I’ve produced over 10 productions that feature short plays written and directed by women. So, I was intrigued by 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks and excited to learn more about the 5 playwrights (all women) who joined forces to produce this show.
Graduates of the USC Master of Professional Writing Program, the 5 Sirens are: Sarah Dzida (Don’t Panic), Autumn McAlpin (Ten Years Left), Kiera Nowacki (Spock at Bat), Caron Tate (Whatever Works) and Laurel Wetzork (Out of Here). They realized that by pooling their resources and sharing in the production responsibilities they had the skills to tackle everything from advertising and publicity to fundraising (check out their super-successful Indiegogo campaign) and contracts on their own.
5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks features 5 10-minute plays centered around theme of miscommunication and longing for connection. What’s wonderful about the production is that the audience is treated to five distinctly different styles and approaches to the theme.
Director Laura Steinroeder had previously worked with Laurel Wetzork and came on board to direct the five plays. Wetzork says, “she was very brave to take on five different, very strong women and make this show work.” Though directed by one person, Steinroeder allows each piece to live in its own world, so that the audience can experience the progression of a debilitating disease through a rhythmic pattern in one play (Ten Years Left) and move seamlessly into the next play about the inter-species communication between intelligent and not-so-intelligent life (Out of Here).
What I find most inspiring about 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks is that these five women, a group as diverse as can be, banded together as a community to support each other and produce their own work. Now, they are confident that they can produce a Fringe show on their own, individually. I’m certain that whatever productions they do in the future, 5 Sirens: Beware of Rocks will be an experience that proves to be both unforgettable and invaluable. Through June 27th at Theatre Asylum.
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is a fringe-purist’s dream where content is queen and storytellers work their spreadsheets to self-produce their show.
The first play I produced for Green Light Productions was for the 2003 Philadelphia Fringe Festival. It was a two-person show about the tumultuous and creative relationship between Zelda Sayre and F. Scott Fitzgerald called Boats Against the Current. From rehearsals in living rooms, costumes from Goodwill and one-hour techs to packed houses and standing ovations, I learned how to create magic on a shoestring budget by putting the story first.
This year there are over 20 one-woman shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
At the last LAFPI meeting at Samuel French I was treated to a preview ofSnack by Megan Dolan. In the hysterically funny world of Snack, Dolan traces the roots of her smoothie addiction back to her childhood, posing the question “How do you parent yourself and your kids at the same time?” Snack runs until 6/27 at Theatre Asylum.
This weekend I saw Jennifer Bobiwash’s Indians in a Box: There’s No “I” in NDNwhere Bobiwash sets out on a journey to discover what it truly means to be a modern American Indian. Through the laughs of Bobiwash’s story, we begin to understand the many complexities of her identity and how it’s shaped her life. NDN runs until 6/17 at Lounge Theatre.
There is an electric energy during the fringe, as artists become Olympians and audiences become active participants in the creation of these raw, intimate, now-or-never productions. Check out the “one woman show” tab on the HFF site where you’ll find an amazing group of storytellers who are the true heart and soul of this year’s fringe.
It’s not a secret to anyone that science fiction writing has, in the past, been a boys’ club. I can’t really tell you why. Perhaps it’s a carryover from the gender gap in science education or maybe it’s just that women feel it’s more productive to construct a real-world society of equality before creating elaborate fictional future worlds. Whatever the reason, there are 20 H. P. Lovecrafts for every Ursula Le Guin.
This weekend, however, marks a momentous step forward for women in science fiction writing. Five young women will have staged readings of their science fiction short stories at Sci-Fest LA’s Tomorrow Prize. These LA high school students will have their stories (1500 words or less) read by prominent sci-fi actors and all five finalists are women.
The five finalists are a beacon of hope for female sci-fi fans. For decades women in science fiction have been seductive aliens and, more recently, captains and starship officers, but we have not often been the authors of these fantastical stories. These finalists and others like them are saying no to the boys’ club of the past and carving a place for themselves in the annals of sci-fi history. It is often said that “you can’t be what you can’t see,” and these young women are making themselves visible for female science fiction writers of today and of tomorrow.
The Tomorrow Prize readings take place on Saturday, May 16th at 4:00 at Acme Comedy Theatre (135 N. La Brea Ave, Hollywood). Tickets are available for $10 online and $15 at the door. All box office proceeds and any additional donations received that day go to the winner’s high school science department.
I started Green Light Productions in 2003 to create new opportunities for women in theatre. As of 2008, Green Light has exclusively produced plays written and directed by women.
