Going Solo

Going Solo

As a soloist in the theater, I imagine I arrived at the decision to create “Now That She’s Gone,” my solo show, in a similar fashion to other women. How fabulous to make a lot of our own artistic decisions! As a theater person, we all know that’s not typical for women, as artists in any of the arts.

I would love to see an LA FPI study on the number of women doing solo shows. I also think it’s fascinating that at least one regional theater I submitted to has a “no solo show” policy. Hmmm. I’m wondering if we’d discover that solo shows have become a “pink collar” neighborhood for artistic directors.

Has anyone else noticed that male theater soloists trend toward doing shows about famous men and female soloists trend toward doing shows about their own lives? Maybe that’s “duh” to a lot of you but it’s fascinating to me.

While there are certainly a lot of really famous women who are not famous (yah, dig that irony), our stories are so MIA in the canon that our lives provide rich veins to mine for theater gold.

Do you remember the thrill of Nora leaving Torvald in Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House?” At the time, it was called the door slam heard around the world. It’s no wonder that the Scandinavian countries have such good gender track records. Their major playwright in the late 1800s was talking about women’s liberation on stage. And also no accident, I got my first major support for my show from the Norwegian community in Manhattan. They are not afraid of women like some cultures are!

You are probably all familiar with the stats but just in case you don’t know this source, here goes: From www.wetweb.org (Women’s Expressive Theater)

The Problem: women in the U.S are under-represented and often misrepresented in the entertainment industry — an industry that creates and defines our culture and has global influence.

• Only 17% of theater productions in the US are written by women
• Only 16% of theater productions in the US are directed by women
• Only 15% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working in the US film industry are women
• Only 20% of studio executives working in the US film industry are women*

Equal opportunity still does not exist for women in the entertainment industry. Additionally, the representation of women and girls in the media is often degrading, based on stereotype, and sets up impossible expectations women and girls must live up to. If we continue to accept that this business, which defines our culture, does not represent women equally or accurately, then we are supporting a business that does not value women as equal citizens.

Sources: Martha Lauzen, PhD., San Diego State University (2006), New York State Council for the Arts (2001), Suzanne Bennett, co-author of the 2001 NYSCA study (2005)

I have had to contend with people assuming that their “men folk” would not want to see “Now That She’s Gone,” without even seeing it. Perception is highly vital when you are trying to market the arts.

My experience is that the men who see my show completely consider it universal. And yet, getting them through the door is an entirely different matter.

One man in his 70s who saw my show, held my hand afterwards, tears running down his cheeks and said, “Until today, I was not able to forgive my father. Thank you.” How can I not want to perform my show when it fulfills the dream I always had of transforming perception while making people laugh and think? It doesn’t get better than that.

Anyway, we’ve got to find a way to break through this “chick flick” mentality that also translates over into the theater. Perhaps it’s born in the theater. Chicken and egg, right?
More tomorrow.

Going solo doesn’t mean we don’t need anyone else. We need the community to provide the support that solo doesn’t mean “less” or “female.”

About Ellen Snortland

Ellen Snortland has her J.D. from Loyola Law School, Los Angeles and her B.A. in theater and film from University of California, Irvine. Formerly adjunct faculty in the Communication Studies department of California State University Los Angeles, she has been a broadcast journalist, actor and writing/media coach. During law school, she co-founded the country’s first all woman theater of company upon observing the paucity of women-in-charge in all aspects of theater. She has been in theater since she was 14. As a journalist, Snortland is a regular columnist for the Pasadena Weekly, contributor to Ms. Magazine and Huffington Post blogger and now, LA FPI. Ellen has been an NGO delegate to two major United Nations World Conferences: the Women’s conference in Beijing in 1995 and Conference Against Racism in South Africa in 2001. An instructor in training and on the board of the 501 c 3 Impact Personal Safety of Los Angeles, Snortland is the author of “Beauty Bites Beast: Awakening the Warrior Within Women and Girls,” a how-come book about women’s personal safety. She is currently at work on a new book, “The Safety Godmothers” with her co-author and colleague, Lisa Gaeta of Impact Personal Safety. Ms. Snortland is also directing a documentary by the same name. She has also written and performs a solo show entitled, “Now That She’s Gone” which was nominated for a Pulitzer. She’s a professional writing coach for first time authors in private consultation or at one of her in-home classes. She lives in Altadena, CA with her beloved husband, Ken Gruberman and their two dogs.