All posts by Ellen Snortland

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.



One could argue that all the “isms” are ludicrous; racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., but they are at least a bit understandable, right? OK, there’s a “default” biological, reptilian fear of people who are “different” that’s transcended by education, understanding and relating to other people who are, well, er, “OTHER.” But ageism? Come on people! Is it that much of a stretch to look down the road and see that the people that are discriminators today will end up being discriminated against themselves?

I happen to believe that theater is the “mother” of culture. What producers can’t afford to put on the big screen, they can afford to put up on stage, especially small stages. That’s why the theater must incubate women, and women who are over 25 too. I have had been lucky enough to play incredible roles in theater and to have some really great jobs in TV too but they were all in my 20s and 30s. We’ve got to write employment “into” the canon, starting with the theater, if we’re going to have the full human family included in our story-telling.

One of the reasons I wrote “Now That She’s Gone” is that I was too young to have written my story before now. You could say that I hadn’t sustained enough losses before my 50s to have a perspective and long-view. That’s not to say that people who are young aren’t capable of being good or great writers. They are. Personally, I didn’t happen to be.

Theater to me is like a religious experience that’s not available on screen. The smells, the immediacy, the breath of a living being on stage is lost somehow on screen. I don’t know why that is. It’s a bit like the experiential difference between a music recording and a live concert. Anyone who has been lucky enough to start off in theater knows exactly what I’m talking about. It may be a bit of the thrill of seeing if someone will make it through without messing up. There’s adrenalin involved with live performance of any type, not only for the performer but for the audience too. And then, when there is a glitch? There’s the, “Whew, I’m glad that wasn’t me” or the little inner rubber-necker who can’t help looking at the car accident.

In one of my other “lives,” I’m a columnist for the Pasadena Weekly. If you’d like to see today’s column, go to:

Anyway, theater is a way for all of us to be on “display” for the others. To systematically “remove” one segment of our society is just stupid if not utterly wrong. I want to see how other people handle getting older, how they look, their issues, what they do with mortality breathing down their neck. We see men’s lives in so many of their stages. We need to see women at all stages too.

OK, so that’s my rant for today.
Talk to you tomorrow.

See you at the Hollywood Fringe!

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 (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.”


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.

Universal We Are

LA FPI is a dream come true. I would have given my eye teeth to have had an organization like this when I was coming up in the theater and literary world. I’m performing the show I’ve written at the Hollywood Fringe on Sunday, June 27, and I hope you can come. “Now That She’s Gone” is a romp through sex, drugs and lutefisk. It’ll make you laugh, cry and think.

Theater is in my blood. I’ve been in theater since I auditioned on a fluke to play the lead (and only) chorus member in a high school production of T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral.”

It didn’t take me long to realize that the “boys” had the best parts. Oh sure, they were happy to have me be a Greek style non-named, faceless (literally) chorus for their drama but beyond that, the drama department of my experimental high school wasn’t all that experimental when it came to providing better and more parts for the girls.

So, here I am over 40 years later still appalled at the terrible casting ratios for women on screen and on stage.

So many conundrums, so little time. How do you complain about inequities, pardon the expression, with Equity (and elsewhere), without coming off like sour grapes? No one likes whiners, including the whiners. You create organizations like LA FPI and unite, that’s what you do!!!

I go to movies or plays and I see so many parts for men, so few for women. It’s not only an aesthetic problem, it’s an unemployment situation where playwrights and screenwriters virtually write poverty into their scripts; poverty for women.

Movies and plays that are dominated by males are considered “universal;” if a script by some rare circumstance is centered upon women or has a theme that’s even female friendly, it’s often relegated to the artistic “ghetto” of “chick flick” or for women only. Really? It’s seems to me that if half of the population is female, we’re pretty universal.

My show, “Now That She’s Gone” is a solo piece; an aria to my late mother. The men who see it love it as much as the women have. Nonetheless, a woman I know brought her husband one night and as he walked into the lobby, made note of the number of women there. He said something like, “I could get estrogen poisoning from being here,” called a taxi and left. Wow.

Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s such a great idea to lead off my first blog for LA FPI with such a cranky post but there you are. I’m as silly as I am crabby. You’ve got to have one to fully explore the other. I am not ashamed of my cranky pants nature!

I so hope you can see my show at the Fringe. I’m really honored to be blogging here at LA FPI and so proud of the women who create their own work.

Indeed, we are universal!