Full Cast Announced for 1812 Productions' IT'S MY PARTY: THE WOMEN AND COMEDY PROJECT
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.
Ms. Childs says of The Women and Comedy Project, "I am interested in transformation-fear transforming into joy, ugliness transforming into beauty-and the unique and powerful role that comedy and laughter can play in making that transformation possible. For this reason, how different women use humor compels me. Women are, by nature, transformative creatures. As I watch the women in my life age, their physical and emotional transformations are matched by a comedic one. They use humor in new and different ways to cope with the issues and challenges of new bodies, older brains, and more complicated life experiences." She continues, "I want to showcase this collision of the presentational and the personal-the iconic roles women play and the complex stories that lie underneath. I want to create something with this ensemble of women that explodes stereotypes, honors the truth of their comedic journeys, and, most importantly, makes people laugh really hard."
Details about the physical production of It's My Party: The Women and Comedy Project will be available as the production nears. It's My Party: The Women and Comedy Project will run from April 25th through May 19th, 2013 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Street, in Center City Philadelphia. Opening Night will be Wednesday, May 1st at 7:00pm. Inquiries about the production, ticket purchases, and The Mom Poems can be made at 215-592-9560 or through www.1812productions.org.
Jennifer Childs, Creator/Director: Jen is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of 1812 Productions, Philadelphia's all comedy theater company. For 1812 she has written and directed The Big Time, Another Big Time, Like Crazy Like Wow (1950s Nightclub comedy), Something Wonderful Right Away, Always A Lady, Double Down, This Is The Week That Is, Let's Pretend We're Married, Our Show of Shows and, in collaboration with composer James Sugg, the original musical Cherry Bomb. Her solo show, Why I'm Scared of Dance by Jen Childs, was recently produced at City Theatre in Pittsburgh and Act II Playhouse in Ambler, PA. In addition to her work at 1812, she has performed and/or directed for Wilma Theater, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Walnut Street Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, Prince Music Theatre, Mum Puppettheatre, Act II Playhouse, Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center, Lantern Theater Company, Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival, and ComedySportz. She is a two-time Barrymore Award winner including the 1999 F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist. She is the recipient of two Independence Foundation Fellowships in the Arts and serves on the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council.
Emmanuelle Delpech, Movement/Choreography: Emmanuelle Delpech is an actor, teacher and director. As an actor she was classically trained at the Ecole Superieur d'Art Dramatique de la ville de Paris, and then studied physical theatre at l'Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq. She recently graduated from Temple University and earned an MFA in Directing. A former member of Pig Iron Theatre Company, Emmanuelle has been a performer/co-creator of such productions as Gentlemen Volunteers, Flop!, Hell Meets Henry Halfway (Barrymore Award nomination, Best Supporting Actress in a Play), and James Joyce is Dead and So Is Paris (Barrymore Award, Best Supporting Actress in a Musical). She created and performed Madame Douce-Amere, a wordless clown duet at the 2005 Philadelphia Live Arts Festival, which was also produced by 1812 Productions at Walnut Street Theatre in October 2006. Emmanuelle made her directing debut with an urban adaptation of Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus at Colonus performed at the FDR Skate Park for the 2008 Philadelphia Live Arts festival. In June/July 2009, Emmanuelle performed with The Second City Chicago in Reverie directed by Dexter Bullard which was premiered at the "Just for Laughs" Festival in Montreal. Emmanuelle worked with The Civilians' new piece The Great Immensity, sharing her physical theater skills with director Steve Cosson, and was assistant director for its first performance at the Princeton Atelier. She worked again with Steve Cosson as a mime consultant for Anne Washburn's new play, A Devil at Noon, which premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville in March 2011. In December 2010, The Philly Shakes Cabaret Series presented her clown adaptation of Marivaux's La Dispute, and directed Moliere's Tartuffe as her thesis for the Temple Repertory Theater. Most recently, she worked with James Ijames on the original piece FRONTIN' about the tradition of blackface performances and the identity of the black performer in America, and with Charlotte Ford on Bang!, a clown exploration of women and sexuality presented at the 2012 Live Arts festival. Emmanuelle was named Best Theater Artist, 2011 by Philadelphia Magazine. Emmanuelle has taught at University of the Arts, Swarthmore College, and Temple University. She has taught clown workshops for the Volcano Institute in Toronto and also in Philadelphia. She regularly teaches workshops for directors on creating devised work with the Movement Theater Studio NYC. Emmanuelle is a faculty member of the Headlong Performance Institute and of the Pig Iron School for Advanced Training.
