1812 Productions is getting ready to welcome live audiences back for their 2021-2022 season- read our Q&A with Producing Artistic Director Jennifer Childs

-Brenda Hillegas

Now in its 25th season, 1812 Productions– Philly’s comedy-based theater company- is getting ready to welcome live audiences back for their 2021-2022 season! To make sure their audiences are completely comfortable, this season will feature a variety of programming with in-person, hybrid, and online content (including the return of a popular 1812 holiday show, The Carols). Producing Artistic Director Jennifer Childs looks forward to in-person laughs, showing off 1812’s unique comedy styles, and continuing the company’s education program for local schools. Read below to learn more about the theater company, what to expect and why you should come see a show (or watch one at home)!

Q: First off. The obvious. How does it feel to be back?!
A: Complicated! I am, of course, thrilled at the idea of being in the room with an audience again and hearing their laughter. That said, I want to make sure that our artists and audience feel safe, taken care of and comfortable returning.  I’m very aware that the last eighteen months have been a roller coaster for everyone – this time of pandemic and quarantine have changed us all in some way and as we return and meet each other again we have to make space for that. I don’t think it’s ever going back to “normal” but I’m excited to see what post-pandemic theater looks like!

Q: You founded 1812 Productions in 1997 with Peter Pryor. What inspired you to do so? 
A: I think the simplest way to say it is that we believed the world needed – and still needs – more comedy. In the teaching and performing work that we were both doing at the time, we saw how powerful a tool comedy could be. When people are laughing they are open (their mouths are open, their arms are uncrossed) and they are ready to engage, to listen, to hear new perspectives. We wanted to create a place where we could explore many different issues through a comic lens and a place where everyone knew they were going to have a really good time.

Q: This year you’ll be doing a hybrid season with shows in-person and/or streaming. Why did you feel this was the best fit for your company?
A: We did an audience survey in early September and quickly saw that our audience was quite split on whether they were ready to return to the theater. Many were eager to come back but many were still hesitant and uncertain. Starting with a hybrid model in the winter allows us to meet our audience where they are and provide a little something for everyone.  Our hope is that by the spring we’ll be able to be completely in person – but we’re ready to pivot if need be!

Q: This is the 25th season for 1812 Productions! What have been some theatre accomplishments and/or shows that stuck out for you over the last 25 years?
A: Oh man…that’s so hard! I think over the years we’ve really become known for our original work. The Big Time: Vaudeville for the Holidays was the first piece we created ourselves and it was such a surprise smash hit. It helped us find our voice and people connected with us because we were creating work they couldn’t see anywhere else. From there shows like This is the Week That Is, which started as a history of political humor and fifteen years later has become an annual institution with an Emmy nominated documentary about its creation commissioned by the American Theatre Wing. We’ve created a lot of work that focuses on comedy history which has given us the opportunity to work with and learn from some of our comic heroes – for Always A Lady (a history of women in comedy), we worked with Phyllis Diller, for Our Show of Shows we received permission from Sid Caesar to perform his material, for the first version of This is the Week That Is we met and worked with Mort Sahl and Dick Gregory.   

Q: Can you talk about 1812 Education and your plans for the school year?
A: I am also really proud of our Education program. We have been in residence at both South Philadelphia High School and the Widener School for Children with Disabilities for the past 24 years. We have deep connections at both schools and work with them year round. We were able to continue our work with them remotely last year and are excited about being back in the classroom this year. Our Education Director, Tanaquil Marquez, is working with each school to meet their needs in this strange time – the focus is on being there for students and bringing them some much-needed laughter as well!

Q: As the only professional theater company in the country dedicated to comedy, what do you hope others who would like to follow in your footsteps can learn from 1812 Productions?
A: Comedy is subjective. Not every comedy is going to make every person laugh. I think we started to find our footing once we stopped trying to program things that would make other people laugh and started doing things that made us laugh. When you’re having a good time, the audience can feel that joy.

Q: What are you looking forward to most this season?
A: The first live laugh.

Q: What are some of your personal comedy favorites- plays, television, performers, etc?
A: I’m a comedy history nerd so everyone from Nichols & May and Burns & Allen to Carol Burnett and The Honeymooners.  Steve Martin always makes me laugh as does Mel Brooks. Contemporary comics who crack me up – Chris Rock, Tig Notaro…too many to name!

1812 Productions kicks off season 25 with Two Outta Three– a new cabaret show from Childs and her real life husband, Scott Greer. Live performances: Friday November 19 at 8pm, Saturday November 20 at 8pm, and Sunday November 21 at 2pm and 7pm. Streaming performances available: December 6-19, 2021. Tickets are available on their website.

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