This year, Green Light completed The Shubert Report to examine the 349 theatres that received $16.4 million in grants last year from the nation’s largest private funder of the performing arts. We found that only 26% of the plays being produced were written by women and that 125 of those 349 theatres weren’t producing ANY plays written by women. Foundations, especially those as large as The Shubert Foundation, play a huge role in sustaining American Theatre – most of which is classified as nonprofit. Imagine the impact it’d have if they required applicants to produce seasons that had 50% female writers and directors? Imagine the impact if just one major theatre a year decided to do a season of plays by women. Just that one step…
In 2005, I took that step. Heather Jones sent me her one-act play “Last Rites” about a life-long friendship between two women. It’s a beautiful play and I walked around with Heather’s script in my bag for month thinking about how it could be produced. I had the idea to create a festival of one-act plays all written and directed by women: GLO, Green Light One-Acts. And since the first GLO in, we’ve given world premieres to 15 one-act plays with productions in Philadelphia, New York and now Los Angeles.
In GLO 2014 we introduce to the world 4 new plays written by female playwrights based in Los Angeles – Allie Costa, Jennie Webb, Julianne Homokay and myself – with directors Liz Hinlein, Jen Bloom, Ricka Fisher and Katherine James. I have met the most incredible women just working on this first Green Light show here and I am so excited to plan our next steps here in LA.
Getting here wasn’t easy. While I’ve had the absolute pleasure to work with hundreds of women who support our mission, over the years I heard a surprising amount of negative feedback – much of it from women who felt that the theatre didn’t need companies like Green Light. A female journalist actually responded to one of my press releases with “Do we really need this?”
Yes, we do. And we need YOU!
I hope that by forming new collaborations, asking lots questions, challenging those who need to be challenged and producing work by women, Green Light will continue to have a valuable impact on artists and audiences. And I hope you’ll be part of it.
Mark Your Calendars: November 6-9, GLO 2014, 4 plays written and directed by LA women artists at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica. www.greenlightproductions.org.
Be part of Green Light Productions first foray into the LA theater scene (after mixing it up in NY and Philly). Join the FB Invite here (LA FPI tix for only $10!). This femme-fest is Green Light Production’s annual event, but the company is looking for more women artists moving forward. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact email@example.com.
Recently, a writer friend and I started talking about LA. Do we really need to be in LA? We asked each other and ourselves.
The beauty of being a writer is that you can write anywhere and you don’t have dress to go to work. You just need a place that inspires you. So what do you do when LA is no longer inspiring? What do you do when the bright sunshine is too bright and the lack of rain is a little obnoxious? What do you do when sitting in traffic is no longer amusing?
Is there a point when you should leave LA? Someone once said that you should leave New York before you get too hard and you should leave LA before you get too soft. I don’t consider myself a bathroom towel, but is there some truth to that?
Really, what is here? No matter how much we try to build it up, it is a theatrical hinderland. Sure, there’s probably the largest pool of actors in the world here, but how many can really do stage acting? Sure, as a dramatic writer, you can work in film and TV. Nice work if you can get it.
Yes, there are theatres and writer groups. There are odd spaces with strange parking and plastic cups of cheap white wine. There are little cliques of self-congratulation and tiny bubbles of hot air.
Folks don’t come to LA to do theatre. Folks come to LA to surf and get famous. I’m not famous and I don’t surf. What the heck am I doing here? What else is out there?
(Guest Blogger This Week – Laura A. Shamas, LA FPI Co-Founder and National Outreach Agent)
The Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, as a grassroots movement dedicated to the cause of achieving gender parity for women playwrights (and all female theatre artists), has been around for awhile now. Inspired by the advocacy efforts by women playwrights in New York, Jennie Webb and I had our first conversation about it in September 2009 over lunch at the Marmalade Café on Ventura Blvd. In November 2009, we put up a temporary website, begged Ella Martin to head a study of L.A. female playwrights’ activities in the first decade of the 21st century, and tried to figure out how to organize a community-wide outreach to the hundreds of female dramatists here (and those who love them)—not an easy feat when you consider SoCal’s 500 square miles. But we knew lots of people here cared about this issue and wanted to do something about it. We had our first official meeting in March 2010 at Theatricum Botanicum during a major storm; it seems like a metaphor, looking back. Still, many talented women and men trekked to Topanga Canyon during the torrential rain, and spoke from the heart about how and why this cause—and theatre as an art form—matters.
