Imagine going from playing Ariel in a regional stage production of “The Little Mermaid,” to being cast as a lead performer in a video for activist Eve Ensler’s global movement about violence against women and girls—and you’re only 15-years-old.
That’s the trajectory for Caitlin Witty, a talented high school sophomore from Wilton, Conn. She won a coveted role in the new music video for “Break the Chain,” the centerpiece song for “One Billion Rising,” V-Day’s global campaign to reduce violence against women around the world. Directed by Tony Stroebel and choreographed by Debbie Allen (Fame, So You Think You Can Dance), the new song and video was released earlier this fall as part of the 15th anniversary of V-Day.
One Billion Rising refers to the staggering statistic that one in three women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime. This adds up to more than one billion women and girls. V-Day events have been staged every Valentine’s Day for the last 14 years, as an outgrowth of playwright Ensler’s production of “The Vagina Monologues,” to draw attention to such violence.
For the upcoming 15th anniversary on February 14, 2013, V-Day will stage thousands of One Billion Rising events around the world. To date, over 13,000 organizations in 176 have committed to participate and hold events. Many of the events will be held around dance with the premise being that, “One billion women violated is an atrocity; one billion women dancing is a revolution.”
Caitlin sings a solo as one of eight girls with leads in the “Break the Chain” video. She also dances in various scenes, independently around New York City neighborhoods, and as part of a flash mob of more than 100 dancers in Bryant Park led by Debbie Allen. The video was shot over two days in late September shortly after Caitlin auditioned for Ensler and Allen.
“My manager emailed me, saying ‘It’s a long shot, but it’s good experience if you get it. It will look good on your resume. And I was really excited that I’d be working with Debbie Allen if I did get it,” Caitlin recalled.
Her dad, Jason Witty added, “It happened really fast. To be honest, we didn’t know what it was about. We had never heard of ‘One Billion Rising.’ We’d obviously heard of Eve Ensler but didn’t know she was involved. We didn’t really know it was associated with V-Day. We just knew it was an audition and if she got to work with Debbie Allen, it would be so cool. It wasn’t really until the next day when we did some reading about it and heard the song that we realized this was something special.”
The video puts forward a pretty empowered message about a very heavy topic, which might have been somewhat weighty info for a 15-year-old girl. But it was something Caitlin’s dad and her mom, Kim, thought she was mature enough to handle. Plus, it was something important to be involved with.
“The more we learn about it, we think it’s fantastic. To be exposed to this type of women- and girl-focused experience at such a young age is rare. To be involved in that is really kind of special. Something like this—it’s Eve Ensler and “One Billion Rising!” It’s absolutely important, because violence against women and girls is the message here. There’s plenty of violence against girls younger than Caitlin. For her to be involved in this project and to be aware of it is important,” Jason explained.
Caitlin seems to have it in perspective too, and is excited to be part of something that could make a change on a global level.
“It’s hard to think about the subject—I haven’t been exposed to any of that around here. In school we learn a little about domestic violence. But just hearing about it in terms of one billion women, and all around the world, one-out-of-three, it wakes me up. It made me even more proud to be involved. It went from just a singing thing and getting to work with Debbie Allen to something much larger. I think this is such a great cause, and I’m so proud to have been chosen to be a part of it.”
For an actress like Caitlin, this role is a high point in a career that started at age 5 when she got bitten by the acting bug after singing on her first stage, which just happened to be a stage on Broadway. “I went to my first Broadway show, ‘Mama Mia,’ and they ended up taking me backstage because I was singing along and I got to sing on the stage with one of the actors.”
Since then, she started taking classes and performing at Crystal Theater in Norwalk and has performed extensively in regional and community theater. This past year she booked her first commercial, for Neutrogena, and she has also had the opportunity to sing in Times Square as part of a fundraiser for a theater organization she’s involved with.
“She found her passion and she loved it. You hear these stories about stage parents pushing kids, and my wife and I have always been leery of that career path. We know how hard it is and what a struggle it can be. Every time we said, ‘Well, maybe we should just hold on a little,’ Caitlin just kept going back. So if this is what she wants to do we’re going to support it,” Jason said, adding, “For us, it’s pride and joy. It’s pride because we’re so proud of how hard she works, how talented she is and how well she’s done based on her hard work. And it’s joy because, to have a kid who is so excited about something and gains so much from doing what she loves, it just fills my heart. She drives it, she really does.”
Getting to meet Eve Ensler was a highlight for Caitlin.
“Eve Ensler is one of the nicest, sweetest people I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone else like her. I thought she’d be unapproachable because she’s so famous and has done so much, but she just is so open and amazing. She’s a really fantastic woman. I got to talk to her a little bit, she said she really liked my recording. She has an off-Broadway show up now, and told me she wished I was older because she would cast me. Maybe she was just saying that but it was definitely cool,” she said.
Caitlin will have another opportunity to talk with the playwright. A few of the leads from “Break the Chain” were invited to travel to Washington, DC for this weekend’s TEDxWomen 2012 Conference, for which Ensler will talk about “One Billion Rising” as the conference’s closing speaker. Caitlin and the other girls will perform the song from the video at the conference.
As for the events on Feb. 14, 2013, Caitlin isn’t yet sure what she’ll be doing officially with the V-Day organization, but she’s knows how amazing it will be to take part in something on a global level, with hopefully more than one billion people. She knows it’s no small thing.
“To go from getting a call to come down and ‘if it works out it will be cool to work with Debbie Allen,’ and it turns out that you get the chance to be part of a global movement? It’s a long shot, but you get to work with Debbie Allen—and a billion other people! That’s awesome!”