The same year that Jennifer Childs’ daughter celebrated her seventh birthday, her mother turned 70. Spending time with two of them, Childs noticed that both made her laugh, only in entirely different ways.
“My mom is funnier at 70 than she ever was in her whole life,” says Childs. “Mostly because she owns herself now and cares less what people think, so she has the freedom to say what she feels and be who she is. In the meantime, my daughter was trying to figure out how she’s funny, what makes people laugh and what makes people go, ‘OK, settle down.’ I was watching her imitate other people’s humor in an attempt to find her own.”
With those polar opposites in mind, Childs began noticing how the humor she shared with her own female friends was changing as they moved into their mid-40s and early 50s. “All of a sudden we’re Bette Davis in ‘All About Eve’ — where did that come from? Women are very transformative creatures, and I became fascinated with the question of whether our humor transforms and ages as we do.”
So Childs, the artistic director of Philly’s all-comedy theater company 1812 Productions, began exploring that question with a wide variety of women from diverse backgrounds, from journalists to individuals served by domestic abuse services and prison transition programs to Lucie Arnaz, daughter of perhaps the most famous comedienne of them all, Lucille Ball.
The result of the ensuing three years’ work is “It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project,” which will premiere at Plays & Players Theatre, 1812’s home base, beginning this weekend. The show’s three acts travel through the three ages of comedy that Childs discovered in her own family.
Visiting with community partners like Women Against Abuse, Transition Network and Why Not Prosper, Childs found herself mining comedy from very unfunny territory. “Most of the women who I talked to told me stories that were really difficult: angry, sad, tragic, violent stories,” she says. “But they told them with such incredible humor. We use humor to make our way through the world. I want to make you laugh, but the secret mission is I want to change your life.”
If you go
“It’s My Party: The Women and Comedy Project”
April 25-May 19 (Opening night May 1)
Plays & Players Theatre
1714 Delancey St.