That initial wet chilly meeting seems like ancient history now; so much good work has happened in the past 2+ years. There’s a long list of artist-volunteers who have contributed to the LA FPI mission. Some highlights include: the creation of this website by Jennie Webb, sponsored by Katherine James; the award-winning staff of playwright-bloggers (Tiffany Antone, Erica Bennett, Nancy Beverly, Robin Byrd, Kitty Felde, Diane Grant, Jen Huszcza, Sara Israel, Cindy Marie Jenkins, Analyn Revilla, and Cynthia Wands) who are featured daily in this space, expertly managed by editor Robin Byrd; Ella Martin’s historic 2011 study results; Alyson Mead’s podcasts with inspiring women playwrights; the Women at Work Onstage page (still the only weekly list of female-authored shows in L.A.), created/maintained by Laurel Moje Wetzork; the bi-monthly e-mail blasts that include member news and submission opportunities, curated by Erica Bennett, then Helen Hill (we’re now looking for communication help!); the support from Larry Dean Harris, who wrote about us for The Dramatist—and gave us a spotlight, featuring Janice Kennedy, at a 2010 regional Dramatists Guild meeting (followed by a panel slot for us at 2011 National DG Conference); the new venture with Tactical Reads launching this week, connecting women playwrights to female directors, originated/helmed by Sabina Ptasznik; the spread of our badges on the Web and in person (a branding scheme with an important meme); an annual look at LORT seasons and stats in SoCal as related to gender parity and playwriting; the enthusiastic LA FPI support for female artists in the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2011 & 2012 (lead by Cindy Marie Jenkins, Jennie Webb, Jan O’Connor, Alyson Mead, Kat Primeau, and Jessica Abrams); sharing scenes via social media in order to increase accessibility and visibility; approaching theaters to ask how we can build relationships, fostered by Debbie Bolsky and Tami Tirgrath; meet-ups to see plays by women, coordinated by Task Force leader Diane Grant; online discussions, such as the fascinating one just hosted by Cindy Marie Jenkins with guests Etta Devine and Carolyn Sharp, about applying the Bechdel Test to the stage—a streamed broadcast that may (fingers crossed!) evolve into an ongoing monthly LA FPI/TV theatre conversation; etc. We have more people following us on Twitter, domestically and worldwide, than ever before. Lots of folks “Like” us on Facebook. And it’s all been created and executed by volunteers of professional theatre artists, for free!
But has anything really changed? “Has LA FPI made any difference at all?” It’s a question I’m frequently asked and asking. When we compiled the SoCal LORT stats in May/June this year, for a while it looked as if there might be small gains of +1.5% or even +3.5%, in terms of female-authored shows for the 2012-2013 professional seasons. But then, in the end, it was pretty much the same as it ever was: still around 22% (or slightly less). Discouraging! “Is consciousness-raising effective anymore?” we wonder. Why doesn’t the excellent LA FPI blog have more commenters, at the very least?
In these moments, I have to remind myself: Statistics don’t tell the whole story—only part of it. Things have changed in this way: we are not sitting around and ignoring “the problem” any more. We were cautioned in the early days of LA FPI not to confuse “Activity” with “Progress.” Maybe not, but when you have this much ongoing work towards a goal (see above), there’s a shift of some sort—of attitude, of creativity, of focus, of opportunity, of spirit. It may take many more years before we achieve true gender parity for female theatre artists in the English-speaking theatre (or for women in the world at large). But we’re pretty sure that more Angelenos are aware of the issue and are working towards the goal of parity now. Solved? No. Better? Definitely.
Female theatre artists in New York continue to advocate for gender parity; the 2012 Lilly Awards held on June 4, 2012, at Playwrights Horizons, and the upcoming “We Are Theatre” protest on September 24, 2012, at the Cherry Lane Theater (organized by the Guerrilla Girls On Tour!, 50/50 by 2020, Occupy Broadway, and the Women’s Initiative members of the Dramatists Guild) are two timely examples.
Recent reports from the U.K. and Australia also mirror our struggles. Lyn Gardner, writing from London in The Guardian in February 2012, wonders if a universal blind submission policy is a possible remedy. A new report, “Women in Theatre,” released April 2012 by the Australian Council for the Arts, details the status of Australian women playwrights and female theatre artists. Those who authored the report found “no progress over the decade since 2001 and there is evidence that the situation for women in creative leadership deteriorated over that time” (pps 4-5). It’s a thorough, well-crafted study, and on page 49, there’s a “cross-sectoral approach” that suggests three pathways towards improvement in the professional theatre arena:
These points really resonated with us because they align with so much of our LA FPI work thus far. And it’s reassuring to know that others in the arts, including the Australian Council, recognize that the problem of gender parity in theatre is a grave one and must be remedied.