Monica Stephenson, Musical Director: While she currently lives in Pittsburgh, Monica has spent many years living and working as part of Philadelphia's talented theatre community. As a vocalist, composer, theatre artist, and teacher, she often makes the turnpike trek between the two cities. Monica is graduate of Duquesne University School of Music and has had the pleasure of working with such companies as The Pittsburgh Opera Company, Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre, Unseam'd Shakespeare Co., 1812 Productions, and Philadelphia Young Playwrights. She is currently the Education Director for Prime Stage Theatre Company and is a musical theater instructor for H.O.P.E Academy in Pittsburgh. You can also find her performing her original music in live music venues around the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. www.monicastephenson.webs.com
Hillary Rea, Assistant Director: Hillary is a comedian and storyteller living in Philadelphia. Since 2009, she has been performing stories from her storytelling series Crush Comedy at venues all over Philadelphia including World Cafe Live, Space 1026, The Barbary, Connie's Ric Rac, and L'Etage. Favorite shows include The Soundtrack Series, Animated Stories, and those with The New Dreamz, Adam Wade, and opening for Michael Showalter. Hillary performed at the 2012 North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival and the 2011 First Person Festival. In Fall of 2011, Hillary was a part of the RISK! True Stories Boldly Told live show hosted by Kevin Allison and featuring the Sklar Brothers. In June 2011, Hillary was an artist-in-residence for Elsewhere Artist Collaborative and Museum in Greensboro, NC. Outside of storytelling, Hillary was last seen in Dark Comedy at the 2011 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Currently, Hillary hosts the monthly storytelling shows Tell Me A Story at Shot Tower Coffee and Fibber at Philly Improv Theater. She is a show host and frequent storyteller at the First Person Arts' StorySlams.
Melanie Cotton, Ensemble: A Philadelphia native, Melanie Cotton started her formal dance training at The Ivy Leaf School studying ballet, jazz, and African dance. At 13, Melanie enrolled in the prestigious Freedom Theater School of Performing Arts where she studied Modern dance (Horton technique), West African (Umfundalia), Jazz, and Ballet. Drawn to the stage, Melanie studied with the Freedom Theater's youth acting program where she discovered her affinity for Classical and Musical Theater. Influenced by all genres of music of from Michael Jackson to Parliament Funkadelic, she was lured by the sounds of Hip-Hop music. Fully immersed in the Hip-Hop culture, Melanie was able to study with pioneering Hip-Hop legends like Buddha Stretch, Tweetie, and "BK" Terry (all of the Hip-Hop group Elite Force). Gravitating more towards the Funk styles of Hip-Hop (like Locking); she studied with Moncell Durden of MopTop dance crew, Rennie Harris, and had the honor to work with the creator of Locking, Don "Campbell Lock" Campbell. While studying dance, Melanie earned her Associates degree in Communications at The Community College of Philadelphia. In 2002, she served as resident choreographer at CCP for Theater Productions directed by Dr. Ardencia Hall- Karambe and is currently a member of the theater fraternity DELTA PSI OMEGA. In 2003 she became a principal dancer for "Philadelphia's premiere, all female Hip-Hop dance crew," Montazh Performing Arts Company. With Montazh PAC, Melanie Continued her training in Hip-Hop as well as funk styles including; locking, waacking, house, and Caribbean fusion. Currently, Melanie is a member of the world-renowned Hip-Hop Theater company, Rennie Harris: Puremovement. With RHPM she is performing and teaching around the world.
Charlotte Ford, Ensemble: Charlotte Ford is a Philadelphia-based theatre artist who creates avant-garde slapstick performance art that celebrates sublime stupidity with joyful abandon. Original work includes Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl (Edinburgh Fringe First, 2010, shortlisted for Total Theatre Award), CHICKEN, and Bang! (Philadelphia Live Arts, 2012). She has toured her original work to Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre, the London Barbican, Paris's Festival D'été, and St. Etienne's Festival de Sept Collines. Collaborations include Pig Iron Theatre (Welcome to Yuba City), Lucidity Suitcase, Rainpan 43, Theatre Exile (Gruesome Playground Injuries, That Pretty Pretty, Red Light Winter), 1812 Productions (Cherry Bomb, Philadelphia Weekly's "Best Supporting Actress in a Musical"), Arden Theatre Company,Lantern Theater Company, New Paradise Laboratories, Brat Productions, and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. Charlotte has been nominated for four Barrymore Awards and was named Best of Philly Theatre Talent, 2012 by Philadelphia Magazine. Her original work has been supported by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative, The Independence Foundation, the Leeway Foundation, USAI, and the Wyncote Foundation. 2011 Finalist for the F. Otto Haas Award. BA, Bryn Mawr College. MFA, LISPA.
Drucie McDaniel, Ensemble: As an actor, Drucie has done film (Girl, Interrupted, Jersey Girl, Fallen, Twelve Monkeys, The Narrows, Explicit Ills, The Silver Linings Playbook), television (Law & Order, Law & Order Special Victims Unit, The Adversaries, All My Children, HBO's You Don't Know Jack, The Onion News Network), and stage (New City Stage, Wilma Theater, InterAct Theatre Company, Delaware Theatre Company, Act II Playhouse, Brat Productions, Walnut Street Theatre, 1812 Productions), as well as national television/ radio commercials and international voiceover work. Drucie has written/produced/directed for radio, television, industrial/documentary film (PBS, Nickelodeon, Ski Industries America, U.S. Dept of Energy, U.S. Dept of Defense, Apple Computers) and theatre (Philadelphia International Festival for the Arts, Walnut Street Theatre, Foundation Theatre, The National Constitution Center, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, The Discovery Theatre/Smithsonian Institution, The Village Gate/NYC, Project Arts Center, and The Abbey Theatre/Dublin, Ireland, ten years Artistic Director of The Philadelphia Theatre Caravan-writing/and or directing over thirty plays for national tour-and The Rosenbach, where she also appears every Bloomsday, June 16th, as James Joyce's Molly Bloom). An acting coach for over 25 years, Drucie teaches at The Actors Center, Walnut Street Theatre, and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of the Arts (where she also directs). Drucie sings and plays with an Irish band, The Connemara Codfish Company.
