Lights, camera, empowerment


James Tsitiridis

Lights, camera, empowerment

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Women of color are finally getting a comedic spotlight, according to Ronke Soyode, a performer for Chicago’s new comedy variety show “Beautiful and Powerful Sistas” opening Sept. 22. 

“B.A.P.S.” will feature four performers celebrating women of color through comedy at The Crowd Theater, 3935 N. Broadway. 

“Black women of color are not just angry, overly emotional, loud women,” Soyode said. “We can make you laugh, we can make you cry, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the stereotypical [television] versions of us.”

The showcase producers, Adrienne Brandyburg and Jillian Ebanks, were not available for comment as of press time.

 “Our theater is committed to diversity in the arts and we are glad we can provide a stage for women of color to speak their truth,”  said Taylor Jones, The Crowd Theater’s director of finance in a Sept. 16 emailed statement. “There is a lack of diverse showcases in the city and a lot of talented individuals aren’t given opportunities as a result.”

Soyode said she first met Brandyburg in a group of black improv performers called “Chill, Becca.” The group was started by John Hildreth, the Second City alumnus and adjunct professor in the Theatre Department.

Soyode said she jumped at the opportunity when Brandyburg invited her to participate in the “B.A.P.S.” showcase. Soyode’s performance may be a surprise but will include dance and solo sketch work.

“I’m excited to perform with a very talented group of women,” Soyode said. “We get to show we’re all multi-faceted and extremely talented, and we have voices that are deeper than people think.” 

Soyode said she hopes the showcase will draw a large crowd and has invited young girls who expressed interest in her performances to attend the show.

Performers also include Zeph Kaffey, Isabeau Dornevil and EbonyEssenceJet, a black female improvisation quartet featuring veterans of The Second City Training Center.

According to Tyler Dean Kempf, adjunct professor in the Theatre and Television departments and teacher at Second City’s Training Center, comedy theater is a vehicle for serious issues. 

“If you’re going to a comedy show, it’s important for you to know you’re going to be challenged,” Kempf said. “You’re not just going to laugh, but you’re also going to think.”

Kempf added that showcases like “B.A.P.S.” give comedians a forum that amplifies their voices and has the potential to allow performers to advocate for greater diversity and will propel the comedy community forward.

Comedy and satire are meant to be driven by a point of view, Kempf said. If comedy can change a person’s opinion about a subject the performance is doing what was intended by the writer. 

“[It’s important to] get one’s point of view out because if [performers] don’t get it out, then [they] will be stifled by it,” said Kimberly Banks, member of EbonyEssenceJet. “[They are] going to succumb to it and be a victim of it.”

According to Banks, women of color expressing themselves through comedy performance has historic significance.

“[Black people in history] did so much of their suffering in silence,” Banks said. “To empower black women is important because we’ve been made to keep silent for so long when there is so much to say.”