only went into the dramatic writing program with the assumption that I would take enough poetry classes in the College of Arts and Sciences and go to graduate school for poetry. Once I was at Tisch, I struggled quite a bit with the dramatic form, and it became a challenge for me to master it. Or to try and master it. I was encouraged very strongly, particularly by Martin Epstein and Paul Selig at NYU.

What’s the thing you’re most proud of professionally thus far?

The thing I’m most proud of, and this is gonna sound so Pollyanna-ish…I was the Director of New Play Development at Studio Dante, which is a theater that was directed by the actor Michael Imperioli and his wife Victoria, they were the co-artistic directors…First of all, I was the head dramaturg there, so I played an important enough role in selecting the material and then helping the writer shape their material, then producing the material— finding the right creative team to support each project. And that theater, that little theater launched the careers of a lot of writers, Ron Fitzgerald, for example, Mike Batistick. We produced the last play that was written by John Belluso, who died shortly after. What I helped to accomplish for other writers is the thing I’m most proud of.

What can you tell us about teaching dramatic writing at a collegiate level?

Most artists believe that writing can’t be taught, that dramatic writing can’t be taught. I have empirical evidence that suggests the very opposite. Dramatic writing can be taught. It’s a widely held belief that “structure” can be taught but not talent. Structure and talent are not binary nor are they separate. What can’t be taught is a particular depth of feeling. But one can be trained to be more aware - to sharpen one’s sensitivity. One can be trained to look for more surprising ways to express themselves. So the form can be taught, and one can be trained to both expose what it is they’re feeling and come up with surprising ways to express those feelings.

Throughout your career being a professional playwright, what do you think is fundamentally different about being a woman versus being a man? 

Women do not have the same rights to suck. It seems like the mediocre plays that men write get produced, but women are held at a different standard. And I chagrin to even talk about this, because I was most inspired by artists who weren’t necessarily playwrights. You know, Patty Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Nan Golden…Yoko Ono, these were the artists I looked up to and they seemed to not really acknowledge sexism and if there was an issue there. And I think it’s important because there’s a place for art that’s wholly political and reactionary, but I never wanted to be that kind of artist. I wanted to emulate the women who expressed themselves more viscerally - who evoked that which common language can’t possibly express.

So I chagrin to talk about the differences, and the biases against women in the industry. However, when I was first starting out I thought sexism was, you know, like aging. It was something that happened to other women, possibly, but would never happen to me. That has not been the case. Emily Glassberg Sands did a study that proves that sexism in the theater and sexism against female playwrights and those who define themselves as female [is real].

Is there a play or piece of theatre that inspired you to be a playwright?

4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. I mean there are lots of different plays that have inspired me. I love David Mamet’s The Old Neighborhood and The Cryptogram. Pinter. But when I read 4:48 Psychosis I realized that there was an emotional landscape that was…okay. Or maybe it wasn’t “okay”, but it was that somebody else had the courage to invite audiences into.

If there was one thing that you could tell a fifteen-year-younger version of yourself what would it be? 

I would tell myself to produce my own work. The strongest thing you have as an artist is your vision for your work. And it’s hard to achieve that when you’re collaborating with other artists and it’s even harder to achieve that through an interpreter. Especially visual work— write a screenplay, produce it, shoot it, do everything yourself— It makes it easier for others to understand what you’re doing when you can show it to them. Rather than discussing it or offering them something that’s two-dimensional.

What’s surprised you the most about being a professional playwright?

How much artists support one another. How much love I get from other playwrights.

What’s your favorite part about being a playwright? 

The people I get to spend my time with. That’s what differentiates my life. I get to spend time with Anne Washburn, I get to spend time with Daniel Goldfarb, I get to spend time with David Lindsay-Abaire, I get to spend time with Jessica Goldberg, I get to spend time with Lucas Hnanth, I get to spend time with Madeleine George. That’s what makes being a playwright worth it.

What wisdom would you like to share with young female artists in 2015?

Stay out of the mirror. Value your relationships with other artists. Make your own work. 


This was an article originally written for the blog hosted by the Cleveland-based fashion label, KalliRaes, published on March 24, 2015. 

I’ve always been a huge sucker for the girly things in life. I was one of those girls in high school that had a princess lunch box for an almost uncomfortable span of time, pulling it off behind a thin guise of irony. I have a small diva shrine in my room here at NYU and a much larger one at home in Ohio featuring the likes of Dolly Parton, Julie Andrews and RuPaul Charles. And as a lover of all things ultra-feminine, I’ve always held a passion for movies featuring women, especially coming-of-age stories featuring young women (like everyone’s favorite, Mean Girls). It turns out that in 2015, it’s a hard interest to maintain.

I was appalled when they saw the trailer for The DUFF for the first time. When I heard the voice over of the oh-so-dreamy Robbie Arnell breaking down the acronym (“designated ugly fat friend”) I felt my stomach drop into my feet. What the hell? The demoralized face of heroine Bianca, played by (the obviously not ugly or fat) Mae Whitman, said it all as token Hot Guy Wesley (Arnell) informed her that she was the DUFF of her friend group. Seeing and hearing such a cruel, unnecessarily disturbing acronym getting so much airtime seemed incredibly offensive.

