Tag Archives: LA Stage Alliance

LA intimate theatre community comes together for virtual festival of short plays

By Terri Roberts

Did you see it? Were you part of the excitement? Thursday, October 1st, was Opening Night of the first weekend of Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival, a three-week long celebration of new works presented by Alternative Theatre Los Angeles (ATLA) in association with L.A. Stage Alliance. The second weekend of performances has begun, and continues tonight and Saturday at 7pm. The final batch of shows is next weekend, October 15-17, at 7pm. The entire festival can be viewed on Twitch.

Each evening of the online festival is a 90-minute stretch of original 10-minute plays, all penned specifically for the digital stage by playwrights representing 34 of the 64 local intimate theatre companies – including the Fountain – that make up ATLA. The Fountain’s entry into the festival, Talking Peace, was written by Community Engagement Coordinator France-Luce Benson, who also happens to be an accomplished playwright. Talking Peace is a wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues that is set during a virtual Zoom get-together. In it, a healing circle comes undone when an outsider finds her way in, forcing the five women to deconstruct what it means to be Black, BIPOC and bound by sisterhood.

Talking Peace was part of last week’s Opening Night schedule. You can re-watch it – and catch all other performances to date — at www.twitch.tv/togetherlafestival. To make reservations for tonight, and any of the remaining nights, visit www.togetherlafestival.com. Tickets are free, but reservations are required.

ATLA was born five months ago out of the need felt by local theatres to stay connected during the pandemic, offer strength and support to each other, and make positive steps forward in the midst of uncertainty in order to keep hope, art and theatre alive.

And so, LA’s intimate theatre community turned out en masse last Thursday to celebrate the launch of this digital effort together. New plays! Old friends! The forum was virtual, but the energy jumped right off the screen. The pre-show chat box overflowed with cries of “So excited!” and “Break legs everybody!” scattered in-between all the shout-outs and virtual drink orders and jokes about easy parking. The wild exhilaration was further pumped up with a lava flow of exuberant emojis: clapping hands, party poppers, hugs, and a full-range rainbow of colored and decorated hearts. It didn’t seem to matter that the theatre lovers gathered there were not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the same house. After months of isolation and darkened physical stages, they were sitting spirit-to-spirit and heart-to-heart in the same space, ready and willing to enjoy a virtual stage experience, and reveling in each others’ company. This community knows how to adapt!

“We are here to celebrate the vibrant and diverse intimate theatre scene of greater Los Angeles,” explained host Amy Hill at the top of the show. “Los Angeles theatre has always been on the forefront of innovation, and tonight we bring that to the digital stage…we are showcasing what intimate theatre does best – bringing people together. Telling important stories and creating a place to connect and heal through art.”

The three-week long event is also doubling as a fundraiser for Color of Change, a progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization in the United States that uses online resources to strengthen the political voice of African Americans. By the end of yesterday’s block of shows, $3,680 had been raised toward an ultimate goal of $5,000. Could it be that a new goal will need to be set before the weekend is out? The LA theatre community is nothing if not enthusiastic and generous in their support of friends in need.

The same exuberance on display Opening Night has continued every night since then. So come on in – gather with us tonight and Saturday, and next weekend as well to cheer on all these new short plays, reconnect with the theatres and artists you love, raise some money for a good cause, and help keep the indomitable LA intimate theatre spirit riding high! A digital program will be yours for the asking, and someone will be by shortly to take your virtual drink order. You don’t even have to worry about parking or arriving late and not getting in. There’s always enough room, and plenty of fun to be had.

Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival is presented by Alternative Theatre L.A. in association with the L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition to the Fountain Theatre, participating companies include 24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, Ammunition Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin and Ghost, Company of Angels, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Independent Shakespeare Company, Interact Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Pacific Resident Theatre, Playwrights Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, , The Road Theatre Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre West and Whitefire Theatre. For more information about the festival and for a schedule of shows, please visit www.togetherlafestival.com

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s new volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.

Art imitates life in site-specific Zoom play ‘Talking Peace’ by France-Luce Benson

Playwright France-Luce Benson is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre, and host of the online gathering, “Saturday Matinees.”

