According to Jannelys Santos, Miami theater has a serious problem.
“There have been too many idle theaters spewing out the same material constantly,” she begins, a little exasperated. “It doesn’t speak to our current political climate, to all the shit that’s happening these days.”
Santos mentions the #MeToo movement — is it possible to talk about any field of entertainment without mentioning it these days? — but is quick to add, “I don’t really subscribe to that Victorian-esque woman that doesn’t have any autonomy. I want women to be strong and empowered and start from there.”
That belief was part of the impetus for A Love Letter to Myself, a collaboration of sorts between the Villain Theater, where Santos is chief operations officer, and Women in Comedy, a Chicago-based operation working to connect women entertainers. The night included standup, improv, and a speed-dating-style networking session that left Santos feeling inspired.
“I wanted to build off the success of that,” she explains. “The only thing I didn’t like was after I raised a bunch of money, I just sent it all to Chicago.”
So a little more than two years later, the Villain Theater is breaking out its own femme-empowerment gig with Stronger Than Yesterday: A Women’s Empowherment Festival. Yes, it’s a Britney Spears reference, and it’s also set to be a showcase of Florida-based comedians and improv masters, culminating, in the words of Santos, in the “just filthy, stupid disgusting” parody Sexcago.
“I wanted to make this event more local, have the impact be local,” Santos says. “I wanted to bring in different types of women — white women, black women, hispanic women — but I really wanted to make sure they were all Florida people.”
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The local impact won’t be limited to the talent, because the night’s guests of honor will be women from Lotus House, a shelter in downtown Miami; and Fanm Ayisyen Nan Miyami (FANM), a foundation providing resources for the empowerment and stability of Haitian women in South Florida. About 20 women will be treated to a night of entertainment, free improv lessons, and pampering from beauty specialists. For Santos, it was essential that the night not only strengthen femme representation in theater but also continue in the already significant contributions Villain has made to local charities and arts organizations.
“If we’re actually going to have a meaningful impact on the community, we need to put our money where our mouth is,” she says, “especially us as Cuban-Americans in Little Haiti. We need to give back.”
Stronger Than Yesterday: A Women's Empowherment Festival. 7 p.m. Sunday, March 25, at Villain Theater, 5865 NE Second Ave., Miami; 786-391-2241; villaintheater.com. Tickets cost $25, and all proceeds will benefit FANM and Lotus House.