NCHS Grad Claire Ayoub’s New Film ‘Empire Waist’ Notches Festival Wins [Q&A]


Claire Ayoub’s film, “Empire Waist,” recently won “Best Empowerment Film” and “Best Social Impact Film” at the Sedona International Film Festival. It will be screened by 600 students as part of the Annapolis Film Festival‘s Education Day this week, and there’s a public screening Saturday as part of that festival. And this just in: It’s also been accepted to the Dallas International Film Festival and Coney Island Film Festival

We talked to Ayoub—a New Canaan High School graduate known to many locals for her hysterical and moving solo show, “The Gynokid,” which she performed last year as a fundraiser for the Town Players of New Canaan‘s home, the Powerhouse Theatre—about “Empire Waist,” her performing arts background in town and the early reception of the film.

Here’s our exchange.


New Canaanite: Many people, including me, enjoyed your solo show “The Gynokid.” Before we talk about “Empire Waist,” give us some of your own background in film and connection to New Canaan.

Claire Ayoub

Claire Ayoub: Thank you! My heart is still so full after performing The GynoKid here in New Canaan where my own love for theater and the arts began. I was fortunate to attend NCPS throughout my childhood so was exposed to a great (and well-funded!) arts program early in my life. At 14, I co-wrote a one-act play with my best friend for the NCHS Spring Drama Festival, which ended up being my first experience as a director. I loved every second of it and learned so much, especially how much I loved supporting my actors so they could make big, bold choices onstage. I still laugh that I learned my humble approach to directing at that age because there was no point in trying to look like a “cool director” when I still needed my mom to pick me up from rehearsals. Jokes aside, that formative experience is one of the reasons I love mentoring young artists or older artists who don’t necessarily have a “track record” in the arts yet. We are capable of so much at any age and level. And we learn and get better by trying anyway and doing the work. I went on to write, perform, and stage manage at NCHS. At Wellesley College, I performed improv comedy with Dead Serious, moved to NYC and performed sketch and improv comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, wrote for Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and found my gift by creating entertaining, empowering, and educational content through my production company Try Anyway Productions. And I had my New Canaan community of supporters cheering me on every step of the way. 

What is this movie about?

Empire Waist is a dramedy about teens learning to love their bodies through fashion design. The film follows Lenore Miller, a deeply insecure high school girl with the talent to design any outfit she wants, yet doesn’t feel worthy to wear them due to her size. After her outgoing and plus-sized biology partner discovers her designs, she begs Lenore to make her one dress. And the rest is a friendship love story and self-love story, all about learning to love ourselves exactly as we are. To not hold ourselves back from pursuing our goals because of limitations society puts on us or that we put on ourselves. Most importantly, it’s the film I wish I had seen as a teen girl struggling with my own self-doubt and insecurity that followed me well into adulthood. Making the film has been a difficult but deeply healing experience for me, and I’m excited to share it with the world.  

Tell us about the early reception of “Empire Waist.” How is it going?

After leading 17 live readings of the Empire Waist script in 2019 (including one at the Powerhouse where my mom read 4 parts!), I knew that this script struck a chord with audiences across generations, specifically ages 14-84. Thanks to the talent of my hardworking cast and crew, our film has blossomed into a powerful piece of art that has been described as a must-watch for both kids and adults, not just in the U.S. but around the world. Right now, we are on the festival circuit screening the film around the country. We were honored to be awarded Best Empowerment Film and Best Social Impact Film at the Sedona International Film Festival this past month, and are screening the film for 600 students as part of the Annapolis Film Festival’s Education Day this week! We will also be holding a public screening at the festival this Saturday, April 6th at 10 am in Annapolis, MD. I’ll be joined by my two incredible leads Mia Kaplan and Jemima Yevu for a Q&A after the screening. We just found out it also has been accepted to the Dallas International Film Festival and Coney Island Film Festival. For all updates, you can receive newsletters with updates on both Empire Waist and The GynoKid at, follow us on instagram (@empirewaistfilm), and read about our journey at

When will the general public be able to see it?

While I can’t announce the date just yet, I can say that we will be releasing the film across the US and worldwide thanks to our distributor Blue Fox Entertainment. 

What else, if anything, would you like to tell our readers about yourself, “Empire Waist” or other projects you’re working on?

In addition to my creative work, I also teach and mentor artists (writers, performers, directors) who struggle with perfectionism, working with them to approach their work and themselves with kindness and purpose to bring their ideas to life. Perfectionism is an issue I’ve struggled with since childhood and have spent a lot of time working through during my career, especially in order to lead a team of 200-plus for Empire Waist. I pride myself in creating a safe and supportive space for artists to get to the root of their fears and insecurities so they can transform that anxiety into action. My 3-week class Try Anyway: Creative Strategy for Perfectionists is now accepting students for the Thursday night cohort beginning April 25th on Zoom, and I’m currently taking students to work 1:1 on Sundays. Learn more at and don’t hesitate to reach out!

3 thoughts on “NCHS Grad Claire Ayoub’s New Film ‘Empire Waist’ Notches Festival Wins [Q&A]

  1. Congratulations! It sounds like such great experience for all teenagers to watch – looking forward to seeing it in New Canaan –

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