Uniting women through collaboration, stories

“5,000 Women” will be at the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia.

From the stage, Danny cat-calls to women in offensive flirtation. He wants them to fight back. 

But Danny isn’t a man, he’s a role played by Jennifer Blaine, the woman behind “5,000 Women,” a collaborative show uniting women artists in honor of National Women’s History Month at the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia on March 29.

Blaine’s vision for the show reflects this idea of celebrating women by artistically collaborating and sharing stories while providing opportunities for artists to expand their audiences, evident in the acts she put together for the show.

“What happens is, by me being this guy, women get the opportunity to talk back at cat-calling,” Blaine said. “Even though all my stuff is comedy, it’s all pushing boundaries about social roles. And that is who Danny is. Even though he has these great and very offensive one-liners, he is really an opportunity for women to put him in his place.”

After graduating from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., with a degree in women’s studies, Blaine got her start in theater in New York City, where she discovered the beauty of the one-woman show and began writing her own material for the multiple characters she plays throughout the course of one performance.

“Through the process of being out there on my own, I want to save people some wasted energy and get them attention now,” Blaine said. “I feel like there is something about being on the solitary journey that makes it a test that is not necessarily rewarded. I want them to build the audience they’re reaching.”

Deemed “Woprah,” or “white Oprah” by comedian and self-proclaimed “blacktress” Naomi Ekperigin, who is in the performance, Blaine wants to show the importance in women telling their own stories artistically and building a community of conversation through that.

“I love listening to women,” Blaine said. “I want to give a lot of space to it because I learn so much. I learn through stories. I also feel like with entertainment, I like it to teach me something and move me in some way.”

When naming the show, Blaine took inspiration from the fact that 5,000 women are giving birth every moment around the world. For her, that is one kind of creativity that can also relate to art.

“To create an entirely new human being – wow,” Blaine said. “And I feel that way about our art. What if we give that much attention to our ability to create things out of joining our artistic ideas, our intellect?”

Ekperigin, also an alumna of Wesleyan, kept in touch with Blaine over the years and jumped at the chance to perform outside of her home in New York City because of the opportunity to get in front of a fresh audience in Philadelphia.

“What I like about this show is it isn’t just a show for more stage time,” Ekperigin said. “I’m not from the area, so it will be really fun to see who these other women in the Philly area are. Who’s performing, what they’re doing and what a Saturday night crowd at the Ethical Society is into. I can pretend I’m into politics for a night, you know.”

Including women like Ekperigin, who use their art as a means to connect women in conversation, was intentional for Blaine in choosing which artists would be included in the show.

“Art is transformative, so the women I’m choosing for this show, what they’re doing with their art is transformative,” Blaine said. “There’s just something about women on a solitary walk that, as we go deeply inward and share something that is so personal to us, it actually resonates, because that is how we get to what is universal.”

The show is a comedy-based variety show with standup comedian Ekperigin, a singer-songwriter, a duo of improvisational actresses, a dancer and a poet, as well as performance artist Joy Mariama Smith, who is based in Philly and may be the oddest performer of the night.

“For me, it is important to not have to compromise the integrity of my work,” Smith said. “I don’t really believe in the idea of avant-garde. If I’m making art now, it might be the audience that needs to catch up. I’m not before anything.”

Smith plays with active art, which differs from audience participation. Her art relies on the active audience and engagement. For “5,000 Women,” her performance involves line dancing, voicemails, the audience and Smith talking to herself.

“You shouldn’t expect anything, really,” Smith said. “I tend to be the type of person that tries to weasel my way out of being categorized or put into a box.”

Going along with the theme of the show in the celebration of women and artists, Smith said she thinks it is impossible to be an artist and not participate in that conversation.

“Just by being a part of it I’m supporting making art and performing and being willing to share and engage in this dialogue,” Smith said. “This setting and framing around my work is kind of unusual, so I’m excited to be in there.”

Emily Rolen can be reached at emily.rolen@temple.edu.

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