Here’s our promise. We will continue to spread the word; we are taking stock. And of this you can be certain: we won’t give up.
What are your ideas about how to create equal opportunities for women playwrights and female theatre artists? Join us on Wednesday, June 27, 7 p.m., for our next LA FPI gathering to share ideas and network, followed by an 8 p.m. reading of Paula Cizmar’s new play Strawberry, directed by Sabina Ptasznik in the new Tactical Reads program. And please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Full Disclosure: I do not pay submission fees. At first it was mostly because I don’t budget for it, but the more I submit to play-writing contests, the more it just doesn’t jive with me. I liken it to the nearly-only-in-LA procedure of dues-paying ensemble companies. More full disclosure: I used to work for one and was partly responsible for collecting said dues.
It makes my stomach turn.
Submission fees for playwrights isn’t as sickening to me. I understand fees are sometimes considered part of the beast. I mentioned this topic to my husband and he automatically assumed you paid for your play to be in the contest, not just considered. The wide eyes when I explained…
Many people have differing opinions, so instead of this being merely my thoughts, I want to share what I learned as I investigated across multiple social media platforms.
I detest submission fees. Producing entities unfairly pass the burden of contests and productions on to prospective writers. I believe if you want to have a contest or do a production, fundraise for it. Don’t make writers pay to play.
Brian doesn’t agree that submission fees are equivalent to dues-paying companies however, a situation I could not resolve in 140 characters or less .
Donald has also gotten more prize money with contests that charge, and sees another benefit: One of my best experiences in the theater came from a competition I paid to enter – the O’Neill, which provided me with a wonderful month in Waterford, Ct. with incredible actors and directors and a wonderful staged reading of my play. I can understand why small theaters can’t afford to pay for running a competition and I see the submission fee as a business expense on my part.
Ian Hornby‘s perspective was especially interesting: Having run a playwriting competition on behalf of The Playwrights’ Co-operative, there are two edges to this topic. We started with a small entry fee ($10), purely to fund a decent prize at the end. But we had so many sites that would not list us because we had an entry fee that we dropped the fee and made it free entry. What a mistake we made. Although it’s not the right kind of filter and has so many undertones of not providing equal opportunities for those unable to afford the fee, at least it was a filter. We were completely snowed under with entries, and our panel of judges didn’t have time to do anything more than speed-read all entries so as to arrive at a shortlist, which could then be read in detail. Without doubt we’d have missed some gems.
Regardless, he does applaud contests without a fee.
Tony Earnshaw from the UK has an interesting perspective: …in the poetry world it’s difficult to find any contests which don’t have a fee attached and I’ve heard no grumbles. I’ve recently entered a short play for a competition run by a small theatre and am one of the winners (there are ten of us). The read through, at which I met the other writers, the directors and the casts, was worth it in itself.
Anyway, 5 on Linkedin from all over the world say YES, 9 say NO and 1/3 of the NO’s will make exceptions in rare cases.
Gregory Fletcher believes: If a theater company wants to attach their name to my play as the premiere producer, then figure out how to evaluate my play without charging me. Do painters, musicians, dancers, actors, or anybody else in the arts pay to have their work considered for production?
The answer to that, of course, is yes, in some cases.
I then took to Facebook. The results are as follows:
Prefer not to, but will if the contest interests me enough: 17 votes
I don’t mind at all; I just want my work produced: 0 votes
Here is the thing. (We’re back to my opinion now.) Regarding my more recent experiences:
Last summer, I self-produced a Fringe show I wrote with under $500 budget. I felt shame every single time we cut corners, every time I saw how very hard these wonderful actors and director worked for nothing more than a hug and immense gratitude. We had an incredibly supportive and hard-working awareness team as well, who donated their time for some experience and the cause of the piece.
There was a chance to remount and I had to turn it down for many reasons. I knew the team was happy and willing, but I just couldn’t look these artists in the eye and ask them to work for free again. I also have had some fights in my day with supervisors on Equity rules for actors and the worth of one designer versus others.
What’s changed? I often work freelance and negotiate my contracts. On a weekly basis I tell someone my worth and stick by it. When I began working for myself, I undercut my rate. That changed pretty quickly.
