In 2010, 1812 Productions’ co-founder and artistic director Jennifer Childs set out to explore how women use comedy in their everyday lives and how this usage changes as they age. Three years, a dozen workshops and nearly 100 interviews later, she’s managed to craft this research into It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project, a wildly theatric and estrogen-fueled two-hour romp featuring three different shindigs in three acts.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before and definitely unlike anything we’ve ever produced,” the two-time Barrymore Award winner tells PW. “It’s rare to see seven women on stage being funny together in a way that’s not about fighting or tearing each other down.”
The production, of course, takes its title from the ‘60s pop hit by Leslie Gore, which came to both directly and indirectly represent the sentiments expressed by many of the project’s participants. “I feel like, especially as women, we don’t say ‘I want’ without apology,” says Childs. “The third act is about getting the party that you want with no apologies, no judgment.”
Seamlessly combining various artistic styles—from scripted play and storytelling to stand-up and cabaret—It’s My Party progresses much like Childs’ journey. And while her project has certainly grown to encompass a greater scope of topics and initiatives since its inception, the core objective remains the same: using comedy as a tool to empower and celebrate women. If this sounds like a tall order to fill—especially in just two hours—it’s only because you’ve never met Childs or the seven actresses who bring her epic bash to life.
In the first act, “The Lecture,” Susan Riley Stevens—the production’s Everywoman—attempts to dissect the topic of women and comedy from an academic and historical perspective, only to be continually disrupted and undermined by a peculiar women’s chorus comprised of Charlotte Ford, Cheryl Williams, Drucie McDaniel, Cathy Simpson, Bi Jean Ngo and Melanie Cotton. Later, she uses them to quickly illustrate several common female comedic stereotypes: the ditz, the bitch, the diva, the neurotic, the crazy old lady and so forth.
This essentially captures the project’s early generational labs, which brought together 31 female performers of varying disciplines and separated them into three different age groups to dissect gender stereotypes and the different ways we play into them from time to time. “Ownership is a huge thing,” says Childs. “I’m not really proud of the fact that I will play up my neurotic side for a good story, but I’m gonna own it.”
Drawing on the experiences and anecdotes shared during the interviews and intergenerational labs, It’s My Party‘s second act, “The Ritual,” explores how women use comedy to deal with day-to-day challenges both minor and significant, turning them into “that funny story that you tell your girlfriends around the kitchen table over a glass of wine.” Through a series of monologues, each of the cast members reveal a piece of their own truths, whether it be an inspiring tale of personal triumph or an epic sexual escapade guaranteed to have your jaw on the floor.
While the production may end with an over-the-top cabaret called “The Rave,” Childs is quick to note that the closing musical number is in no way meant to be the project’s swan song. “I feel like there’s infinite versions of The Women and Comedy Project,” she says. “This just happens to be the version with these seven women.”
While secretly pondering how to turn the project into a board game that women can play at home, in the meantime, Childs has come up with the next best thing: The Mom Poem. Beginning with the phrase “I had this dream that I became my mother,” and followed by four blank descriptors, these brief passages proved to be an effective creative exercise during the workshop process, allowing participants to unlock their comedic voices simply by filling in a few blanks.
Men and women are currently invited to create their own poems through 1812’s site, 1812productions.org. Selected poems will be transformed into an e-poster and added to the online gallery. A selection of these posters can also now be seen hanging in several storefronts around Center City.
“There’s great power in comedy,” she says. “It doesn’t seem like it, but it’s a powerful thing. It’s like we’re leading ladies through comedy and not bystanders; we’re heroines and not victims. And that, to me, is really exciting.”
Through Sun., May 19. Various times. $22-$38. Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. 1812productions.org
PW's Weekend Picks
In Memoriam: Amiri Baraka