By Sarah Rich
Many young girls may aspire to perform on Broadway, but one theater program in a Kentucky county encourages young women to pursue a different type of theater career: stage production technology. The program, called Girls in Technology, was developed through the Pike County, Ky., Cooperative Extension Service Fine Arts Program (an extension program of the University of Kentucky) and the Artist Collaborative Theatre, a community theater in the county. Throughout the year, girls — predominantly in their teens — learn about the different technologies involved in producing a theater performance. “We work to instill and empower our young women through all the things that theater has to offer, but one of the things that’s vastly underserved in theater is women in the technical [aspect] of theater,” said Stephanie Richards, the program’s director. “We always put our girls on stage, but technical theater is usually predominantly a man’s world.” Participants learn a range of technology skills including stage lighting, sound, set construction, stage management and video production, said Richards. Brandon Roberts, a spokesman for the county, said a program of this nature was necessary for Pike County because not only does the county lack women in the technology field, but it also doesn’t have much of a tech field to begin with. Home to a population of about 67,000, Roberts said programs like this don’t typically exist in counties like Pike. “We’re rural; we’re a coal mining county,” Roberts said. “A lot of our population is elderly. They don’t use computers, they don’t use cellphones.” In addition to the county’s rural setting, statistically women don’t reign as the predominant demographic in IT careers, particularly those involved with performing arts, Richards said. But despite historically unfavorable career statistics for women in the tech field, the Girls in Technology program hasn’t suffered from a lack of interest. The free program, which was started more than seven years ago, has seen an increase in participation since its inception. Richards said the program was designed to allow the members to become mentors for the newer members. Early on in the program, participants learned the very basic technical skills needed for running a theater production, but since the program has evolved, the girls and women are learning a more comprehensive skill set of what goes on behind the scenes of a performance. “We got them in deeper and working on the design aspect — so if you were going to light this show, what would it look like?” she said. “And so again, they started doing the creative end of the technical aspect so they can now design a lighting show for different shows.” Girls who participate in the program do not have to meet any requirements prior to signing up. And while the majority of participants are high school students, some participants are women and a few are men. Richards said one Girls in Technology alum used the skills she learned in the program to compete in a theater competition and has since decided to pursue a career in sound engineering. The program, which receives funding from the state, county and through donations, received one of this year’s National Association of Counties Achievement Awards.