Bi Jean Ngo, Ensemble: Bi Jean Ngo once ran away from home for half an hour. She made it to the end of the cul-de-sac with her pink and purple Huffy bike and a peanut butter sandwich. It was during that thirty minute break from the minutiae of daily life that she dreamed of one day doing something extraordinary. She studied film at Boston University, got an MFA in acting from The Actors Studio, and continues to learn from the greats in Philly. She flew to Neverland at the Arden, climbed to great heights with Nice People, played on Wall Street at Interact, and boarded an amazing roller coaster of love and laughter at 1812. Bi also fell in love with teaching for the Arden, Philly Young Playwrights, and 1812. This past summer, she worked on her one-woman show as a recipient of 1812 Productions' Jilline Ringle Solo Performance Residency.
Cathy Simpson, Ensemble: Cathy Simpson, is a company member of the People's Light and Theatre Company. She is also a member of the Freedom Rising Company at the NCC, and the American Historical Theatre of Philadelphia. She has performed at InterAct Theatre Company, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, Hedgerow Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, The Wilma Theater, and Flashpoint Theatre Company. Regional theater credits include Arena Stage, The Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre, Source Theatre, Woolly Mammoth, Olney Theatre Center, St. Louis Black Rep, St. Louis Rep., Indiana Rep. A three-time Barrymore Award nominee and a winner for the Freedom Theatre Company production of The Old Settler, and a Kevin Kline Award winner for St. Louis Black Rep's production of A Song for Coretta, she has also been nominated twice for the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington D.C. and won the Best Performer Award in Toyama, Japan.
Susan Riley Stevens, Ensemble: Susan Riley Stevens has been seen in several incarnations of 1812 Productions' This Is The Week That Is as well as First Day of School and The Uneasy Chair. She was most recently seen at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, playing Constance in the rarely-produced King John. Other PSF productions have included Hamlet, Pride & Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, King Lear, and Othello. Susan has worked with Walnut Street Theatre in God of Carnage, Fallen Angels, Speaking in Tongues, and A Streetcar Named Desire, and with Arden Theatre Company in Three Days of Rain and Closer. Other credits include People's Light and Theatre Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Yale Repertory Theatre, Peterborough Players, and Dallas Theatre Center. She is the recipient of the 2007 Barrymore Award for Best Actress in a Play for Bad Dates at Act II Playhouse and holds an MFA from the Yale School of Drama.
Cheryl Williams, Ensemble: Local credits include the Nurse in Antigone (Quintessence Theatre Group), Grace in Pterodactyls (New City Stage), Francis in The Breath of Life (Lantern Theatre Company-Barrymore Award, Leading Actress), Dorothy/Narrator in Respect: A Musical Journey of Women (Act II Playhouse and Society Hill Playhouse), Aunt Julia in Hedda Gabler (Mauckingbird Theatre Company), and Amanda in The Glass Menagerie (Act Out Theatre, NJ), as well as in several staged readings and workshops with PlayPenn, PAC, Writing Aloud, and InterAct Theatre Company. Nationally, Cheryl has worked with Chicago Dramatists, Chicago's Court and Goodman Theatres, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Detroit area's Purple Rose, Attic, Jewish Ensemble, and Meadow Brook theatres, as well as with The Human Race (OH), Madison Rep (WI), Three Rivers (Pittsburgh), Antioch (OH), and the New Jersey, Orlando, and Illinois Shakespeare Festivals. This season, Cheryl may also be seen as Leonato in Mauckingbird Theatre's Much Ado About Nothing, and as Eunice in Interact Theatre Company's The Exit Interview. She also appears in the feature film Silver Linings Playbook, in which she plays leading Lady Jennifer Lawrence's mother. Cheryl is an honored recipient of a Princess Grace Foundation Theatre Fellowship, as well as multiple nominations, and two Best Actress awards, for her work with Detroit area theatres. She is an adjunct acting instructor with the Temple University Theatre program.
1812 Productions was founded in 1997 and is the only professional theater company in the country dedicated to comedy. Their education program, 1812 Outreach, has received multiple nominations and been awarded the Barrymore Award for Excellence in Theatre Education and Community Service. 1812 Productions is the recipient of an honorary citation from the City of Philadelphia for outstanding work and commitment to the Philadelphia arts community. In 2010, they were honored as one of only 10 theaters in the country to receive a National Theatre Company grant from the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards. 1812 Productions, while continually on the search for a permanent home, continues to perform at various locations in Philadelphia.