Thu 10/4-Sat 10/6 @ 7:30PM
Co-producers and creators Deena Nyer Mendlowitz and Sam Dee are the brains, hilarity and beauty behind Cleveland’s inaugural female-run comedy festival, Mass Hysteria Improv Comedy Fest. The festival debuts Thu 10/4 at 7:30pm with openers RSVP and Casually Late Stampede at the Magalen in Slavic Village. Friday (This Improvised Life, Story Club Cleveland and Share-apy with Asking For a Friend) and Saturday (Mental Illness and Friends, Here the Improvised Music with Rance & Tara) will be Forest City Brewery.
“Yes, our tag line is created by women, for everyone because we want to emphasize female voices, but don’t want to diminish the male members of our community,” states Sam. “Like most comedy scenes, males hold the majority and we thought it’d be a welcomed change to put women at the forefront. We want to let people know we are out here, and can hopefully diversify the community by showing everyone they’re welcome to join in,” she continues.
“I think the first part of it being all female run is that we have all these quality female-run shows and we all like hanging out with each other and supporting each other, so let’s do that,” Deena voices. “The second tier reason is the gatekeepers of comedy have overwhelmingly been men, from clubs to festivals, and too often those gatekeepers have treated women unfairly or let an unsafe environment exist, and we wanted everybody who came to this to feel safe and to laugh and to have a good time.”
All workshops are open to performers, no matter what your improvisational skill level. If it’s your first time you will get a taste of trying something new. If you’re more seasoned, you will learn new skills and strengthen your current skills. There’s a plethora of workshop offerings, ranging from improv 101, to musical improv, to storytelling workshops. These are all non-judgmental workshops and fun environments where you can let loose, be creative, learn skills, develop new friendships and enjoy each other.
“People new to storytelling and improv should attend. We love sharing our passions and love hearing different points of view,” expresses Sam. “So, we invite anyone who has interest in finding new ways to express yourself, meet new people and have a good time. People attending shows should expect high energy, emotional honesty and lots of opportunities to be part of the experience. We all work hard to build things that are important to us, help us grow and create a bit of joy,” she continues. “With all the stress and strife happening around us, taking a break to relax and laugh helps us deal with all the harsh realities in this world. We want everyone to be able to let loose in a safe and inviting place. Our aim is to celebrate art, joy and sharing. If that is something you are down with, then we want you there with us.”
Deena has been performing and learning improv and comedy since 2002. She studied at Second City Cleveland and took intensive workshops at the Annoyance Theatre and Second City Chicago. She also hosts and performs in three shows regularly: Story Club Cleveland’s Eastside Show (created by Dana Norris), This Improvised Life (a storytelling/improv mash-up), and Mental Illness and Friends (a comedy talk show aimed at destigmatizing mental illness).
“I was working at a preschool and for the first time in a while, all the kids were napping. And when kids nap for 15 minutes, well women, we create something,” proclaims Deena. “I was thinking about how there is currently so many fun, funny, different shows in Cleveland that are all helmed by women. So, I emailed those women and said, ‘Let’s do all our shows one weekend’ and they said yes! They all stepped up, especially Sam Dee who ran away with the idea even more than me. She is really responsible for so much of the way it got shaped,” Deanna exudes.
“I think improv can connect us in so many ways and have used it for leading social skills workshops for teens with autism and currently teach a parent-child connection class using improv,” Deena shares. “I am a loud and open mental health advocate, sharing my own experience of living with Chronic Suicidal Ideation, and I am the mom of a terrific 12-year- old boy who loves Star Wars and constantly crushes me in foosball.”
Sam is member of Casually Late Stampede, creator and host of the shows Share-apy and Improv Death Match. She began in standup, and was doing it for three years when she was introduced to improv. She know immediately knew this is where she belonged.
“I had been doing standup and felt very stifled by the way things were run and who ran them,” Sam reveals. “With improv, I am encouraged to be as big as I can and to take huge chances. It was so freeing and made me want to share it with as many people as I could. Seeing people do what they’re passionate about & inviting you to be part of it is really exhilarating.”
“I hope people walk away knowing how to listen and express themselves a little better than before. Imbuing a bit of confidence in someone is always a win,” Sam affirms. “I hope the vibe is fun and inviting, leaving with attendees a warm, fuzzy feeling. Cleveland doesn’t have a dedicated improv theater so troupes have to find places to perform. I hope if we prove there is a demand for a theater we can make that a reality. I know it is a dream for a lot of us to have a dedicated space. But in the meantime we have found amazing spaces like the Magalen, Forest City Brewery, Mahall’s, Bar Louie & the Bottlehouse who have opened their doors to us and given the opportunity to create. Support local establishments who support artists!”
[Written by Kendall Embrescia-Hridel]