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.
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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 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.”