The ladies will bring on the laughs for Chicago Women’s Funny Festival
By TRICIA DESPRES May 30, 2012 4:54PM
Off Off Broadzway features Liz McArthur (standing, left to right), Mary Spray, Landree Fleming, Jill Valentine and Mandy Whitenack and Kelly Bolton (front).
♦ June 6-10
♦ Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago
♦ Tickets, $12-$14
Updated: May 30, 2012 4:54PM
Chicago comedienne Liz McArthur is fairly positive she recalls the first time she realized she was funny. Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with her assumption.
“My first attempt at comedy that I can remember was pretending to drown when I was four years old,” chuckles McArthur, who claims the dearly departed “Golden Girl” Estelle Getty as her favorite female comedienne.
“A stranger saved me and I laughed in his face. …To this day I feel bad about that.”
Alongside Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival executive director Jill Valentine, McArthur says she is thrilled to have a hand in organizing the first annual Chicago Women’s Funny Festival, taking place June 6-10 at the newly renovated Stage 773 . Created to showcase the comedic talents of women from all over the country, the five-day event will celebrate not only sketch, but all forms of comedy including stand-up, vaudeville, improvisational, musical and more.
“I think women are at the forefront of comedy right now in so many ways,” explains Valentine, who serves as executive producer of the festival and also performs in several popular and critically acclaimed groups in Chicago including The Cupid Players, Off Off Broadzway, Feminine Gentleman, The Deltones and several others. “When we put it out there, Liz (McArthur) and I were insanely overwhelmed by the response. I don’t think we thought people would really hear about it or reply…but then we started getting applications from New York and Los Angeles and Canada and we thought heck, we are international!,” adds McArthur, who will serve as associate producer of the event.
During a span of 66 shows, more than 135 comedic groups and nearly 400 performers will take the stage. Chicago acts such as Messing with a Friend with Susan Messing, and Mary Kay Letourneau Players will join with out-of-town performers such as Second City LA and Toronto’s very own LadyStache, giving the assembled audiences quite a selection to choose from for their laughing pleasure. Throughout the week, the festival will also feature panel discussions, including a June 2 afternoon gathering entitled “Being Funny is Serious Business.”
“We just wanted to do an event that celebrated women in comedy,” explains Valentine. “We definitely wanted quality control for sure but with such an outpouring, it was just about seeing what we got and what we could do. I’m confident that we definitely picked the best of the best. It’s going to be amazing to get all of these women under one roof and celebrate together.”
Valentine has spent many years working alongside Stage 773’s artistic director and founder of the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, Brian Posen, and says she knew instinctively that the time had come to create this “sister festival.”
“Last year’s Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival was bigger than ever, and I think I always kind of knew that the Chicago Women’s Funny Festival was something I wanted to do,” says Valentine. “We each have had our hand in the sketch comedy festival for a number of years, and basically we thought to ourselves that we have already done everything wrong in the last ten years, so we already had a lot of experience. Watching the videos that groups have been sending in has been the best part for Liz and I. To see all of these different types of art forms and think that all of these people will be here under one roof very soon is just very cool.”
Organizers say they expect over 5,000 people to attend the five-day-long event, with hopes that it will become an annual event if successful. Of course, McArthur admits there have been some challenges along the way.
“I got so mad that there wasn’t room for everyone, but vodka helped a lot to keep it all positive,” deadpans McArthur. “Maybe we should look into finding a vodka sponsor for next year?”
“We are just hoping the audiences come and they should, because it’s really going to be a special event,” Valentine says with a hearty laugh.
Tricia Despres is a local free-lance writer.