This weekend, a series of events aimed at women and girls will take place throughout Champaign. LadyFest features tons of events, including a painting and wine party, film screenings, and stories by local women about their lives. 

The main event of LadyFest is a spoken word project called That’s What She Said. Co-founder Kerry Rossow describes TWSS as “what it would be like if Oprah Winfrey and Saturday Night Live had a love child.” TWSS invites women of all ages to tell brief, 5-7 minute stories about their lives.

“They are all on the stage together,” said Rossow. “One woman at a time walks up and braves the microphone. We ask them to give the audience a snapshot of their lives. They tell us everyday stories — for instance, stories about managing a career while being knee-deep in diapers. And then the next woman walks up. There aren’t many bells and whistles. The emphasis remains on the spoken word.”

The stories are often funny, but Rossow says many of them touch on serious issues.

“Last year, one of our speakers really struggled with anxiety as she presented. To see the audience nodding encouragement toward her and burst into applause when she was done — that was a really great moment. TWSS is about the community pulling together, and it’s about women wanting to be part of building other women up.”

TWSS started with conversations amongst the founders about the images of women in pop culture that are available to girls. Rossow reflected that part of the purpose of TWSS is to put the real experiences of women on display and to give women a space to reflect on aspects of their lives that aren’t typically highlighted in the media.   

Rossow said that each TWSS event seeks to present a panel of women from different backgrounds and generations.

“We want the show to be both a window and a mirror,” she said. “We want stories that allow people to see themselves and recognize their own stories, but we also them to hear stories from entirely different perspectives.”

LadyFest’s That’s What She Said performance takes place on Saturday, October 17 at 7 p.m. at the Virginia Theatre. And there are plenty of other LadyFest events both before and after the show that highlight the experiences of women and girls.

Anni Poppen, LadyFest’s organizer, is a former GirlZone and GirlFest volunteer. Since GirlFest is no longer active in the community, Poppen said she saw an opportunity to combine the best aspects of GirlFest with TWSS.

“I see LadyFest as a way to marry those two ideas,” said Poppen. “We have events that reach out to girls we are trying to inspire, but also put the spotlight on women in our community. LadyFest is a moment to acknowledge and uplift women who are doing really great things here.”

In planning LadyFest, Poppen said that she has been surprised by the degree of enthusiasm and support from businesses and community members around Champaign. “It wasn’t at all difficult to plan a weekend for women and girls,” said Poppen, pointing to the wide range of LadyFest’s events and sponsors.

Most LadyFest events are located at and/or sponsored by businesses in downtown Champaign. “This event is also a time to connect with local businesses that are led by women,” said Poppen.

Here’s a rundown of the non-TWSS LadyFest events people can find over the weekend:

  • The Purpose Project — This event invites community members to come together and reflect on the question, “What are you doing to live a life of purpose?”
  • Nailbot for MakerGirl — For girls ages 7 – 10, this event gives girls the chance to learn about entrepreneurship and technology by teaching them to create a mobile platform for a tech-beauty robot.
  • Paint + Sip Party — Like it sounds: a chance to paint and sip wine at Lola’s Brush.
  • Wine + Cheese Tasting — Hada Cosmetic Medicine will host this event and give out swag bags to the first 20 attendees.
  • She Said After Party — After TWSS, performers and audience members are gathering at V. Picasso to unwind.
  • Mowgli Movies Mowgli Studios is offering three screenings throughout the day of films featuring strong female leads, directors, and/or topics.
  • Roller Derby Twin City Derby Girls are putting on an exhibition bout to close out LadyFest.

Each event is individually ticketed. Check out the website and Facebook events for details about pricing, times, sponsorships, and locations.