Guest Post by Diane Lefer
The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival came of age last week, marking its 21st year. Given how hard it is to keep an arts nonprofit thriving, it would be remarkable enough that co-founder and president Adilah Barnes has presided over more than two decades of an annual presentation of solo works by women from LA, around the country and sometimes from around the world. The quality of Giving Voice–this year’s offering of performances from 20 artists at the Electric Lodge in Venice from March 28th-30th–was cause for celebration, too.
Yes, all women. Yes, all solo shows, often excerpted to fit the time, but nothing repetitive about this festival. Just to give some idea of the range and variety, audiences saw Cynthia Ling Lee’s “rapture/rupture” through which she engages postmodern dance with classical Indian dance; Kate Rubin’s multi-character comedy, “How I Died”; spoken word from The Lindz; Tia Matza’s aerialist performance; Mwanza Furaha’s jazz cabaret; social commentary via physical theatre in Dacyl Acevedo’s personal take on the economic crash, “Will Work For”; and more. Besides stylistic diversity, the festival is committed to racial and ethnic diversity onstage which carried over to the audience where, incidentally–please take note–there was age diversity as well.
On Saturday, putting Ciera Payton and Karen A. Clark on the same afternoon bill was an inspired pairing. Payton’s excerpt from her full-length show focused on her relationship with her incarcerated, crack addicted father. When “Ciera” transformed into her father, she didn’t just put a light blue denim prison shirt over her white tank top. Her voice, her posture, her face transformed as well. Their prison visit captured the complexity of emotion: the joy Ciera feels in her father’s embrace, the awkwardness, the anger, the pain and confusion.
Here’s where I give a shoutout to the POPS club at Venice High School which offers a platform for creativity to kids with a parent in prison and where I think that onstage, Payton’s joyfilled and charismatic presence provides reassurance that the little girl from New Orleans grew up strong, beautiful, and able to laugh in spite of all the troubles she encountered.
Clark, compelling in her own way, proved you don’t have to go through a traumatic or dysfunctional upbringing to have an engaging story to tell. Combining family stories with song, she shared positive memories of family life, a “legacy of love.” Her warm and intimate performance style kept the audience invested in her parents’ happy and devoted 57-year marriage–in spite of which her mother, Ora Christine, kept eight bank accounts in her own name. Her counsel to her daughter, that women should always hold onto some money of their own, led Clark into her own memorable song styling of God Bless The Child.
I felt lucky to have been introduced to their talents, glad they were scheduled alongside the performance that initially brought me to the Electric Lodge: Estela Garcia’s “Remedios Varo, La Alquimista” (in Spanish with projected English supertitles).
Many years ago, I walked into the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City and was stopped in my tracks by a painting: Mujer saliendo del psicoanalista (Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst). The woman’s white hair rises, curved, like horns. Her eyes are deepset, haunted. Her face is partly covered, a mask hangs beneath her neck, and another mask or face dangles, about to be dropped, from one hand. I had never before heard of the artist, Remedios Varo.
Garcia’s performance not only filled in much of Varo’s life-story for me, but like the painting, took my breath.
In a brown, almost monastic robe, she portrayed a woman traumatized by Franco’s dictatorship, war, exile in France and then Mexico, and the submersion of self in her lover’s world. Varo struggles to find her place as an artist and as a woman haunted by “cosmic loneliness.” Garcia leaves the stage to return elaborately masked as the artist/alchemist. Slowly, ceremonially, she brings Varo’s dream imagery to life as she grinds up a star and feeds it to a reluctant crescent moon which she rocks like a baby until the full moon is revealed.
The magical process of creating art brings about theatrical magic. Words capture the artist’s contradictions: the uneasiness of being lonely and the excitement of being alone.
That uneasiness and that excitement–a woman alone on the stage–seem a fitting way to talk about the anxiety and joy at the creative root of the festival’s triumphant solo acts.
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Other performers this year were: Karen Bankhead, Sofia Maria Gonzalez, Ingrid Graham, Jennifer S. Jones, Jozanne Marie, Ansuya Nathan, Marlene Ondrea Nichols, Anita Noble, Sloan Robinson, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Tracy Silver.
You’re too late for 2014 but if this whets your appetite, don’t miss out again next year. The 22nd annual festival is already scheduled for March 26-29.
Artists wishing to perform in 2015 should check out the application requirements at www.lawtf.org/ The deadline for submission is August 31.