Art imitates life when the Fountain Theatre presents Talking Peace, a new 10-minute, site-specific “Zoom-within-a-Zoom” by acclaimed playwright France-Luce BensonTalking Peace will premiere on day one of Alternative Theatre L.A.’s Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festivalone of six short plays presented by Los Angeles-based theater companies on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET. In total, 34 companies will participate in the festival over the course of three weeks. Tickets are free, but reservations are required: RSVP at www.togetherlafestival.com.

Benson’s wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues is set during a virtual Zoom get-together: a healing circle comes undone when an outsider finds her way in, forcing the five women to deconstruct what it means to be Black, BIPOC and bound by sisterhood.

The cast includes Paule AboiteMiriam Ani, Janelle LawrenceCelestine Rae and Lisa Rosetta StrumDr. Daphnie Sicre, who teaches directing and theater for social change at Loyola Marymount University, directs.

Benson, a Haitian-American playwright based in Los Angeles, was named “Someone to Watch” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine and is the community engagement coordinator for the Fountain.

Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival is presented by Alternative Theatre L.A. in association with the L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition to the Fountain Theatre, participating companies include24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, Ammunition Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin and Ghost, Company of Angels, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Independent Shakespeare Company, Interact Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Pacific Resident Theatre, Playwrights Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, , The Road Theatre Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre West and Whitefire Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.

Alternative Theatre Los Angeles is a community of 64 professional intimate theaters, all based in the greater Los Angeles area, that came together five months ago through weekly virtual roundtables to discuss how to move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger.

The L.A. Stage Alliance works with the theater community to expand awareness, appreciation and support of performance arts.

Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival will stream Oct. 1 through Oct. 17 via Twitch.tv. For more information, a full schedule and to RSVP, go to www.togetherlafestival.com

A Message of Hope and Solidarity

The Fountain Theatre is a member of a coalition of intimate theatres in Los Angeles that meets weekly to discuss the future of theatre in Los Angeles as we navigate COVID-19 and beyond.

Like Los Angeles, our theatre community has always been at the forefront of innovation. As an integral part of the cultural conversation, a group of 44 artistic directors from LA’s intimate theatres came together two months ago to discuss how we can move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger. We are committed to raising the bar and pushing the boundaries of professional theatre. At weekly virtual roundtables, we continue to remind each other that theatre is a collaborative art form, in every sense of the word. We are stronger together as one community regardless of company size.

While the doors to our theatres may be shut, our artists continue to innovate and utilize new technology to serve Los Angeles and promote the importance of theatre. Our creative work has never been limited to our stages, and the boundless creativity of Los Angeles theatre artists will ensure that our theatres will reopen with a renewed sense of purpose. Los Angeles is one of the cultural capitals of the world, and together we make sure that #LALivesOnStage.

The 44 theatres are:

24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, After Hours Theatre Company, Ammunition Theatre Company, Antaeus Theatre Company, Boston Court Pasadena, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Company of Angels, Coeurage Theater Company, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, Fountain Theatre, Ghost Road Theatre Company, Greenway Arts Alliance, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Latino Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Matrix Theatre Company, Moving Arts, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Playwrights’ Arena, Pacific Resident Theatre, Rogue Machine Theatre, Ruskin Group Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, Son of Semele, Theatre of NOTE, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, The Road Theatre Company, The Robey Theatre Company, The Victory, United Stages, VS. Theatre Company, Theatre West, and Whitefire Theatre.

The group is taking this opportunity of a pause in their programming to consider some of the bigger issues facing Los Angeles intimate theatres. Most importantly, they have implemented action committees for creating collaborative strategies in health and safety protocols for audiences, staff, and artists. Other areas of focus include marketing, and planning an online Intimate Theatre Festival, with a Live LA Theatre Festival in the works once everyone is able to gather again. Partnering with LA Stage Alliance/onStage.LA, the group is aiming to establish a central hub for all Los Angeles theatre activities.

Fountain Theatre wins 6 Ovation Awards including Best Season and Best Production of a Play

2020 LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards

Stephen Sachs accepts Ovation Award for Best Production of a Play for “Cost of Living”

The Fountain Theatre dominated the 2020 LA Ovation Awards Monday night, January 13th, by winning six awards, including the prestigious Best Season and Best Production of a Play.  The LA Times has referred to the Ovation Awards as the “highest-profile contest for local theatre.”

