'Mean Girls' Gets a Dose of Diversity With Feminist Live Reads

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Lauren Bennett

Feminist Live Reads is a concept created by writer/director Chandler Levack. A group of local artists put on live readings of blockbuster movies in order to highlight the lack of representation in mainstream media. They tour around Canada, donating the proceeds from their ticket sales to charitable causes. Their most recent performance was a live reading of Mean Girls (2003) at Toronto’s Revue Cinema, from which they raised $3,000 for Trans Lifeline.

In the past, they have highlighted gender disparity in movies which notably fail to include significant roles for women, by having an all-female cast reading the scripts. The movies that they take on, such as Entourage (2015) and Ocean’s 11 (2001), have a few or no women in substantial roles. Sure, there are women in both of these movies, but in the best case scenario, they are supporting roles for male storylines, and in the worst case, attractive props.
Recently, Levack turned her attention to Tina Fey’s Mean Girls. The actors change with each performance; this time the cast included local artists such as author/musician Vivek Shraya as Cady Heron and author/actor Naomi Skwarna as Gretchen Weiners. They often attract well known actors such as Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard, and their performance of Mean Girls included familiar faces from the original movie, namely David Reale (Glen Coco) and Jan Caruana (Emma Gerber).

Jan Caruana as Emma Gerber

The live reading of Mean Girls was different to the group’s previous performances. This is a movie written by self-proclaimed feminist Tina Fey, and features a predominantly female cast, dealing with typically female situations. So why did it get the Feminist Live Reads treatment? While the film stars mostly women and focuses more on female relationships, the movie does not feature a cast quite as diverse as this one.
The live reading was hilarious and authentic. Of course, it helps that the original Mean Girls script is arguably a timeless comedy, but this cast lent something extra to it. Jesse Todd as Damian was possibly even funnier than his original counterpart. The actors brought their own personalities and interpretations to the roles which made the performance genuinely amusing and endearing.
Shraya is an artist by trade; she is a musician, filmmaker and author. Embodying the role of a popular character must be intimidating, as the audience are bound to come along with pre-conceived expectations about the performance. Her interpretation of Cady Heron is just that little bit braver as she is a trans woman. She has spoken about transness being perceived as a performance itself, so to take on this well-known female role when you are sometimes not even considered to be female yourself is subversive and takes a lot of courage. Of course, she slays as do the rest of the cast.
Watching a live reading of a movie gives you a new appreciation for the writing. When the actors and physical action are not there to distract, it’s just the audience and the words. This puts the primary emphasis on the dialogue and allows you to listen to what’s being spoken without relating it to what is happening on screen. It’s definitely a good idea to avoid watching the original movie before the live reading, as you will appreciate the witty one-liners and touching moments all over again in this new, exciting context.
Keep an eye out for Feminist Live Reads’ next performances, which are announced on their Twitter.

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