Bloomers mark 40 years of edgy comedy

Bloomers, Penn’s all-female comedy troupe, celebrated its 40th anniversary last weekend with an alumnae show that recreated routines from the 1980s and 1990s.

Scene from the Fall 2018 production of “The Bachelor: Will You Accept This Show?”  Photo by ImageFlo
In the 1979 “Fruit of the Bloomers” debut show, Bloomers alumnae discuss the happenings of the day over large bowls of “Luda Crisp.” Photo courtesy of Bloomers Alumnae

Bloomers, Penn’s all-female comedy troupe, started causing a laughing uproar in 1978.

That’s when a group began a revolution of sorts, opening the doors to an Ivy League tradition of musical sketch comedy.

Named after Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a member of the women’s liberation movement who popularized the long, loose trousers gathered at the ankles that were worn under a short skirt, circa 1851, Bloomers marks 40 years of funny business this semester.

Lauren Sorantino, a communication and English major and Bloomers chairwoman, says the anniversary is no laughing matter.

“This is a big moment in Bloomers history,” Sorantino says. “It’s caused all Bloomers to pause and reflect on the group’s fascinating history—our founders were refused entry into Mask & Wig. Since then, we’ve developed our own presence.”

In its inaugural show, “Fruit of the Bloomers,” 1979, four Bloomers alumnae demonstrate the “Squirm Dance.” Photo courtesy of Bloomers Alumnae

The inaugural Bloomers show in 1979, “Fruit of the Bloomers,” inspired current troupe members to order retro merchandise sporting its logo, specifically for the sold-out alumnae show on Saturday, Oct. 20, in the Iron Gate Theatre.

The cast honored Bloomers alumnae by recreating a few of the troupe’s comedy shorts from the 1980s and 1990s in their fall 2018 production, “The Bachelor: Will you Accept this Show?”

Bloomers, circa 1981-82. Photo courtesy of Bloomers Alumnae

Sorantino, who produces the group’s two annual shows and handles its administrative needs, in addition to being a member of its writing staff, says the 40th anniversary is special for a lot of reasons. It is mainly, she says, a salute to its pioneering founders.

“We are lucky to have founders who are so invested in Bloomers,” she says. “Most of them made the trip back to Philadelphia for the anniversary show this weekend. Our founders increasingly have the time and energy to shift their attention back to Bloomers. A handful of them have become my mentors, and one has even become sort of a mother figure.”

Bloomers during Spring Fling, 1982. Photo courtesy of Bloomers Alumnae

As an all-woman comedy space, Sorantino explains, feminist humor is a comedy muscle Bloomers flexes, poking fun at discrimination against women.

“We have a responsibility to write feminist bits. If we don’t write these kinds of bits, who else will? Probably people who don’t have a license to write comedy about the experiences of women,” says Sorantino. “Our feminism shines through in interesting ways. Our shows are always underlined by a unique Bloomers brand of feminism.”

Sorantino says that she’s witnessed tremendous growth in the troupe in the last few years. Not only have they moved their shows to a much larger venue, they’ve also doubled their ticket sales and added more leadership positions, including a diversity chair. Although Bloomers has blossomed to a diverse group of 65 members, not everyone has what it takes to bloom.

“There are a few things most Bloomers have in common: They are bold, funny, down-to-earth women who aren’t afraid to be silly,” Sorantino explains. “This is not the easiest thing to find at a place like Penn.”

The cast members of the 1989 Bloomers show, “Where's Your Sense of Bloomers?” Photo courtesy of Bloomers Alumnae

Auditions consist of written and in-person components tailored to the specific sections for which a person is applying.

“An organization like Bloomers requires a lot of work and efficiency,” explains Laurie McCall, director of the Platt Student Performing Arts House, which serves as a base camp for the performing arts groups on campus. “There are the cast, crew, writers, business staff, and band. All the parts need to work together to produce a cohesive production, and they nail that every semester, putting on two full production runs per academic year and still have time to produce LaughtHER Fest,” a day-long event filled with panels and workshops celebrating women with an interest in comedy that culminates in an evening performance.

Bloomers’ full cast getting ready for their Spring 2004 show, “Hey Ya,” including Jasmine Landry, Vanessa Bayer, Anna Hartley, Laura Cappella, Megan Malta, Julie Kraut, Dvorit Mausner, Carleigh Krubiner, Aimee Musil, Katie Tuider, Gabi Arnay, Jen Gothelf, Anjali Dalal, and Arielle Schneier. Photo courtesy of Bloomers Alumnae  

“Bloomers writing process is collaborative and the skits run the gambit of topics,” says McCall. “There is a definite edge with political and pop culture sketches, but they are hilarious.”

“What does the future hold for Bloomers?” says Sorantino. “A clubhouse? A huge endowment? A reality TV show? Probably none of these things, but it’s hard to be sure. Given how things have been trending, I envision more growth. We can build horizontally and produce more content during our off-season, when the show is over. We are dipping our toes into digital content; I could see us diving into that. Whatever it is, I’m excited to see it.”

Bloomers Spring 2018 Show Finale
The finale of the Bloomers Spring 2018 production, “Shakespeare in Bloom.” Photo by ImageFlo