I tried to fight the urge, but before I knew it, I found myself at the Union Square Regal Cinemas paying $15 to watch the thing. To be honest, as the first new teen movie I’ve seen since graduating high school, The DUFF filled me with a vague sense of nostalgia (and relief to be in college) that I’d never experienced. The movie was extremely dumb with lots of awkward references to social media and a small role for Ken Jeong of The Hangover. The screenplay attempted to backpedal, claiming that one “doesn’t have to be ugly or fat” to be the DUFF, only to be significantly less attractive than their friends. How comforting. All in all, it was a silly movie with a forced message– and easily something that could have been on the Disney Channel if a couple curse words were revoked.

The advertising campaign for The DUFF was extensive and admittedly genius. As a movie that was created with the intent of reaching middle school and high school girls, social media was used heavily in the marketing of the movie. Highly popular YouTube beauty gurus in circles of teenage girls were cast in cameo roles. Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, all of the main platforms were full of sponsored posts for the movie, making it hard to ignore…and even harder to ignore if one is already an insecure fifteen year old girl. Suddenly, the insecurities irrevocably tied to puberty and very early adulthood are put behind a megaphone. “Oh my god, am I The DUFF of my friend group? Am I fat? Do my friends really like me?”

Another film recently released, for even younger female audiences, is Kenneth Brannagh’s re-imagination of Disney’s Cinderella. Obviously, Cinderella, and Disney films in general, come with their own very specific set of problematic elements in representing women. From unwarranted passivity in abuse and pervasive whiteness to dependence on handsome princes, Disney really includes it all, and Cinderella is no exception.

This rendering of Cinderella as a character is even more dreamy and passive than the animated version, something that’s seemingly impossible. In the climax of the animated version of the movie, Cinderella is fighting to get downstairs and try on the glass slipper (with the help of her mice friends, of course). In this new version, Cinderella literally cannot be bothered, spinning around her dreary attic and singing to herself as the narrator explains that Cinderella was willing to let her happy memories of the prince fade into the past, the same place where her memories of her parents have fled to. WTF? Not to mention, this movie sports an almost entirely white cast, except for one African-American male playing the right-hand-man to the prince.

The most questionable elements of the film (as something made for children) are the highly sexualized physiques of its main characters. Cleavage for DAYS. And on everyone, Cinderella, Stepmother, Fairy Godmother, random ball-goers and ugly stepsisters. The Prince (who is undeniably Ken-esque) sports an awkwardly tight set of knickers the entire movie. Most alarmingly, Cinderella’s INCREDIBLY narrow waistline, about half the width of her shoulders, is featured extravagantly in a beautiful, glittering ballgown. The film easily could have been silent, as the screenplay didn’t do much for the plot– making the visuals of the film crucial in storytelling.

If I’m a nineteen-year-old college student and I left this movie convinced to eat less, what would fourteen year-old me have felt on the walk back to the car? This is what concerns me. It’s been said a thousand times, but media has an unbelievable amount of power in the lives of its consumers, particularly children. Reflect on your own childhood and adolescence: did you dress up as a princess? Did you get a bad haircut hoping it’d look like Hayley Williams’ hair? Did you tie up your shirt a la Britney Spears, feeling her look? While I’m guilty of supporting The DUFF and Cinderella with my money, they’ve only bolstered the feeling that I personally am afraid that movies made specifically for young girls are still portraying us and our sisters as sex objects and dimwits.

But, like, duh, right? This is an obvious point. Of course we’re still being portrayed as sex objects and dimwits, and we’ve all read a thousand articles written by girls a lot like me expressing this same point: the media is unfair to women and the influence of movies in children’s lives is palpable. Why isn’t this changing? Why, with every sad little Buzzfeed link and Thought Catalog article posted on Facebook, are things not evolving?

There’s a lot of potential reasons. First of all, men still hold the vast majority of power in the movie business (and most businesses), which doesn’t exactly bode for realistic, fairly-representative media for young girls. It’s not that men are Satan and are trying to spur eating disorders, but artists make what they find appealing. A lot of guys think boobs are great, so there’s a lot of cleavage. Secondly, and similarly, sex sells, both to men and to women (Everyone knew 50 Shades wasn’t gonna be good, yet it still grossed over $85 million on opening).

Most of all, sexualized and one-dimensional representations of women are so embedded in our everyday culture that we fall silent and let them roll by, like irritating images on a Snapchat story or slides in a boring Powerpoint. The word “feminist” is stigmatized, seemingly having lost its meaning. Less and less people want to justify their beliefs to ignorant people.

This is what I hope changes. As a member of the age range most highly, yet inaccurately represented, we hold a lot more power than the movies make us feel that we do. As an older sister, cousin, and mentor to many younger girls, I feel a sense of responsibility to talk to the young women in my life about their realities and how movies and TV make them feel. What would my astute ten-year-old cousin Sophia have to say about the popular girls on the Disney Channel? Has anyone ever asked her?

As a young woman studying to become a voice in the media through screenwriting, TV writing and playwriting, I’m in a potentially potent position to have my voice heard through mass media. However, it’s just as important to have calm, clear and self-respecting female voices in the lives of each and every young woman through more than just a positive TV show. In an age where the images from the Internet are pumped into our brains from the moment we’re old enough to hold an iPad, it’s more crucial than ever to remind girls of what’s real and what’s not. Point out the shitty photoshop job in Beyonce’s Instagram post to your little sister. Tell your middle-school aged neighbor that you think she’s fierce, exactly how she is. Encourage the girl you tutor to write down her stories. She, and her thoughts, matter more than she realizes.