Who Runs LA Theaters?
Note from Debbie Zipp: I am excited to announce The Three Tomatoes LA Life Newsletter is launching the “LA Theatre Buzz” column today! The marvelous Tomato, Laura Foti Cohen, will be our LA Life Theatre Maven, covering and reviewing the LA theatre scene. I am pleased as punch that Laura is joining the LA Life Newsletter creative team. She is in the know when it comes to LA Theatre, and you will love what she has to say. Laura Foti Cohen, a playwright herself, has been reviewing theatre at the Larchmont Buzz. Laura is a playwright/producer with the NEO Ensemble Theatre and co-wrote and co-produced the stage play, Inappropriate!, that is opening soon at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Laura’s first installment for the LA Theatre Buzz Column, “Who Runs LA Theatre?”, provides us with an excellent, eye-opening, and compelling perspective about the sparse amount of plays written by women in LA Theatre.
As Laura says, “Women remain severely underrepresented in LA theater as playwrights, directors and artistic directors. By my calculations, there are five women serving as solo artistic directors of LA theaters… In contrast, at more than twenty theaters from downtown to the beach, the artistic directors are men.” Laura, also, highlights a few theatre offerings from female playwrights and she reviews “No Place Like Gandersheim” at the Sklight. Check it all out, Tomatoes.
Who Runs LA Theaters?
It’s been a dramatic couple of years for women playwrights in Los Angeles. When one of the premier local producers, Center Theatre Group (CTG), announced its 2021-22 season, it landed like a stinkbomb: Nine plays by men and one by a woman (Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage).
Women playwrights have long been accustomed to production demographics like these. But the COVID-19 pandemic and #MeToo movement changed more than theater ventilation and codes of conduct. They combined to create a Network moment, as in: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
Jeremy O. Harris, author of one of CTG’s ten 2021-22 productions, Slave Play, immediately spoke up about the gender disparity in CTG’s lineup and said he had begun the process of withdrawing his play. In response, CTG announced an initiative called “Not a Moment, But a Movement” that commissioned six new plays by Black and female or non-binary playwrights. The 2022-23 CTG season was majority women or non-binary playwrights of color.
Women remain severely underrepresented in LA theater as playwrights, directors and artistic directors. By my calculations, there are five women serving as solo artistic directors of LA theaters:
- Boston Court (Pasadena): Jessica Kubzansky
- Circle X Theatre (Atwater Village): Jen Kays
- International City Theatre (Long Beach): caryn desai
- Open First Theatre Co. (Atwater Village): Martha Demson
- Theatricum Botanicum (Topanga Canyon): Ellen Geer
In contrast, at more than twenty theaters from downtown to the beach, the artistic directors are men. Yes, they’re making more of an effort these days to feature plays written and/or directed by women. But it’s a long, long way until the artists and decision makers backstage resemble the majority female audience buying the tickets.
Despite calling it to task, I actually love LA theater.
I’m thrilled whenever I get a chance to see a show written by a woman. Lately, as I noted above, that’s no longer a rare opportunity. This week, I saw a wonderful show at Skylight Theatre in Los Feliz. In its 40th season, the Skylight is “celebrating the visions and voices of extraordinary women in theatre.” And Elizabeth Dement’s No Place Like Gandersheim brilliantly and hilariously captures this moment in entertainment history. (Playing through June 25.)
The great Lauren Gunderson has two plays on LA stages: a jaw-dropping production of The Book of Will is at A Noise Within in Pasadena through June 4 (hurry!). The all-female cast of The Revolutionists at Theatre Forty in Beverly Hills turns the French revolution on (and off with) its head. (Playing through June 18.)
Update: I omitted a sixth solo female Artistic Director tis Stefanie Black of IAMA Theatre Company. IAMA puts on strong and challenging work, including, in their current season, Smile. I regret the omission.”