Hosted by LA Stage Alliance, The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area. Over 300 theatrical productions have competed each year in 35 different categories to be recognized as Ovation Awards recipients. These productions are evaluated by a pool of 250 vetted Ovation voters, all of whom are working theatre professionals of Greater LA.

The Fountain Theatre was honored with the following Ovation Awards:

Best Season
Fountain Theatre Cost of Living, Daniel’s Husband, Hype Man: A Break Beat Play

Best Production of a Play — Intimate Theater
Cost of Living, Fountain Theatre

Acting Ensemble of a Play
Cost of Living, Fountain Theatre

Featured Actress in a Play
Xochitl Romero, Cost of Living,  Fountain Theatre

Video/Projection Design — Intimate Theater
Nicholas Santiago, Cost of Living, Fountain Theatre

Ovations Honors Recipient
Music Composition for a Play – Romero Mosley, Hype Man, Fountain Theatre

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Full list of Ovation Award nominees and winners.

Fountain Theatre earns 18 Ovation Award nominations including Best Season

LA STAGE Alliance announced yesterday that the Fountain Theatre has been honored with 18 Ovation Award nominations, the largest number of any intimate theatre for the 2018/19 season.  The Fountain’s nominations include Best Season for overall excellence.

The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production, and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.

During the 2018-29 season, there were 278 total productions registered for the Ovation Awards from 124 different producing bodies, resulting in 199 total nominations for 64 distinct productions presented by 43 organizations. These productions were voted on by 272 Ovation Awards voters — vetted individuals from the Greater Los Angeles area who are working theatre professionals.

The Fountain Theatre received the following Ovation Award nominations:

BEST SEASON
Fountain Theatre
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband
Hype Man: a Break Beat Play

BEST PRODUCTION OF A PLAY (Intimate Theatre)
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband

ACTING ENSEMBLE OF A PLAY
Cost of Living
Daniel’s Husband

DIRECTION OF A PLAY
John Vreeke – Cost of Living

LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tim Cummings – Daniel’s Husband
Felix Solis – Cost of Living

LEAD ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Katy Sullivan – Cost of Living

FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY
Tobias Forrest – Cost of Living

FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY
Jenny O’Hara – Daniel’s Husband
Xochitl Romero – Cost of Living

LIGHTING DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Chu-Hsuan Chang – Hype Man: A Break Beat Play
Jennifer Edwards – Daniel’s Husband
John Garofalo – Cost of Living

SCENIC DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Deanne Millais – Daniel’s Husband

SOUND DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Malik Allen – Hype Man: A Break Beat Play

VIDEO/PROJECTION DESIGN (Intimate Theatre)
Nicholas Santiago – Cost of Living

OVATIONS HONORS RECIPIENTS MUSIC COMPOSITION FOR A PLAY
Romero Mosley
Hype Man: A Break Beat Play

This year’s ceremony will be held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday, January 13th, 2020. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, December 3rd, and full information can be found on OvationAwards.com.

The complete list of all nominees.

Fountain stands for social and political theatre in LA with ‘Building the Wall’ and ‘Citizen’

CITIZEN WALL layout

That Was The Week That Was was a satirical television show in the early 1960’s that brought focus to social and political issues of the day. The Fountain Theatre may look back on this current week, May 1 – May 7 in 2017, and brand it the same name. This week, in an unplanned juncture of synchronicity, the Fountain Theatre has two acclaimed productions running simultaneously in Los Angeles — one at its 78-seat Hollywood home on Fountain Avenue, the other at the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City —  each dramatizing in mesmerizing fashion the urgent issues of race, injustice, and politics.

The Fountain’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was a smash hit the moment it opened in March at the intimate Fountain Theatre, selling out weeks in advance.  Set in the near future, the powerful new drama unfolds as a man awaits sentencing in a federal prison for carrying out the orders of Trump’s national policy to round-up and detain immigrants by the millions.    

 

Meanwhile, across town at the mid-sized Kirk Douglas Theatre, the Fountain’s acclaimed and award-winning encore production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, is galvanizing audiences. The centerpiece of Center Theatre Group‘s inaugural Block Party celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angles, Citizen is a searing, poetic riff on race in America based on the best-selling book.   

