Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Maria Ciampa talks the Women in Comedy Festival

Maria Ciampa and Michelle Barbera have met a lot of funny people in their years on the Boston comedy scene. Both have experience in Boston’s improv community, Ciampa as part of the Improv Asylum mainstage cast and Barbera as a producer/player with the Tribe and ImprovBoston. Both now also perform stand-up and make short films.

About a year ago, the pair started thinking about all of the people they knew in the Boston scene – the stand-ups, the sketch players, the filmmakers, storytellers, and writers – and specifically the women who were major contributors to the scene. And that’s when the Women in Comedy Festival, which kicks off tonight at ImprovBoston, was born. This is my conversation with Ciampa about the Festival, including the Funny Guys showcase (it’s a more inclusive women’s festival).

When did you and Michelle get the idea for the Festival?

I would say a little over a year ago. We work together on so many projects – she has her film production company. We’re making a movie and she and her husband put out really great films that have won a bunch of stuff with that 48 Hour. We worked together a lot on that, and we’ve worked together in improv for years, and she was like, we should do a bunch of shows that are produced by or feature women more. And I was like, yeah, yeah, let’s do it. Literally, that’s how it came about.

Has it been in planning for that entire year?

Yeah. For a few months when I was still working full time, there was less being done, but we have used the entire year to plan it, put it together, figure out what shows, what type of talent, how we want to market it, working on the grant – that’s a big piece of it. Michelle’s worked really hard on the Web site. We definitely used all that time.

How did you decide you wanted to approach it? What did you definitely want to have in the Festival?

We wanted it to represent not only the unique voice that women have in comedy, but all the different ways they contribute. So it might not be just stand-up. Like, a lot of people think comedy, they think stand-up. Especially in the comedy community in Boston, and the people I know, they’re involved in so much more than stand-up. There are people doing writing, just doing the writing, for a show like BNN [Boston News Net]. There are people doing video sketch, there are people producing short film, musical comedy, improv, storytelling, There’s so many different ways, we wanted to represent all the different ways we’re expressing ourselves.

How did you go about assembling the talent?

Since this is the first year, it was kind of a, let’s see how this goes. Let’s work with ImprovBoston, who didn’t really have advance notice that this would be in their production schedule. So we kind of had to work around the existing schedule. It was challenging for a festival, but luckily the people at ImprovBoston are easy to work with. So it wasn’t hugely challenging in the end. It became, what types of shows can we have and who fits these shows?

In the beginning I was thinking, okay, the first year, we’re just going to have Boston talent. And then we’ll grow from there. But I started getting all these e-mails. So what I did was to say, okay, I know I want Bethany and Erin to host something because I love what they’re doing with they’re dress-up show. Or I know I want the Steamy Bohemians in there. I know I want Selena [Coppock] in there because we’ve worked together and I know she’s funny and we’ve done festivals together. But then I started getting all these e-mails from women all over the place, like, oh I hear you’re doing a festival and can I get in it. And at first, I said this is the first year and it’s Boston only, but thank you so much and I’ll get in touch with you next year. But then it became, we had a little more freedom, so I was able to invite women from all over. There’s women from New York, there’s women from the Midwest, so it’s pretty cool.

And also a lot of the women who started in Boston are now in New York or Chicago. For example the sketch show, Somebody’s in the Doghouse. Leah’s either now in New York or Chicago and I know Cathleen Carr of Two Girls for Five Bucks, t hey started in Boston, now they’re in New York.

How did you decide to have the Funny Guys show?

Okay, so I’ve always been feminist and I’m comfortable with that, but the last thing I want to do is be is a rude feminist. Because no one likes anybody who’s rude. I think it’s important that we’re inclusive, right? So my first thought was, I don’t want to be non-inclusive. I don’t want to be like, fist in the air like, “We’re better! We’ll show you! We’re gonna fight!” That’s not what I’m all about and that’s not what this festival is about. So we were trying to figure out how we could include guys but still have it be mainly about the voice of women.

So I thought, what happens to me as a woman in comedy a lot of the time when I’m at a club? Even in the festival I did two months ago. You get the intro, “This next person coming to the stage is a woman and she’s gorgeous… and funny!” I know you’re trying to be nice, and that’s great. You are doing your best. But is it not 2009? Aren’t we all just comedians? It always surprises me. So I was like, what if, the same thing I think a lot, what if the tables were turned? What if guys actually had to deal with that? So I was like, “Let’s include the guys, you know? They’re good looking and they have nice hairy chests, bit can they make us laugh?” Or whatever.

So that’s what I want to do, and I was thinking about it. I’m so excited to host this, because I know I’m just going to be ridiculous about it. I’m definitely not going to harass them, but I want to take it to levels of ridiculousness. Pointing out physical things, or comparing their bodies to certain fruits. I don’t know what, but it’s going to be fun for me. But it’s all in good fun. It’s not something where I’m like, “I’m gonna get you back!” But that’s how it came about. It’s my chance to host and bring guys up in a way they might not be used to.

Are you already having to plan for the second year of this?

Yeah. This is my first experience producing a festival, so I didn’t really know what I was in for. And Michelle, my co-producer, she’s been wonderful. She’s worked so much with the Web site and with the line-up and with coordinating with everyone. Over the past two weeks, literally just as the Festival is coming up, she just gave birth. So I’m like, first, next year, don’t have another baby, Michelle, because I need you around. But that’s women. They’ll do that. They’ll go off and give birth.

