In the words of Joan Harrison C’81: “There’s a lot to be said for the liberation and spine-building that comes from performing comedy at a young age.”
Harrison’s own youthful foray into the comedy game came as the principal founder of Bloomers, Penn’s all-female comedy troupe, which (see our cover, featuring the current members) is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Over the decades, Bloomers has offered hundreds of Penn women the opportunity to bond together and “find their voices, comedic and otherwise,” as Bloomers alumna Vanessa Bayer C’04 puts it—then take the stage and make fun of targets ranging from campus stereotypes and inter-school rivalries, to administrative absurdities, to politics, pop culture, the patriarchy, and more.
“In Full Bloom,” by humor writer, novelist, and sometime Gazette contributor Caren Lissner C’93, traces the history of Bloomers from Harrison’s inspiration—after catching her first Mask and Wig show as a freshman and learning of its all-male policy—to start a similar, all-female troupe. The first “interest” meeting, held in the fall of 1978, attracted a couple of hundred women, Harrison recalled, and the first show, Fruit of the Bloomers, was staged in March of 1979. The program proclaimed, with what level of sarcasm it’s hard to discern from this distance, “It’s time to show that women can be funny, too.”
Caren also spoke with other Bloomers alumnae—both ones like former Saturday Night Live standout Bayer who have made careers in entertainment, and others who went on to different fields but whose experience with the troupe remains a touchstone—and with recent grads and current students to get their takes on what the group has meant to them and about comedy today, on campus and beyond. (Their comments on the latter subject are thoughtful and sensitive, but the skits themselves—available on YouTube—don’t sacrifice the youthful thrill of boundary-pushing.)
The name Bloomers came from Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a feminist activist and editor who advocated for reforms in women’s dress. In “Power Play,” frequent contributor Alyson Krueger C’07 tells the story of designer and entrepreneur Stacey Bendet C’99, the CEO and creative director of the fashion brand Alice + Olivia, who also uses her position to advance women’s issues in a variety of ways.
Bendet was into design from an early age—creating her own Bat Mitzvah outfit, for example—and she honed her business skills by taking plenty of marketing and management courses at Penn while majoring in international relations. She first made her mark in fashion by designing colorful pants as a kind of antidote to all the denim she saw around her, and has led Alice + Olivia to impressive success in a hostile business environment that has seen a number of other designer-leaders fall by the wayside.
As we discovered while the story was being edited, she also has a fan in our office. Gazette work-study student Beatrice Forman, a College freshman, calls Bendet’s clothing “inspirational and aspirational for me” and offered this appreciation:
“Alice + Olivia’s whimsical designs, which add a flirty and youthful kitsch to classic silhouettes, taught me something that much of the professional world is still learning—that women can be powerful without forfeiting their femininity. Most of Bendet’s pieces, ranging from impeccably tailored pairs of jeans to intricately structured blouses, can easily transition from the office to the street, demonstrating that women really can have it all—a career, a social life, a killer wardrobe—without sacrificing themselves. That notion travels with me, and I constantly find myself scrolling the Alice + Olivia website whenever I need to be reminded that success can be colorful, bold, and—dare I say it—even sparkly.”
In addition, this issue features our coverage of Homecoming Weekend. This year marked a decade of “Arts at Homecoming,” and Gazette arts and culture blogger Molly Petrilla C’06 reports on the success of this initiative, designed to highlight Penn’s architectural treasures and cultural venues, and looks in on this year’s panels, which included updates from the Penn Museum, ICA, and Morris Arboretum.
Also included: our annual photo essay and the citations for individual and class Alumni Awards of Merit, the faculty award, and the Creative Spirit Award. Congratulations to all the winners!
—John Prendergast C’80