Making Intersections Festival Fun for Everyone

(L-R) Natasha Ransom, Jekeva Phillips and Kinzie Shaw

Clicking through the listings for Intersections Festival, the comedy festival focused on equity and inclusion running from March 22 – 25 at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, the possibilities would be overwhelming if they weren’t so exciting. Improv, stand-up comedy, burlesque, theatre, music, spoken word, storytelling, drag…the 40-plus artists and individuals on the Intersections lineup are all over the map, genre-wise, and I can’t decide which shows I want to see most. That is a very good problem.

Produced as it is by Jekeva Phillips, Natasha Ransom and Kinzie Shaw, a comedy festival certainly makes sense. All three work in improv—Shaw with Unexpected Productions, Ransom with Jet City Improv and Phillips with CSz Seattle, home of ComedySportz—and Shaw and Ransom comprise the comedy duo FEELINGS. But instead of programming what they already knew, this trio set out to expand an already umbrella word, comedy, and in doing so, crack open a notoriously insular world.

“I’ve never gone to a comedy festival and seen a burlesque performer or a drag performer or a dancer,” Ransom says. “We thought it would be really cool to broaden the community’s idea of what comedy is, so that we’re thinking innovatively about the things we’re creating. Like, I could do a piece that’s just entirely moving my body? I hadn’t even thought of that, and that’s going to inspire me to make something different than I’ve made in the past.”

Each Intersections show will have a host—comedic talents such as Justin Huertas and Rebecca M Davis—to introduce the evening and keep the party going between performers. Every lineup contains a blend of art forms, which is also by design; cross-pollination between fan bases is good for artists and audiences. Standup fans may come to see El Sanchez and Dewa Dorje, and walk away with a newfound love of actor/burlesque artist/clown Tootsie Spangles and gender-questioning writer/performer Butch Alice, or vice versa. Come for dancer Randy Ford, laugh your ass off at long-form improv group Rock Bottom—and make sure you go see them again.

The real mission of Intersections, hidden right there in the name, is reflected more in the lineup’s demographic diversity than its artistic diversity. “We wanted to showcase great artists who don’t get a chance to have the stage,” Phillips says.

Shaw and Ransom started toying with the idea for a comedy festival focused on equity, inclusion and representation, specifically with race, gender, LGBTQIA+ and disability, when they attended the Los Angeles Diversity in Comedy Festival hosted by Second City. “It was so fun because every act had a different point of view,” Shaw says. “Sometimes we go to festivals that are like, straight white guy after straight white guy, and they may all be funny but they’re all kind of the same.”

The mission was an easy yes for Phillips, organizer extraordinaire, who later rounded out the producing trio. “We’re kind of like the A-Team, or maybe like the Powerpuff Girls—each of us fits a certain piece of the puzzle that makes a really good festival,” Phillips says. “But when we first started putting this together we were like, will anyone even want to do this?”

They started putting out feelers within their own communities and asked friends in other art communities to do the same and spread the word through Facebook groups for underrepresented performers. Response was overwhelming.

Applications and donations started coming in; they waived the $5 application fee if it was cost prohibitive for anyone. “We had somebody give us $500, and when that person is also an artist that means a lot,” Shaw says. “I told that person I was almost moved to tears and she was like, well I hope your tears drown all the Nazis, because I believe in this thing.”

In addition to artist submissions, the producers were also looking for ideas on how to run this festival equitably. If anyone had ideas, expertise, connections, their input was (and will be during the Festival) absolutely welcome. One question came up that shifted their programming: how does this festival continue beyond just one weekend?

“It was how will the impact go beyond, well that was fun to think about equity for four whole days!” Ransom says. “That’s why we created our workshops, one of which is going to be a workshop around interrupting bias—working on yourself as a white ally, basically. It’s trying to sustain the conversation and continue to support artists after the festival is over.”

They’re also continually open to ideas. Have a series you’d like the Intersections team to help you produce? Suggestions for a more inclusive experience? They’re all ears, “so it’s rooted in what their needs are, rather than what we anticipate their needs are,” Ransom says.

For Phillips, what’s particularly great about Intersections is, yes, it’s focused on POC, queer people, non-binary people and women—but they’re not tokens. They’re producing their own work, she says, and Intersections is just giving them the platform.

“I think the reason we’ve had such a huge amount of support is that this is long overdue,” Shaw says.

Intersections runs March 22 – 25 at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center.