I’m already planning a lot of good stuff for next year. I want to have even more diversity in the type of shows we have, and I want them to be a little bit clearer. So I want to have one show that’s just all storytelling. I talked to Karen Corday about maybe having a female-themed Mortified. I want to get some authors in and do book readings. I want to have a fully musical comedy show. And also, I plan on expanding it to different venues. And I’ve talked to a few different venues in the area. So while it will stay the Women in Comedy Festival and probably even the ImprovBoston Women in Comedy Festival, we’ll expand it to different venues and be able to get the word out more that way.

Who or what are you most excited about seeing?

That’s so hard. I’m actually really excited about the panel discussions. I mean, I love shows, and I’m always at shows, but we have a panel discussion at 3:45 on Saturday. I guess that’s a testament to what a dork I am. I’m just a comedy nerd. I’m like, “Let’s talk about it!” We’re going to be talking about the business side and the creative side. What’s your process? Taking ideas to sketch form or taking ideas to stand-up form. Working this booker and working this casting agent. Finding your voice. All that good stuff. I do a lot of comedy and I always find that the conversations I love the most are talking about doing comedy.

I’m looking forward to that. I’m really excited about the 8PM on Saturday, because we have our headliner, Kelly MacFarland, and I think she’s hilarious. I’m so happy that we got her to headline the Festival. But all of them. Even the funny films. On Thursday, the 10PM, there’s the funny films show.

What I’m really excited about this Festival is, it has a community outreach portion to it. We got a grant from the Cambridge Arts Council, and I know it’s not very exciting for people to read about, but this is something I’m proud of. Because not only is it, I love comedy and I love helping women’s voices get out there, but we’re also doing a free workshop with Cambridge high school girls, and a free workshop with the Women’s Center of Cambridge, and that’s going to be taught be ImprovBoston staff. And it’s great, because comedy is a way to communicate, it’s a way to just feel better, boost your self-esteem, all that, blah blah – but it’s true. And I’m glad we can use this vehicle of the Festival to bring that to young women at the Cambridge Women’s Center. Maybe it will make them happier for an hour.

Women In Comedy Schedule

8PM Comedy Kick Off
Stand up comedy with Bari Olevsky, IB sketch group "User Friendly", and storytelling with Jess Sutich (A Night of Oral Tradition)

10PM Funny Guys Stand Up Showcase
Hosted by Maria Ciampa, with Micah Sherman, MC Mr. Napkins, Shane Mauss (Late Night with Conan), Dana Jay Bein, Robby Roadsteamer, and Ken Reid.

6PM Fabulous Females Cocktail Party
At ImprovBoston Lobby. Join us for a festive fundraiser to benefit women in comedy.

8PM Bastards, Inc.
Featuring stand up comedy with Jess Sutich (A Night of Oral Tradition), Lindsay Gonzalez, Michelle Barbera (We're Making a Movie), and improv by Three Hole Punch and Bastards, Inc.
$10/$7 students and seniors

10PM Funny Films
Featuring a night of short films and video sketch written, produced and created by women. Hosted by Rheri and Jim Kenney.
$10/$7 students and seniors

8PM, Main Theater: Atreus
Aeschylus meets Dallas. The world's first soap opera is reimagined in the modern-day, high-stakes business world.
$16/$12 (students and seniors)

10PM, “Friday Night Variety Show" Hosted by: The Steamy Bohemians. Featuring: Carolyn Castiglia, Daniella Capolino, M. Dickson, Shereen Kassam, Jennifer Myszkowski, Sharon Spell, Carolyn Plummer
$20/$16 (students and seniors)

10 - 12:30 Writing Workshop for the Ladies with Marty Johnson
Show up and mention "Facebook" and get $15 off if there is still space!

1pm - 3:30 pm You've Got a Great Show Idea, Now What? with Two Girls For Five Bucks
Show up and mention "Facebook" and get $15 off if there is still space!

3:45 FREE Panel Discussion on the business and creative side of comedy. Catered by City Girl Cafe in Inman Square

6PM, Main Theater: Women of Family Show
An improvised comedy show for the whole family. Come see singing dancing and comedy all off the top of our improviser's heads.
$12/$10 (seniors)/ $7 (students and children)

8PM, Main Theater: The Women in Comedy Stand up Showcase
Featuring Headliner Kelly MacFarland (Comedy Central), hosted by Erin Judge (Comedy Central's Live at Gotham) and Bethany Van Delft (Boston Comedy Festival) with Maria Ciampa (North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival), Selena Coppock (North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival), Desiree Burch (Hysterical Festival), Robin Gelfenbien (Hysterical Festival)
$25/$20 (students and seniors)

9:30PM - “Boston News Network”, Boston’s premier weekly fake news show features the funniest women in Boston: Kristina Smarz, Megan Golterman, and more.
$10/$7 (students and seniors)

10PM - “Improv and Sketch Showcase”, featuring ImprovBoston Mainstage, Two Girls For Five Bucks, sketch comedy featuring Cathleen Carr and Daiva Dupree (Ars Nova), Somebody’s In The Doghouse, sketch comedy featuring Marty Johnson and Leah Gotsik (The Second City at Sea)
$25/$20 (students and seniors)


Anonymous said...

Great article, Nick! This festival will rule! Maria & Michelle have worked so hard on this and it will be great. -Selena

Maria Ciampa said...

Holy verbatim, Nick. Thank you!

Ken Reid said...

Ken Reid is also on the Funny Guys showcase. I really am, I swear!