When the ‘Mean Girls’ Were Teen Girls

Posted June 4, 2018 11:48 p.m. EDT

They’re the Plastics: shiny, fake and hard. A remorseless, pink-clad teen girl clique, they rule the lunchroom of North Shore High and the stage of the August Wilson Theater. The stars of “Mean Girls,” the mega Tony-nominated Broadway musical based on Tina Fey’s 2004 movie, they’re played by Taylor Louderman (teen queen Regina), Ashley Park (insecure Gretchen) and Kate Rockwell (ditsy like a genius Karen) with what Ben Brantley called “idiosyncratic, carefully exaggerated comic charm.”

But before these actresses were mean girls, they were teen girls. Those were challenging roles, too, and ones they’ve all been thinking about. Fey based her movie on Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 book “Queen Bees & Wannabes,” a survey of adolescent girl culture that sorted young women into categories like Queen Bees, Sidekicks, Targets, Torn Bystanders and Floaters. Here, the trio talk about their own high school days — the parts they played, the costumes they wore and why they’re grateful they graduated before Instagram hit. These are excerpts from the conversations.

Taylor Louderman

Role: Regina George

Age: 27

High School: Sullivan High School, Sullivan, Missouri

What were you like in high school? I consider myself a Floater. Rosalind Wiseman references a Floater as someone who bounces around. I’m from a really small town where you could be involved in everything. Everyone who tried out for basketball made the team because there weren’t enough players.

Favorite outfit? Hollister top and bell-bottom jeans with moccasins.

What were your bullying experiences? Malicious teasing. I definitely wasn’t blameless. I did my fair share of being a brat, but when you’re young you don’t totally know.

Did you engage in social media? Instant messaging, I guess? That was really the extent of it. I have four younger sisters; two of them are freshmen, so they’re just starting the social girl world. They will get upset if their friends are at a party and take a picture together. They’re like, “They’re trying to make us jealous!” Social media can really make us feel isolated as much as it can connect us.

What are you most grateful that no one ever posted online? I self-produced my own shows with my mom’s camcorder. I’d invite all my girlfriends over for a sleepover and guilt them into making these silly videos.

What would you tell your high school self? I know it sounds so cliché, but: Don’t look sideways, look forward. Because the more we compare ourselves to others, the harder we’re going to be on ourselves. Regina is so confident and I am not as confident. It’s really forced me to work on my inner monologue. That’s the piece of advice that I keep trying to deliver to my little sisters or to any young girls who are trying to make it in the business: Find qualities about yourself that no one else has and love yourself.

Ashley Park

Role: Gretchen Wieners

Age: 26

High School: Pioneer High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan

What were you like in high school? Definitely a choir nerd. I was just really busy. I did so many extracurriculars: piano, theater, dance. I was really into my a cappella group, Soulfege. The biggest thing in high school was that I’m a cancer survivor, so I spent sophomore year in the hospital. And I spent the rest of my time once I got back to school trying not to be the “Sick Girl.” It’s funny, for so long I tried not to be just the “Asian Girl.” So yeah.

Favorite outfit? An immense amount of energy went into coordinating the outfits for my a cappella group. I would rummage the Forever 21 site for dresses to buy in bulk. There was a brown maxi that I was particularly fond of.

What were your bullying experiences? Mine were mostly in middle school. People would bully me for trying to be “Miss Perfect.” So I started to answer questions wrong on purpose and purposely do badly on art projects. And I was always feeling like, “Oh, I can’t be good at piano and math because that’s typical of all Asian people.” Being diagnosed with cancer was the nicest everyone ever was to me. Everyone has to be nice to the bald girl.

Did you engage in social media? No, and I’m just so glad that there’s not a lot of documentation of that part of my life. It would have been like, “Oh, #weloveashley. She has cancer.”

What are you most grateful that no one ever posted online? I block embarrassing things out of my memory.

What would you tell your high school self? Have a little bit more fun in high school. I never stayed out late or did anything like that. Buck up when it comes to boys a little bit. I was so shy. I never had to dig deep for how Gretchen feels. Because for me, growing up, if I was ever in the room with a white girl, I was going to be second. I would always be very surprised when a boy would like me.

Kate Rockwell

Role: Karen Smith

Age: 33

High School: Sycamore High School, Cincinnati, Ohio

What were you like in high school? I was at a really big school in the Midwest. We had a thriving theater community. I always knew I loved music and theater, and I was able to excel in that environment, so I was very safe there. I never wanted to be a popular kid.

Favorite outfit? Probably boot cut jeans and a polo-style shirt that I bought at Limited Too. Flip-flops, as long as it wasn’t snowing.

What were your bullying experiences? I remember being made fun of by boys when my body changed, when I started going through puberty. I remember them making fun of the shirts that I would wear, whether they fit or whether they were attractive. That hurt me.

Did you engage in social media? Oh my God, I’m so grateful I didn’t have it. Part of the reason I would say I turned out OK is because I grew up in Ohio in the ‘90s. I was so protected there. I’m keenly aware that it is so much harder to be an adolescent now. You could be the target of an online smear campaign by a girl who’s mad that you wore the same sunglasses to a party.

What are you most grateful that no one ever posted online? I directed a madrigal choir and for some of our concerts we rented Renaissance Faire-esque dresses.

What would you tell your high school self? I wish I could tell her it was all going to be OK. I was just a high-stress kid and I was so worried all the time about everything: Does this boy like me? Does this dress look good on me? Am I going to get into a good college? Am I ever going to be successful? That stuff filled my brain all the time. I wish I could just say, “Out here in the big world, no one cares what you get on your SATs.”