|Only one out of the last ten plays I have reviewed was by a woman playwright. 1 in 10. Not very good odds if you’re a female trying to break into the largely male dominant stage scene.
Sadly, this statistic reflects the harsh reality for women writers everywhere, not just in Los Angeles. But the grassroots organization, Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (FPI) is taking action and focusing on positive change through local support, activism, and a commissioned study of the past decade for women playwrights and theatre professionals.
Working with local producers and other artists, FPI’s focus will be on increasing visibility for women in theatre as well as encouraging the theatre community to promote and provide more access to shows written by women.
The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough women playwrights; it’s the lack of theatre companies willing to produce them. Part of this is due to the belief that recognizable names bring a greater box office draw. Add to this the steady stream of revivals, which is, chiefly male and the opportunities for women grow increasingly narrow. The consequences of this in Marsha Norman’s article “Not There Yet” in American Theatre Magazine is the absence of the other in the sweeping marginalization of female representation, “a theatre that is missing the work of women is missing half the story, half the canon, half the life of our time.”
Other organizations as in The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project has showcased nearly 50 works by women, directed by women, along with all-female crews, but there is much more that needs attention to ensure women will have the same accessibility as their male counterparts.
All you have to do is look at Broadway, however, and the discrepancy is sobering. Whether this is a socialized bias or a lack of sensitivity is unclear, but the aftereffects are still the same—exclusion. In 2009, the Sands Study revealed the growing disparity of women playwrights and that these numbers are worsening, despite the lip service many theatre companies and artistic directors have made to the contrary over the past decades.
For their part, FPI is dedicated to all playwrights, regardless of gender or race, but with a greater emphasis placed on women and the process from creation to mounting a successful production.
"LA is teeming with theater companies fostered by actors who have banded together to create a community of like-minded artists," says Larry Dean Harris, Los Angeles Regional Rep for the Dramatists Guild of America. "But only a few opportunities exist in which playwrights can bond and support each other in a similar manner. What impresses me most about LA FPI is the undercurrent of respect for not just each other, but all playwrights: women and men. I respect their agenda, and I'm proud to be a part of this movement."
The conversation is only one-sided without artistic directors and companies striving to make a conscious effort to include more women into their repertoire. Theatergoers, too, bear some of the responsibility (with 70% of the tickets being sold to women), but with so few options to choose from (remember that 1 in 10 statistic?) the audience is limited to what is available.
In creating the Los Angeles FPI, playwrights Laura Shamas and Jennie Webb connected with a small group of fellow “instigators” including Velina Hasu Houston, Paula Cizmar, E.M. Lewis, Katherine James, Mary F. Casey, Diane Grant, and Ella Martin, who was commissioned to complete and write a comprehensive study of LA-area theaters, and LA-based women playwrights. This is not a producing, membership or fee-based organization. Anyone can join through the website and show their support with FPI’s own badge promoting positive change.
Visit the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative website, www.lafpi.com, to learn more about how you can get involved and show your support. Visitors can find resources for playwrights, as well as information about plays by women onstage in the LA area. There is also a blog written by female playwrights who are "Persons of Interest" and information on LA FPI events. The website also outlines the facts about inequality on stages across the country, and the history behind the LA Female Playwrights Initiative.
The goals of FPI are as follows:
1. To create an awareness of the facts: women playwrights are critically underrepresented on the American stage.
2. To advocate for female playwrights based Los Angeles – specifically by creating an active nexus between theaters, companies, organizations and theater artists who want to produce, promote and employ women playwrights.
3. To investigate and report the accurate history of producing organizations and plays by women in the Los Angeles area in the 21st century.
4. To recognize and support LA-area theaters who produce, promote and employ female theater artists through sharing our logo and advocating for – and attending – their productions.
5. To open channels and create opportunities for women playwrights, and by extension all women theater artists, in Los Angeles and beyond.
"We know that, especially right now, theater artists are struggling," says Webb. "So we realize that an 'us vs. them' approach is not going to serve anyone. With the LA FPI we're not trying to sell anything, or throw a negative spotlight on anyone. We want to open doors and rally support in a positive way. The more work we collectively get onstage – the more theater artists we put to work – the more we all benefit.
"We also need to need to show producers that it pays to produce women playwrights," Webb continues. "There's this perception that plays by women face bias. But the truth is that women buy 70% of theater tickets sold, and make up 60% of the audience. On Broadway, shows written by women, about women, actually pull in more at the box office than plays by men. Which says to me that it's good business to put women's voices out there. I mean, judging from the enthusiastic response we've gotten thus far, the LA area is full of instigators in who are dying to hear them!"
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