 

“To have these two important, meaningful productions running concurrently, one in an intimate theatre and the other in a mid-sized venue, is extraordinary,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It exemplifies who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan agrees. “Both Citizen and Building the Wall deal with the issue of race and the fundamental question of who is it we mean when we say, ‘We, the people,'” explains Schenkkan. “For more than twenty five years, the Fountain Theatre has been presenting exhilarating, necessary theater, wrestling with the most pressing social and political issues of the day.” 

LA Stage Alliance Executive Director Steven Leigh Morris points out that this week is no anomaly. Morris notes, “That the Fountain Theatre has two productions running simultaneously — one at its home space in East Hollywood and the other at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party program — is a testament to the rigor and meticulous artistry that has been part of The Fountain tradition for twenty-seven years.”

By all accounts, this is an unforgettable week for the Fountain. We vow to continue our commitment to create, develop and produce meaningful new plays that bring to life urgent issues, week after week, for many years to come. 

Tickets/Info BUILDING THE WALL

Tickets/Info CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC

Actors’ Equity Association vs. Los Angeles Theater

 

Steven Leigh Morris

Steven Leigh Morris, Executive Director of LA Stage Alliance

by Steven Leigh Morris

PART I:
The National Stage Union is Sued (Yet Again) by Its Own Members

If the showdown between the New York-based actors/stage managers union, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA, or Equity), and the L.A. theater community were a soap opera, I’d have changed the channel long ago. This show has been on the air since 1986, and these guys really need to come up with some fresh storylines.

For the uninitiated, last year, AEA announced that it was terminating the 99-Seat Theater Plan, an agreement between the union and its L.A. County membership that’s been in place since 1989, though it’s been regularly modified since then.

The Plan governed the way most of L.A. theater was performed for almost 30 years. It permitted its 7,000-8,000 union actors to volunteer in L.A. County theaters of no more than 99-seats, should they wish to do so, for reasons of artistic fulfillment and/or professional advancement. Examples of the latter include multiple examples of shows produced under the 99-Seat Plan transferring — often with the actors who created those roles — to larger theaters under contract within Los Angeles as well as to other cities, including Chicago and New York.

The Plan also presented a boon of opportunity to playwrights, whose new works wouldn’t stand a chance in theaters with higher production budgets. But that’s another story.

As volunteers under the Plan, union actors had the right to leave at any time. The actors were guaranteed minimal expense stipends per performance from the producers along with union health and safety protections. The 99-seat cap was designed to ensure that producers wouldn’t exploit the actors financially. A ticket price cap was also built in, for exactly the same reason, along with a cap on the number of performances for all such productions. This was all agreed to in the 1989 out-of-court settlement of a contentious lawsuit filed by a number of actors against their union in September, 1988. Those plaintiffs, led by actress Salome Jens and including some of the same plaintiffs who returned for another round in 2015 (Tom Ormeny, Maria Gobetti, Joseph Stern and Gary Grossman), believed that in a field (the theater) with such pervasive unemployment, the union had been unreasonably restricting their right to work under conditions and for reasons that they (the actors) found useful.

Among the litany of complaints in the current lawsuit is that Equity refused to meet for an entire year with the L.A.-based “Review Committee” that was created in the 1989 out-of-court settlement. Among the purposes of the Review Committee was to advise the union on its proposed changes to the Plan. On learning in November, 2013, that the union intended to end the Plan, the Review Committee requested a meeting with Equity to discuss these rumblings. Equity’s 99-Seat Plan Administrator, Michael Van Duzer, granted that meeting eight months later, in July, 2014. But shortly before that meeting, Equity’s Executive Director Mary McColl fired Van Duzer, cancelled the meeting, and never scheduled another.

Now let’s flash back for a moment, to the mid 1980s. You’ll find the complaints on both sides to be almost identical to today’s. This failure of the union to meet with representatives of L.A.’s small theaters, for example, was a pattern that had unfolded about 30 years prior.  Continue reading

NEW VIDEO: Rave reviews for ‘Dream Catcher’

DREAM CATCHER Ovation Rec Twitter copy

Looks like the Fountain may have another hit on its hands. Our world premiere of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs is earning rave reviews and has been spotlighted as Ovation Recommended by members of LA Stage Alliance. Broadway World hails it as “an incredible tour de force” and ShowBuzzNYC exclaims that it’s “an emotional rollercoaster thrill ride.”

