5 Years of Chicago Women’s Funny Festival

5 Years of Chicago Women’s Funny Festival

Photo courtesy of 5’10 Club. 

The CHICAGO WOMEN’S FUNNY FESTIVAL returns for its fifth year at Stage 773 in the Lakeview neighborhood. Led by Stage 773 Director of Operations, Jill Valentine, and Chicago actor/comedian Liz McArthur, the festival is a unique opportunity to feature and celebrate female performers in all comedic art forms including stand-up, sketch, solo, vaudeville, improvisational, musical and more. Due to growing popularity, the festival will use all four Stage 773 spaces for the first time. PerformInk recently had the opportunity to speak with Valentine and McArthur regarding the festival which runs June 16th – 19th.

PerformInk: What were the motivating factors behind forming the CHICAGO WOMEN‘S FUNNY FESTIVAL?

Jill Valentine: I have been with the Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival for the last 15 years and saw how the community and groups were evolving. There were more women on our stages and more all-female groups. This was happening in the standup, solo, and improv community as well. We thought it was time to recognize this and celebrate women in a male-dominated art form. When Liz and I put the call out, the response was overwhelming. Women from across the country were excited about this and couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done in this huge comedy hub.

Liz McArthur: Jill and I met because of Sketchfest. And then we went on to work together on a million different projects over the years. Somewhere in there, we noticed that women seemed to be balancing out the comedy scene, which is awesome. This festival is a way to celebrate that.

PerformInk: As you go into your 5th year what do you feel has been the biggest change from the first festival to now?

Jill Valentine: We are constantly learning and evolving as the community evolves. (i.e. we aren’t as stupid as year 1). As the comedy and art forms change, it also changes the lineup, style, and feel of each year. The festival is a reflection of what is happening in the community and also nationally.

Liz McArthur: Yes what Jill said. The submissions we get completely determine how the festival evolves year to year. One woman shows are all the rage these days. And, they’re GOOD.

PerformInk: You have an incredibly impressive line-up this year and the four days are just packed. Can you talk a little bit about the selection process? What are you looking for in a piece/comedian/artist?

Jill Valentine: It’s a bear. We watch over 200 videos of comedy performances from across the country. There is a scoring process, and once we finish that, there are a lot of conversations. We are always looking for fresh, new, exciting talent but know to honor those who have paved the way for us. We want the most diverse, interesting line up we can get. Oh, and it’s got to be funny! We love hosting strong, funny women who have so much to say and just need a platform to do it. We call it a weekend slumber party of comedy.

Liz McArthur: It’s so hard. There are so many submissions and so much talent. We want it all, but we only have so many slots. Funny is obviously key. Strength, confidence and maybe a little weird are some of my favorite things. You know, people I’d like to spend and entire weekend hanging out with/learning from.

PerformInk: What are some performances you’re particularly excited about this year? Is there anything new to the festival?

Jill Valentine: There is a new group from Missouri called 5’10”. They are an improv group of very hilarious and fearless women. They make big choices and commit. Tamale Sepp is premiering a new solo show about her scandalous 2-way mirror experience which gained national attention. Simply Shanell from Michigan, who’s stand up is straightforward and hilarious. She blends inner-city knowledge with southern hospitality. Rehner & Nixon—two-person sketch comedy that is character driven with a splash of audience interaction. The Boys—veterans Susan Messing and Rachael Mason, who EVERYONE should go see. These two are some of my comedy heroes.

Liz McArthur: Off the top of my head…it just keeps repeating Rebecca V. O’Neal’s name. She’s a local stand-up. She basically hosts every stand-up night in the city I think. (j/k…but for real that girl is busy). And you really can’t go wrong with puppets. Brouhaha: an improvised puppet musical is Saturday at 8, but there are so many shows going on at one time that, well…let’s just say this is going to be a weekend of tough decisions.

The Chicago Women’s Funny Festival runs June 16-19th at Stage 773. www.stage773/ChicagoWomensFunnyFestival

About author

Abigail Trabue

Abigail has worked as an actor/director in Chicago for over ten years, and along with husband Jason Epperson founded Lotus Theatricals in 2015, and PerformInk Chicago and Kansas City in 2016 (where she serves as Managing Editor of both publications). When not talking shop, Abigail is raising three padawans with Jason, drinking lots of coffee, converting school buses into RV's, and eating all the foods at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @AbigailTrabue