Legacy. You hear the word usually in association with presidents. But it’s an apt word when we consider the artistic contributions of women. For millenia, reproduction has been virtually the only outlet we’ve been given full “permission” to leave heirs, and then, often only by genetics. Most cultures (Scandinavians and the Spaniards glaring exceptions) didn’t even use the mother’s name to pass on to their kids, and their kids. It has been the custom to pass on the father’s name. And so it has been with art. Even with women who are in the arts, I would hazard a guess that only a few of us could actually name more than 5 women in our fields.

OK, so here we are stepping up to the altar to marry ourselves as legitimate parents of theater. And we have a community who affirms our vows. We want our babies to be “christened” in the larger society as real members of a larger world.

In 1972, four women who met at the esteemed Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts had sewed enough sequins, taken enough orders from the ALWAYS male heads of departments, (except of course, the costume department, our pink collar ghetto), seen enough casting imbalance, that we decided to start our own damn theater company. We had also all taken the “est” training which had as a primary message: create your own games. We would have all women, all the time, performing pieces that were written by women if at all possible. We managed to do some really great work. We collaborated and came up with some really good original theater pieces, and got the all important hours in that it takes to become a professional, and not a perpetual assistant.

So, five years ago, a woman was interviewing me for a radio program and during a break, I asked her what she’d done before she got into broadcasting. “Theater,” she said. She then told me that she’d done a dissertation on women in theater, feminist theater. Really? Had she ever heard of us? Theater of Process in Santa Barbara, and then in Los Angeles? Nope. She’d NEVER heard of us.

OK, so we were not shy. We were LOUD. We were in Ms. Magazine. We had a COVER of the Calendar section of the LA Times. We were constantly reviewed. We had fans. We were well-loved, first in Santa Barbara, and then, in Los Angeles.

We lasted for at least 12 years, and then with the Reagan years, went down the financial toilet. We had staff members employed by the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, CETA, and were proud to say that we could actually support people and their families on THEATER!! Yes, sisters, we did it. It was quite an accomplishment.

And yet, and yet, no legacy to speak of… except for memories of our audience members, which is not nothing. I still have people asking me what happened to the shows, “Rainbow,” “Cameos,” or what happened to some of our company members.

But we were not even a blip on the screen of American theater canon.

Which is yet another reason LA FPI is so darned important. It’s a way to count. I mean count as in keep track but also count as in make a difference. You’ll notice that a culture only counts those things that “it” deems worthwhile. We all value money the most so we literally count it down to the cent… numbers of girls and women in the arts, not so much. We are standing up and saying we count, on stage, to audiences and to each other.

“Now That She’s Gone,” my show at the Fringe Festival this week is in many ways a romp through the woman’s movement; you know that movement that has impacted everyone down to their cuticles but is thumbed at in the press? The one that we supposedly don’t need any more? Yeah, that movement. In any event, I so hope you can come and see it. If you’re reading this, I’ll comp you. All you have to do is say, “LA FPI” a the box office, and you’re in! Meanwhile, tell other people to buy tickets! Here’s the info:
Complex Theatres – East Theatre
6476 Santa Monica Boulevard
Hollywood, CA 90038
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at:
Tickets may be purchased by calling Ovation Tickets toll free at: 866-811-4111
Tickets may also be purchased at the door,
if seats are still available.

I had one foot squarely planted in traditional womanhood, the other squarely planted in liberation. I was trained to be an executive’s wife and I turned into an executive who can set a fabulous table. One of the sweetest comments I get from audience members who’ve seen my show is that it makes them proud to be a part of the woman’s movement.

Plus, it’s a tribute to wild sex, my Mom and Eleanor Roosevelt. Who doesn’t like that stuff?
I’m hopeful that my legacy will be one that will inspire other women and girls to NEVER give up, especially when the most common thing they hear is, “It’s too hard. Don’t bother.”
Women’s voices are missing, and until we find them in full measure, our legacy will be to be as loud as we can until we’ve got all the sopranos and altos packed into the choir room.

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.

2 thoughts on “Legacy

  1. Ellen — Would love to see your show Sunday — HOW LONG DOES IT RUN? (An hour? More?)
    I’m at a poetry reading at 1 p.m. and a screening of a 1/2 hour sitcom pilot I helped write @ 8 p.m. If your show is short, I can make it because I’m in that neighborhood 🙂

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