Philly is full of creativity, but when it comes to honing in on everything that comedy has to offer, no artistic organization does it better than 1812.
Sporting comedic performances and shows highlighting improv, it comes with no surprise that this experimental gem has produced more shows by gathering a group of artists in a room and playing—improvising, experimenting and writing together—than most. That playful attitude is exemplified in all of their productions, especially with their most popular output: ‘This is the Week That Is.’ The unique production incorporates sketch comedy, musical parodies, and news desk style reporting that changes nightly depending on the news happening in real-time. It’s this element that has helped cement the show as a must-see and has already gotten audiences buzzing about what this year’s edition will hold.
But aside from their annual production, 1812 has plenty in store for the 21-22 season, which kicks off Nov. 19 and runs all the way until next June. To help provide more insight, 1812’s producing artistic director Jennifer Childs—who most recently produced the virtual comedy ‘The Way I Walk’ with Melanie Cotton, Bi Jean Ngo and Tanaquil Marquez—gave Metro the scoop.
What was the pandemic like for 1812?
During the pandemic we were determined to continue our all-comedy mission, finding ways to share joy in a digital format and to connect with our audience even if we couldn’t be in person. With that in mind, we did a full four-show season, reinventing some of our signature programming into an online format (‘Patsy’s Block Party’ and ‘This is the Week That Is’) and creating new work designed to use these online tools to the best of our ability (‘The Way I Walk’ and ‘Set Model Theatre’). The staff completely re-invented their roles, teaching themselves about digital programming and streaming, it was really incredible and I was so proud of the work we created. That said, comedy is about audience connection, it’s a conversation between performer and patron and doing comedy online with no audience response was brutal. As the old saying goes “If a joke gets told in the forest and no one’s there to hear it, is it funny?” The online feedback we got was very positive but nothing beats the roar of live laughter in a theater.
How would you describe 1812 as a theater company overall?
Joy. That’s the center of all of our work. We believe that the world needs more comedy and that through laughter we can create meaningful connections. We are a collaborative company and create a good portion of the work we produce each year.
What are some performances that stick out for this season and why?
I believe each of our shows sticks out this year for very different reasons: With ‘Two Outta Three’ my husband and I wrote this show about becoming empty-nesters. It’s based on our real-life experience of sending our only daughter away to college, which we just did a month ago. While it does not reference the pandemic directly, it is in many ways a pandemic play. I think about all the huge life experiences that people went through during quarantine — getting married, having babies, changing jobs, losing loved ones—this is our personal quarantine story… a comic look at how we said and are saying goodbye to our daughter. [Then with] ‘This Is The Week That Is,’ this is our annual political humor show and definitely the show we’re most known for. It’s signature 1812 and the center of our programming each year. This year it will be our big “welcome back” show in the spring —a lot of favorite performers and a whole new administration that we have yet to lampoon. In times of crisis this show has been a place of comic catharsis for performers and audience alike and I cannot wait to share our comic take on the past two years. [Finally,] ‘In Search of the Kitchen Gods,’ Bi Jean Ngo is a member of our newly established Artistic Core. It’s thrilling to “hand the microphone” to her and hear her stories which are both intensely personal and completely universal. It also features food—an amazing lens by which to connect with culture.
What does it mean for the theater (performers, producers etc.) to have in-person shows return?
I think all of us are eager to hear the audience’s laughter, even if it’s through a mask. I always say the audience is the final character in any comedy. Their laughter (or lack of it) completes the rhythm of our work and in this way our work is unfinished until the audience is there. We can’t wait to welcome our final cast member.
Anything additional that you want audiences to know about?
We miss you!
To learn about 1812 Production’s upcoming performances, visit 1812productions.org