Beginning in April, 2013, 1812 Productions will present the world premiere comedy It's My Party: The Women and Comedy Project, created and directed by 1812 Productions' Artistic Director, Jennifer Childs, and featuring a diverse ensemble of Philadelphia actresses. A production which will use physical comedy, storytelling, and music in a one-of-a-kind theatrical event, the creative process for It's My Party: The Women and Comedy Project began in 2010 with two questions: how do women use comedy and how does that usage change as they age. With these pointed inquiries as her guides, Ms. Childs embarked on three inclusive and ongoing initiatives which, together, would form the core of the Project.
The Generational Labs
Joined by the show's choreographer, Emmanuelle Delpech, and musical director, Monica Stephenson, Ms. Childs gathered 31 female performers of varying disciplines into week-long creative sessions. The performers were separated by age-one group of 20-35 year olds, one group of 35-50 year olds, and one group aged 50 and above. The focus of these labs was on the presentational, or "what's out there," part of the women and comedy equation. Through storytelling and clown work, each group spent the week exploring female comedic stereotypes-the ditz, the neurotic, the diva, the bitch, the crazy old lady-questioning how often women really assume those roles and how they have changed over the years. Explorations were made into how these overarching comedic and cultural images affect women's everyday lives, and how they resonate through smaller, more intimate exchanges.
The Intergenerational Workshops
Following the Generational Labs, Ms. Childs assembled a group of female performers of different ages to continue exploring the discoveries made during the generational labs-bringing together ideas, concepts, and creative points of view to see how they work across age lines and what their relationships became. Through this series of Intergenerational Workshops, music was introduced as a new focus-both as a working tool and the subject of scrutiny as participants judged, dissected, and reinvented anthemic pieces commonly associated with women. It is from this work that the production ultimately took its name, It's My Party, as celebration, as tongue in cheek commentary, as defiant declaration, and as affirmation of place.
These Intergenerational Workshops led to an extensive series of auditions from which Ms. Childs cast seven Philadelphia actresses: Susan Riley Stevens, Drucie McDaniel, Charlotte Ford, Cathy Simpson, Bi Jean Ngo, Cheryl Williams, and Melanie Cotton.
In tandem with the workshop process, Ms. Childs began an ongoing series of personal interviews with women of varying races, ages, body types, sexual identities, social and economic backgrounds, and political views. Interview participants included women who have established their comedic voices as well as women who have no association with the entertainment field. During these interviews, the "what's out there" focus of the Labs and Workshops was exchanged for a "what's in here" exploration. Specific questions about the meaning of comedy were exchanged for open conversation on any number of topics. Personal stories of surprise, foolishness, desperation, and accomplishment all reveal points of view which, most popularly reduced to stereotype, are in fact complex, vital, and under-explored.
More than 50 women from Philadelphia and along the East Coast have taken part in these interviews, with many interviews continuing as of this writing. Interview participants include Kambri Crews, storyteller, comic, and author of the memoir Burn Down the Ground; Peggy Orenstein, journalist, Female Studies specialist, and author of the books Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girly-Girl Culture and Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap, among others; and Lucie Arnaz, actress, singer, cabaret performer, and daughter of arguably the most famous of comedic actresses, Lucille Ball.
The Mom Poems
A scripted element that emerged early on in the workshop process is The Mom Poem. Ms. Childs drafted a short piece that began, "I had this dream that I became my mother," followed by four personal descriptors of that imaginary experience. Removing her personal details, she presented the 'blank' piece to each of the women who took part in the workshops, interviews, as well as the actresses cast in It's My Party, and asked each woman to fill in the blanks, as it were. What emerged were quick glimpses not only into each participant's comedic sensibility, but also into how each viewed her immediate heritage. Some were funny, some reflective, some brazen-most importantly, all were honest. These short pieces became a flashpoint in the creative process. 1812 Productions has now extended an invitation to anyone, male or female, who would like to participate in this creative process to create a personal Mom Poem via its website. Using the same structure that was created for the Women and Comedy workshops, each poem will be transformed into an e-poster and will become part of an online gallery telling the many stories inspired by the sentence, "I had this dream that I became my mother." A selection of posters will also be printed and put on display at various locations around Center City Philadelphia. Anyone wishing to submit a Mom Poem can do so at www.1812productions.org, using the form located on the It's My Party page-full instructions are available there. Additionally, poems may be submitted directly to Jennifer Childs at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to Tyler Melchior at email@example.com. All poems will be made available for public enjoyment and poems may be submitted at any time up to and during the production of It's My Party.