Audra Jantz and Kate Holmes are organizing the first Detroit Women of Comedy Festival May 31 through June 3.
By Andy Reid
Detroit has a vibrant improv comedy scene, with enthusiastic crowds and eager performers to support several venues. There’s Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck; Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale; and Pointless Brewery & Theatre in Ann Arbor, not to mention fledgling groups like ComedySportz in Ferndale and The Mitten Theater in Plymouth.
Audra Jantz of Hamtramck and Kate Holmes of Blissfield have been involved in the local improv scene for several years and have spent the last year focusing their comedic attention on the Planet Ant Farm Team, the theater’s incubation group. After a set one night a few months ago, Holmes mentioned an idea she had been tossing around for nearly a year — a show that showcases Metro Detroit’s women performers.
Jantz, 29, and Holmes, 34, saw the same issues in the improv community. Women, people of color and the LGBTQ community were all underrepresented on stage. The two women saw how audiences and other performers followed along easier when men played women characters than vice versa, and how men tended to dominate the casts of primetime shows at local venues. Holmes and Jantz wanted to do something about it.
After talking with Darren Shelton, managing director at Planet Ant, and Mike McGettigan, Planet Ant Training Center director, their idea blossomed from a showcase into a full-fledged, four-day festival that puts a spotlight on the funniest women in and from Detroit and creates an inclusive atmosphere where performers feel welcome to create and contribute.
The Detroit Women in Comedy Festival was born.
“It’s so cool there is a lot of interest and people are being really supportive,” Jantz says. “There are a lot of women’s festivals that are popping up across the country, and it is showing a trend that women are like, ‘Hey, we’re here. We have a place, but we want to make a bigger presence.’ That would be something really cool to get from this festival — a voice to people who are underrepresented, whether it’s women (or) minorities.”
The inaugural Detroit Women of Comedy Festival will run May 31 through June 3 in Hamtramck, with shows at Ant Hall, Planet Ant Theatre, 7 Brothers (which the Ant recently bought) and Bank Suey in Detroit. Tickets start at $15. Full festival passes are $100.
Holmes and Jantz have booked talented headliners, including Mama’s Boy (pictured above), a group of Detroit-native women improvisers who regularly perform to sold-out shows in Los Angeles; Moyer & Monroe, featuring Jaime Moyer (“K.C. Undercover”) and Maribeth Monroe (“Workaholics”); and Bottle of Red, a legendary Detroit improv troupe that comprises Margaret Edwartowski and Nancy Hayden.
Detroit is “sometimes underestimated,” yet “full of potential and here to stay,” Moyer says. “Just like women in comedy. That’s why Detroit is the perfect place to host this festival. I’m so excited to perform with one of my favorite ladies, Maribeth Monroe, and to be a part of a festival celebrating women and diversity in comedy. Now more than ever, comedy is a good place to look to invoke change, commonality and humanity.”
The festival includes a showcase night featuring women from local theater resident casts: The Home Team from Planet Ant, ResCo from Go Comedy! and the League from Pointless.
“I wanted to reach out to all of the home teams at the different theaters and get them to play,” Holmes says. “Because it shouldn’t be about looking at anyone and saying, ‘It’s your fault that it’s lacking,’ but about celebrating the women that are in the community.”
There will also be workshops taught by Moyer, Hayden, Edwartowski and other local performers like Lauren Bickers of Hamtramck and Tara Rase of Plymouth, so attendees can learn from some of the most talented women performers from Metro Detroit.
Dozens of improv troupes, stand-ups and sketch groups from Detroit and across the Midwest — Minneapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and more — have submitted to perform.
“We have had so much support from PJ Jacokes, who runs the Detroit Improv Festival (in August), and the other theaters,” Jantz says. “People are excited, and it is already bringing the community together.”
For more information about the festival, visit planetant.com/dwcf.
Andy Reid is the associate training center director at Planet Ant Theatre.