Directed by Cameron Watson and starring Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell, Dream Catcher is performed in a thrilling in-the-round setting (“Fountain 360”) until March 21.

Enjoy this new video highlighting the fabulous press quotes earned by this passionate production.

More Info/Get Tickets

Fountain Theatre Wins Top Honor at 2014 Ovation Awards

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the 2014  Ovation Awards.

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the Ovation Awards.

It was a memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre Sunday night, November 2nd,  at the 2014 Ovation Awards hosted by LA Stage Alliance and held at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel. The Fountain was honored with the prestigious Best Season Award (“The Normal Heart”, “My Name is Asher Lev”, and “The Brothers Size”) for overall excellence and received the 2014 BEST Award from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation recognizing exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vibrancy of Los Angeles.

Often hailed as LA’s version of the Tony Awards, the peer-judged Ovation Awards recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area. The LA Times has referred to the Ovation Awards as the “highest-profile contest for local theatre.”

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs

The Best Season Award is the preeminent Ovation honor. It recognizes a theatre company’s overall excellence throughout an entire season. Over the years, The Fountain has received more nominations for the Best Season category than any other theatre in Los Angeles. This year marks the 5th time that The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for Best Season since the category was created 6 years ago. The Fountain has now won the award twice.  

“Being honored with the Best Season Award is particularly meaningful to us because it doesn’t go to one person,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It celebrates the achievement of an entire season of artists. Therefore, the award goes to — and is shared by — all of the many actors, designers and production team members in our Fountain Family who made our 2013-14 Ovation Season such a success. ”  

Acclaimed productions in the Fountain 2014 Ovation Season included the exclusive revival of The Normal Heart, the Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev, and the Los Angeles Premiere of The Brothers Size.   

BS group 1

Shirley Jo Finney, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Theo Perkins, Stephen Sachs, Matthew Hancock.

2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding

2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding

The Fountain was also honored Sunday night with the BEST Award presented and funded by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.  The BEST (Building Excellence in Small Theatre) Award recognizes exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vitality of Los Angeles with long-term viability. The Fountain was honored for its ability to think creatively, the quality of its ideas and aspirations, and the organization’s ability to differentiate itself from other Los Angeles theatre companies.

Our sincere thanks to LA Stage Alliance and The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation for their ongoing dedicated support of intimate theatre in Los Angeles.

Enjoy These Photos from the 2014 Ovation Awards

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New Plays in LA: More Women, More Diversity for a More Perfect Union

LA Stage Day

LA Stage Day

by Holly L. Derr

It was a sunny day and LA Stage Alliance was hosting LA Stage Day, a gathering of Los Angeles theater folk centered around inspirational presentations, workshops, and breakout sessions. So I ventured down the 5 to University Hills, just off the 10, where participants in small group discussions like “Leading Diversity on the LA Stage,” “New Media in the Rehearsal Room,” and “Blue Sky: What Are Your Dream Ideas?” were sharing best practices, brainstorming new ideas, and challenging their own assumptions about how theater works.

As part of a day geared around questions like how to engage new, increasingly diverse, tech savvy audiences, the playwriting workshop stood out for advocating the safest route to getting produced. Led by four men and one woman, “Play!: The 60-minute Everything-You-Need-to-Know-About-Playwriting-in-LA Marathon” offered such revelatory tidbits as “cast a name actor or no one will come see your play,” “every story has to have a protagonist and a resolution,” and “plays only get produced when they have small casts and one set.” Now these things are all well and good if that’s the kind of play you want to write, but what if the best actors you can get have impeccable training but aren’t names? What if the world as you see it or as you want to show it has multiple protagonists and locations, lots of people, and conflicts that don’t necessarily get resolved? What if you want to make art more than you want to sell tickets? What if you’re a woman?

