Ohio State grad Jocelyn Bioh plays ‘School Girls’ about bullying


For New York playwright and Ohio State University graduate Jocelyn Bioh, CATCOThe next production of realizes a dream of youth.

CATCO will present Bioh’s “schoolgirls; Or, African nasty girls play”, which begins previews on January 27 and opens on January 29 at the Riffe Center.

High school girls at an elite boarding school in Ghana grapple with body image, beauty and acceptance in a 1986 beauty pageant on the off-Broadway hit.

“It’s a smart, heartfelt comedy with substance,” said director Shanelle Marie.

“A lot of people can relate to this coming-of-age story, which highlights the challenges teenage girls face everywhere while broadening the conversation to how it looks depending on where you are in the world. the world,” Marie said.

Bioh, who graduated from OSU in 2005, was happy to learn that her play would receive its professional premiere in Columbus at CATCO.

“I was, ‘Wow!’ I would have loved to perform in a play like this with an all black female cast at OSU,” Bioh said from New York.

Jocelyn Bioh taps into her Ghanaian American heritage

Growing up in New York with Ghanaian American immigrant parents, Bioh attended boarding school in Pennsylvania, then studied in the theater and English departments at OSU. Gradually, the aspiring actress realized that if she wanted more roles, it was better for her to write them herself.

“I slid very organically into playwriting,” Bioh, 38, said.

“It was a bumpy road, because the theater program was more traditional at the time…Little work was produced by or for people of color, so I sometimes felt limited with the roles I could play. “, she said.

Drawing on her Ghanaian American heritage, Bioh wrote plays after graduating from OSU and returned to New York to enter Columbia University’s playwriting program, from which she graduated. degree in 2008.

Still, Bioh struggled for years to bring his work to the stage. “It didn’t seem to work,” she said.

During this time, she continued to gamble to support herself.

Jocelyn Bioh: Starting on Broadway

Bioh made her Broadway debut in 2014 in Tony’s winning play “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and appeared in several off-Broadway plays, receiving a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for featured actress in Signature Theater’s “Everybody.”

It wasn’t until 2017, however, that she made her debut as an off-Broadway playwright with the extended and acclaimed premiere of “School Girls.”

Now popular nationally, the comedy was nominated for a Dramatic Office Award for Outstanding Play and won the 2018 Lortel Award for Outstanding Play and Outer Critics Circle’s John Gasner Award for the new American playwright.

In his New York Times review, Jesse Green noted that while the comedy is built on borrowed models, “the wicked teen comedy genre emerges wonderfully refreshed and even deepened by its immersion in a world it never considered”.

Bioh expected to drop the “Mean Girls” subtitle reference when her script was accepted, but the producers convinced her to keep it.

“That subtitle still exists because I knew the movie, which I really loved, was so popular that it immediately contextualizes the play. Set in a high school with tropes we know, like ‘Mean Girls,’ makes it more universal… There’s really no way to explore the high school experience without exploring bullying,” she said.

Kerri Garret

Kerri Garrett plays senior Paulina Sarpong, the queen bee of the school’s 16-18 clique.

“Feisty and manipulative, she’s at the head of the class and adjacent to ‘Mean Girls’ Regina as the most popular,” Garrett said.

Paulina is threatened by the arrival of Ericka Boafo, a light-skinned American student.

“Paulina juggles issues prevalent in the black community…especially colorism, an issue across cultures that puts light-skinned people on a higher pedestal than internalized Eurocentric beauty standards,” Garrett said.

Wilma Hatton plays Francis, the principal of the Aburi girls’ boarding school.

“Her main objective is to instill in these young women respect for themselves, their elders and each other and above all, to obtain their education. Years ago, Francis was a student at school, wanting to be accepted, so she sees herself in these young women — and sees the vulnerability in beautiful Paulina, who happens to be dark-skinned,” Hatton said.

Wilma Hatton

The headmistress comes into conflict with Eloise Amponsah (Anita Davis), a former student selected to be Miss Ghana 1966 who returns as a pageant recruiter with European attitudes on beauty.

“In the ’60s, they had a rivalry that recreates itself,” Hatton said.

“Francis thinks any of his girls would win, but Eloise has a fixation on fair-skinned Ericka as the best girl,” Hatton said.

Left to right, Wilma Hatton, Lisa Glover and Kerri Garrett in “School Girls;  Or, African mean girls play.

The 90-minute one-act action, suggested for ages 12 and up despite brief profanity, was inspired by a true story: underdog Erica Nego sparked controversy in 2011 as the fairer-skinned Miss Ghana. clear in the Miss Universe pageant.

“The model, who had a Ghanaian father and a white American mother, was bought in Minnesota…It became an outrage because they thought the colorism was in play,” Bioh said.

“As a dark-skinned young woman, relying for years on my own self-esteem and whether I was beautiful, I always knew I wanted to explore this question in a play. beauty contest paved the way for me,” she said.

Now resident Lincoln Center a playwright and former TV screenwriter for the Emmy-nominated “Russian Doll” series, Bioh has written other plays (including “Nollywood Dreams,” recently staged off Broadway) and musicals (“Goddess,” opening in March at Berkeley Rep.)

Virtually all of Bioh’s plays are set in Ghana or other parts of Africa and tend to be comedies.

“I am Ghanaian, in tune with a lot of Ghanaian culture. … Even writing something darker and more dramatic, I found it came out as a comedy. … ‘School Girls’ is really funny because it’s rooted in truth. Comedy is just a fun way to be serious,” Bioh said.

Today, Bioh considers “School Girls” even more timely.

“These coming-of-age stories will always resonate because that’s where you choose your life’s path. … But it’s all now about the public face and who presents the best version of them- themselves, because of the way cellphones and social media flood us with images of what society says is beautiful,” she said. “I think that’s a bigger issue now than when I was a student.”



In one look

CATCO will present “School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play” at 7:30 p.m. on January 27, February 3 and February 10; 8 p.m. Jan 28-29, Feb 4-5 and 11-12 Feb. ; and 2 p.m. Jan. 30, Feb. 6, and Feb. 13 at Riffe Center’s Studio Two Theater, 77 S. High St. Masks and proof of vaccination or negative COVID PCR test required within 72 hours of attending a production for guests 12 and older. Tickets are $45. (614-469-0939, www.cbusarts.com)


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