The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival (LAWTF) celebrates artistic diversity through the production of traditional and innovative performances and educational outreach.
HISTORY OF THE LOS ANGELES WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL
The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival began with a “chance meeting” of solo actors Adilah Barnes and Miriam Reed in 1993 when they met at a statewide California Arts Council Touring Roster Conference in Pasadena, CA. What drew these two talented women of different cultures together was learning that they both portray historical figures: Adilah’s being African American and include suffragist Sojourner Truth and political activist Angela Davis and Miriam’s contrasting Anglo women that include birth control activists Margaret Sanger and Susan B. Anthony.
Historical figures were the bond that united these
two women in an artistic and spiritual way.
When the organizers of the California Arts Council Touring Roster conference brought the attendees together at the end of the conference and asked for announcements from the floor, Miriam had the forward-thinking idea of announcing from the podium that she and Adilah would like to assemble all-female solo artists in the rear of the room following the close of the conference to see how they might collectively support each other. Adilah and Miriam were both surprised and felt empowered when bombarded with actors, dancers, storytellers, performance artists, and other multi-disciplined women who were as hungry for solo community support as they were.
At that moment, Adilah and Miriam both looked
at each other and knew they had struck gold.
The Women’s Theatre Festival, the oldest solo festival for women based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, had come to Los Angeles in 1992 with the vision of creating a national women’s Theatre Festival. They first landed at UCLA where Adilah performed with them but decided not to return to Los Angeles. Subsequently, learning of this fledgling new solo festival from Adilah that had picked up the torch from where they had left off, the Women’s Theatre Festival lovingly wrapped their creative wings around the group of Los Angeles women who were more so artists than businesswomen and taught them the ropes needed to create a solo festival.
Thus, the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival began in 1993 from the first gathering following the California Arts Council that took place at the Burbank Little Theatre, home of one of the Festival founders.
The first Festival took place during Women’s History Month in March 1994 at the Los Angeles Theatre Center and was hosted by Angela Bassett. There were no grants in the early days and the Board raised the money themselves through yard sales and other fundraisers to make the maiden Festival happen at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.
With no budget to speak of, the founders of the Festival rotated homes in the beginning and housed the Festival’s file cabinet and other belonging in the home of Adilah Barnes. It was not until 2000 that the Festival moved into a real office and began to expand significantly.
Fast forward to 2019 and the Festival now employs two part-time staff, interns and dedicated volunteers both from the community and from the courts, independent contractors for each Festival, and the Festival has now served well over 3000 youth in the LA public schools, produced a cable tv show, and its educational outreach programming has touched hearts and spirits of seniors, at-risk youth, ex-offender women and low-income audience members who are sometimes given free tickets to be transported by the magic of theatre.
The Festival has attracted a host of government funders, official sponsors, donors and has established a membership base that many alumni have joined.
This is a theatre fairy tale that came true.
There have many performers along the way who have stood in the trenches, rolling up there sleeves to do the work that has needed to be done.
What began as a coming together of female solo artists to collectively support each other has now become the oldest solo festival for women in Los Angeles and has honored well over 50 deserving women in theatre and has brought together well over 500 solo artists from around the world who year after year join hands with the Festival to share their many heartwarming and personal stories. Audiences have become inspired, impacted and can give testimony that they are not alone in their many experiences that have been mirrored on LAWTF stages over the last nineteen years.