In 1978, after seeing a Mask and Wig show, a few girls at Penn thought to join the club. They were refused. Because Mask and Wig consisted only of males, the option for a girl to join did not exist. That refusal lay the groundwork for the nation’s first of its kind and what is today one of the biggest performing arts groups on campus: Bloomers. Fast forward 40 years later, Bloomers is celebrating their birthday this weekend with their show “”
An all–female musical and sketch comedy group, Bloomers cannot be missed on Locust Walk these days. Shouting and waving tickets in the air, the girls’ enthusiasm is only a preview of the high–energy to come this weekend. Their sketches, ranging from the likes of Amy Gutmann impersonations to mimes to Shakespeare, have had audiences doubled over in laughter. Performers, all in hand–made costumes, run across the stage to the rhythm and beat of the Bloomers band, singing, dancing, acting, or all three.
It all began with Joan Harrison (C ‘81). In the fall of her sophomore year, she called a meeting at Houston Hall to survey potential for another comedy group. 200 women showed up that day in interest. The following spring was the premiere of their first show: “Fruit of the Bloomers.”
The entire cast is now some over 60 people—but that wasn’t always the case. In the beginning, shows occurred in Houston Hall and other much smaller venues. This weekend, “The Bachelor, Will You Accept This Rose?” will take place at the Iron Gate Theater, a theater with a capacity of 250 that will no doubt be near full at every performance. Forty years ago, there was a cast and a band, but nothing like the entire team of business staff, writing staff, costumes, cast, band, and tech that there is today. Over the course of some four decades, Bloomers has only gotten bigger and better.
Every year, Bloomers also hosts the , a festival of women in comedy. In their first year, Vanessa Bayer (C ‘04), Bloomers alum and SNL cast member, along with other female comedians, such as Julie Kraut, , followed by stand–up and improvisation workshops. Just last month, they brought in SNL’s Melissa Villaseñor, who launched into her famous impressions, including one very long, slightly sexual one of her grandmother.
Since the success of the group, there’s been obvious comparisons between Bloomers and Mask and Wig and even talks of the two combining. At face value, the only glaring difference is that one is all–male and the other is all–female. But this difference also leads to a some degree of difference in content. “We have this kind of comedy muscle we can flex that affects what we can say and can’t say and what we have a responsibility to say,” said Lauren Sorantino (C’ 19), Chair of Bloomers. As one of few all–female spaces on campus, “there’s a huge responsibility to write feminist content, especially now,” she added.
“We obviously see the world in different ways and that affects what we think is funny,” Katie Marshall (C '19), the Director of the show, agreed. “That being said, as Penn students and millennials, there are also a lot of similarities between the types of people who are attracted to us [Mask and Wig and Bloomers] and in that sense, there’s also a convergence between the two.” For now, though, the two groups are to stay separate, meaning more shows and more comedic content for the audience.
And that’s exactly what’s coming up this weekend. The 2–hour show will include a funny character, an absurd event, and a parody of a political take among many other sketches. Specific details about content are being kept under wraps. With the theme this year on The Bachelor, the cast will put their comedic spin on America's most dramatic reality TV show, set against the backdrop of the Bachelor mansion, a hot tub, and a fountain (with running water on stage!), built by Bloomers’ very own tech staff. It’s the story of Bachelor Andy as he sets off his on his journey to find love.
For their 40th anniversary, in addition to their normal sketches, they’ll also be reviving two others from the earliest years of Bloomers on the Saturday show. Bloomers alumni, “Girdles” as they call themselves, including Joan herself, are flying in from across the country for this landmark moment—a testament to the strength of the Bloomers family. “It’s so exciting to see who laughs at what,” said Ariana McGinn (C '19), the head writer. “There’ll be bits you think are so funny and no one laughs and bits you think are not as funny and everyone laughs.” With the audience spanning generations, it will no doubt be even more interesting to observe.
“Everyday I’m so impressed by my peers and so in awe of their talent,” Lauren said. “So many of them have crazy skill sets.” And this weekend, all of that will come together in five shows from Thursday to Saturday.