Jen Childs curates empowered female comedians with ‘Broads’

Mark Garvin

Strong women making people laugh go back to the 1920s and 30s with Sophie Tucker, Moms Mabley, Mae West and additional female comic revolutionaries. To that end, 1812 Productions’ founder and artistic director Jennifer Childs directs and utilizes the talent of Mabley, Tucker and West for ‘Broads‘.

Running now through Feb. 26, MB Scallen (as Tucker), Melanye Finister (as Mabley) and Rebecca Robbins (as West), appropriate the manners of those legends. Pursuing their characters essence rather than bother with imitation, these actors are masters of what Scallen calls “comedy gold”.

Childs has an instinctive way, not only writing, but also choosing wisely what Mae West, Moms Mabley and Sophie Tucker did for ‘Broads’ and its focus of empowerment.

“Right off the bat, I became more aware during rehearsals how many ‘broads’ there were and how they defied the patriarchy, spoke their truth, got hauled off to jail, and just kept working,” said Scallen. “What Jen did was reach into a pool of those comedians’ best routines and found what most sparked her joy, her delight – the women and stories that turned her on the most. As actors and audience members, we are benefiting from Jen’s deep love and respect of these women. She picked the best of the best.”

Robbins goes on to say how Childs was in no way looking for any of Broads’ actors to do impersonations of West, Mabley or Tucker, but rather something closer to a personification of each great comedian.

“Jen wanted us to embody these legendary women,” she said. “Jen wanted us to use our physicality and our voices and take it to a place that we felt comfortable with – but not imitation. She wanted the essence of these people.”

Finding the “you” within each actor and avoid signature mannerisms, comes down to essential gestures and relationships with their audience.

“Sophie Tucker was going to show her truth and bully the audience into going along with her – that was her thing,” noted Scallen. “So, I took Sophie’s bullying and her declarative way of speaking and that became my version.”

Robbins is quick to state that Mae West was plosive with her consonants, and focuses on that for flavor, rhythm, and audience relatability. “But nobody is Mae West,” said Robbins. “We can stroke the same signature poses and it will not have the same effect.”

Scallen states that each performer during Broads did their own tweaking for the sake of a snug fit, to match each actors’ greatest strengths with the most dynamic aspects of their characters.

“For instance, Rebecca has a sensation set of pipes, so Jen focused on Mae West’s songs that would show off Robbins’ singing voice. That is part of Jen’s genius, too. She takes these fabulous iconic characters, looks at her actors and focuses on what works best for their super powers, and with the most strength in regards to getting laughs.”

Ultimately, so much of what makes ‘Broads’ tick comes down to its portrayal of women power.

“I can not get over how relevant these women are – from 1915 on though the 1970s,” said Scallen, of marching through the eras of women’s rights, past and present. “These women kept right on talking.”

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