'Women to Women'

1,500 fermale students who descend upon the Hippodrome are encourged to act their own dream


Meet the March girls, circa 2006.

Four little women - Shatera Kimbrough, Julia Embry, Sophia Mavronis and Javaneh Jabbari - went yesterday to the Hippodrome Theatre to see Little Women.

The teens, all students at Western High School, are smart, articulate and thoughtful. In other words, they are not unlike the famous March sisters - Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy - created by Louisa May Alcott.

FOR THE RECORD - Two photo captions on the cover of the Today section yesterday misidentified the people in the photos, which accompanied an article about a production of Little Women at the Hippodrome Theatre. The three women in the larger photograph were (from left) Javaneh Jabbari, Julia Embry and Sophia Mavronis. The actress in the smaller photo, who is appearing in Little Women, was Julie Foldesi.
The Sun regrets the errors.

Shatera Kimbrough, 16, is a giver, just like Beth, who in Alcott's book, becomes infected with scarlet fever while selflessly nursing an ill baby. Although just 75 hours of community service are required to graduate from Western, Shatera already has donated 280 hours of her spare time, and the count is rising. After all, she's just a junior.

Julia Embry, 15, is romantic, like Meg, the oldest March sister. In the book, Meg falls in love, marries and gives birth to twins. "I'd really like to find a man like Professor Bhaer," Julia says. "Just someone who is really nice."

Amy is the artist of the March family, constantly sketching and drawing. Sophia Mavronis, 15, also loves the magic created by pencils and watercolors on a blank page. Though only a sophomore, Sophia is a member of the varsity softball team and plans to try out for Western's dance team.

And, like Jo, Javaneh Jabbari has dreams so over-sized and impressive they sometimes intimidate her. Now a 16-year-old junior, Javaneh hopes to become a neurosurgeon. She'd like to use stem cells to discover the cures for devastating diseases.

"I dream really big things, and sometimes, I get discouraged and think, `That's impossible,'" Javaneh says. "`A lot of people have tried to do this in the past, and if they couldn't do it, what makes me think that I could?' But then I look at Jo. She didn't let getting rejected stop her. In the end, she got her stories published. So I guess if I try hard, I might be able to accomplish my dreams, too."

Shatera, Sophia, Julia and Javaneh were among the 1,500 middle- and high-school students, all female, who yesterday attended a matinee sponsored by the Hippodrome Foundation as part of an educational outreach program called "Little Women, Big Futures."

"This show makes the whole empowerment theme so easy," says foundation director Olive Waxter. "Based on the reactions from the kids at the matinee, I have to believe the message is getting through. That's a victory for us. We love that."

Following the performance, there was a question-and-answer session with members of the cast and crew, including Julie Foldesi, who played Jo in the matinee.

(Typical question: Was the kissing real? "Oh, it's real all right," Foldesi said, then added with an admirably straight face: "We practice all the time.")

The students also received a commemorative bracelet, and a copy of Alcott's novel. Next week, a panel discussion will be held at the all-female Western High, during which community leaders will discuss their personal struggles and successes. Those scheduled to participate include City Council President Sheila Dixon; Anne Costlow, owner/chef of Sofi's Crepes on North Charles Street; Keyonna Garrett, assistant promotions director for Radio One, and Betsy Royall, casting director for Taylor Royall, a Baltimore casting agency.

In the era of body piercings and multiple tattoos, it's intriguing to see whether teens in 2006 can relate to the world of crinolines and hoop skirts, if they'll identify with a novel published in 1868 and 1869.

The first audible reaction from the audience came when Jo, who yearns to write books, is advised by one potential publisher to stop penning stories. "A woman is made to stay home and have babies," the rejection letter says.

The girls gasped.

But the sexism that Jo faced wasn't the only part of the story that resonated.

Shatera, Sophia, Julia and Javaneh identify with the complex bonds between the March family members.

When Julia was growing up, she used to play Little Women with her mother and three older sisters, literally enacting alternating currents of competition and devotion.

As the youngest, she inevitably was cast as Amy, the baby of the March family. "My father wasn't really into playing, which was perfect, because in the book, Mr. March is off fighting the Civil War," she said. "My sister Claire didn't like playing Little Women either. She was Beth so she could die soon. But my two oldest sisters would always fight over who got to be Jo."

Javaneh has a sister who is five years her junior, and she is as fiercely protective of her as Jo is of Beth.

"In the book, when Beth is born, Jo says, `Beth is mine,'" Javaneh says. "I'm told I said something very much like that when my own sister was born. It's like I own her, and I couldn't live without her."

When Marmee (the March girls' mother), leaves to nurse her husband who has fallen seriously ill at the front, her three oldest daughters are left to shift for themselves. (Amy, the youngest, stays with her aunt.)

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