Play reading at Playwrights Union

Play reading at Playwrights Union

In search of more fertile ground for innovative new play development, I headed up the 101 to Silver Lake for a reading of Crazy Bitch, a new play by Jennie Webb, presented by The Playwrights Union. As if the theater gods had heard my cry, Webb’s 70-minute play has not one but four protagonists, one of which is a character called The Immortal Jellyfish who is described as 4.5mm wide and lives in a petri dish. And though the play, which is set in LA, deeply investigates questions of life and death, the actual plot is left unresolved. Asked to what extent her play was consciously created in relation to the commercialism of Los Angeles, Webb said:

I’ve lived here all my life but this is the first play I’ve set here. I just got tired of all the new plays set in New York and gave myself a challenge to set one in LA. But I’m not savvy enough to write what’s producible. I write what I write and I hope it speaks to someone. I’d rather write plays where a woman loses body parts or shoes start raining from the ceiling. I call it “domestic absurdism,” with domestic meaning everyday life, because I find that life is absurd, especially for women.

The Playwrights Union

The Playwrights Union

In contrast to the male-heavy representation among speakers at LA Stage Day, a full five of the seven readings done that weekend by The Playwrights Union were by women. The Union, which began in 2009 as a meeting of interested colleagues in organizer Jennifer Haley’s backyard, hosts an annual February challenge to write a play in a month. Participating playwrights gather over a long weekend to read and talk about one another’s plays. They do another round of rewrites and then host a weekend of public readings with actors. Haley, whose own play The Nether recently premiered at Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater, told me:

We have about thirty members, and there was a time when we had to recruit men in order to achieve parity. Right now it’s about even, but more women participated in the February Challenge that led to these plays.

Asked how her writing functions in relation to the commercial culture of Hollywood and the idea of what’s “producible,” Haley offered:

I’ve worked as a playwright in Austin, Seattle and all over the East Coast. Studying at Brown with Paula Vogel, I learned to play with both experimental and traditional forms.  I think circulation in a variety of theater communities helps you look at different models… there are new Playwrights arriving all the time in LA, and it will be interesting to see if this influences the kind of work being done here.

Though many playwrights are drawn to Los Angeles to write for television, others come here to study and end up making the city their home. Brittany Knupper, a recent grad from the playwriting program headed by Alice Tuan at the California Institute of the Arts—just up the 5 from the Valley—talked to me about her first year living here as a writer:

A lot of people their first year out of school have an existential crisis. Maybe mine just hasn’t hit yet but it hasn’t been that bad. Then again I constantly feel like I’m in an existential crisis, so maybe I’m just used to it. At CalArts I felt like I wasn’t being experimental enough as a writer, but in Hollywood people think what I do is too experimental. LA is such an industry town: People are trying to do anything they can to make a connection. You can feel the desperation. It’s funky and weird and gross, and I kind of like how dirty and weird it is.

Knupper has found an artistic outlet in storytelling, a popular form of Los Angeles entertainment in which people gather in theaters, bars, and homes to hear individuals read stories, usually autobiographical, but sometimes fictional. These pop-up salons feature the work of playwrights, journalists, fiction writers, and essayists and provide writers with regular opportunities to present work and receive feedback from within a supportive community.

Because the nightmare of driving in LA keeps most Angelenos locked in their own neighborhoods, writers who want to reach a city-wide audience have to create communities like these, organized around the discipline rather than through established institutions. Jennie Webb and writer/mythologist Laura Shamas formed just such an association in 2009—the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative—to coordinate efforts to get more plays by women produced on local stages. Webb related,

LA is almost pridefully inaccessible. We needed an organization that would bring women together and spread the word that women writers exist. We are focused on connecting artists to one another, supporting one another by going to see each others plays, and getting the message out that it pays to produce work by women.

PowderPuffPilots

LA Female Playwrights Initiative

Clearly LA is not lacking in women playwrights, yet a study done by LAFPI in conjunction with LA Stage Alliance revealed that between 2000 and 2010, only 20% of plays produced in Los Angeles were written or co-written by women.

Hopefully next year’s LA Stage Day will address the lack of gender diversity on our city’s stages. Organizers at the Alliance should start by asking more women to speak and conduct workshops and should include breakout sessions addressing the issue. For their part, producers need to recognize that the only way to appeal to new audiences is to tell stories in new ways, which is why I’m going to stay on the trail of the LA writing underground, where work by women—and experimental work at that—is flourishing.

Holly L. Derr is a writer, director, and professor of theater specializing in the Viewpoints & Composition, the performance of gender, and applied theater history. This post originally appeared on HowlRound. Holly is also a blogger for Ms., where she writes about theater, film, and culture. Follow her on twitter @hld6oddblend.