I also see way too many people pay upwards of $30/month to join an ensemble company; sometimes I’ve heard of $85/month. Actors may have their reasons – and I fully admit I have it easier as someone who can create my own work – but honestly, I’m fed up.
If you don’t have the money or means to produce a show, you shouldn’t do it. I have done it myself and will not do it again. Personally, it demeans everything in the work that has value, be it the writing, directing, performances, dramaturgy, design, right up to the viewing audience who pays money (in most cases) so that the artists involved may at least get nice thank you gifts.
This is a personal decision after years of self-producing and co-producing. As an extension, I refuse to pay a submission fee. If your readers (and Lord knows, I’ve donated my own time to reading plays) need money, raise the money. If you can’t produce without artists paying into the production in order to be considered, don’t produce.
Some excellent and imaginative pieces don’t “need” money. Artists involved should still be paid.
Yes, it’s hard. So is writing and acting and directing and designing….
Find the people who will donate to your work. They are out there. They are hard to find. They are hard to woo.
Art ain’t easy.
I do not mean any of this as a judgement on those who choose to pay fees and who choose to join ensemble companies, nor do I want to demean the artists who have worked for free on my work over the years. They hopefully got enough in return out of the investment.
They deserve better.
I also know for a fact there are plenty of playwrights out there who will happily pay fees for their own reason. No theater company is crying right now that they won’t get the chance to consider my plays for their competition.
Every even mild success I have from last June onward rests squarely on the backs and pocketbooks of the actors who braved traffic in LA, subways in NY, missed opportunities elsewhere or felt guilty for skipping rehearsal to audition for a commercial (they shouldn’t).
I don’t feel the need to go further into production teams’ sacrifices; just know I married a designer and learned everything about negotiating a contract from friend Cricket S. Myers. By the way, she was nominated for a Tony last year and will walk away from a job rather than accept a mediocre situation.
Often times, she is my hero.
Some may think these arguments are separate. I do not. Every time we de-value our work, an arts education program dies. After all, what value is there in it? Arts advocates are saints. Not all producers or self-producers are money-grubbing and selfish either. Many produce for the sheer joy of art, some for profit, numerous others simply because they’re good at it and theatre needs producers. It’s unfortunate that the most meager of producing codes must dictate paying actors gas money.
I continue my discovery of theatres around the Washington DC area and always compare them to our companies in LA. Last night, I saw a new show “Resurrectionist King” by a local DC writer Stephen Spotswood, at a theatre near the University of Maryland called Active Cultures Theatre.
Was it a perfect play? No. Was it a darned good attempt? You betcha. And creatively directed and pretty well acted.
But here’s the thing that impressed me: the play was commissioned by the theatre company Active Cultures. It was based on a true story that someone had read in the local free weekly paper, about a local “celebrity” – a guy who dug up bodies for medical students to examine. The Resurrectionist King he called himself. And he did a one night show at a theatre near Ford’s Theatre (where Lincoln was shot) showing the audience the art of his craft.
Active Cultures worked for about a year with the playwright, developing the piece. And then, instead of just a reading, they actually produced it! What a concept.
The audience LOVED the fact that it was a story about their own community. They could identify with the places and some of the characters.
How many great stories are untold in LA? And why isn’t there a company commissioning local writers to write them?
That’s fascinating in and of itself – not my article, but all the detail and coverage that Arena Stage created and is creating, so that artists know what people are talking about and can contribute in a meaningful way.
Not just convenient for me, but I amended the original article and then could post it on Atwater Village Now, gaining more exposure for both the event and the neighborhood. While writing it, though, I thought of my audience for Atwater Village Now and decided they might have no idea why a convening on new plays is important. If my goal was to interest those outside of theatre practitioners to find interest in the art and the craft, then I needed to write an entryway into the article. The Editor suggested I give some history, a small idea of how important this dialogue is for the national community, the theatrical community, and in some way give a larger importance to our community.
This was my introduction. I welcome feedback and suggestions in the comments:
With Broadway focused on revivals and musicals based on movies and star vehicles, new plays often go by the wayside. If you are an unknown playwright, it’s nearly impossible to be produced.
Not so at The Arena Stage, however, and they’ve been working intensely for a national dialogue that includes all voices – new playwrights, established playwrights, and the people who decide which plays are produced. Arena Stagey began a New Plays Convening yesterday in DC, and Los Angeles participates on Saturday, in our brand new Atwater Village Theatre!