For more than a century, International Women’s Day has sought to draw attention to the needs and desires of women around the world. It is marked by over 200 formal events today in the United States — even more in the United Kingdom.
In Los Angeles, we asked women who play various roles in theater this question — what do you want to see for the coming year?
Here is a sampling of the responses.
Amy Levinson, artistic associate/literary director, Geffen Playhouse
“Truth be told, my gut reaction is to wish that this question were no longer relevant, but answering in the realm of reality, I am looking forward to a season of plays with great female characters.Â I have been bowled over by the complex, exciting women who populate the crop of plays I’ve read this year.Â The female protagonists are multifaceted, exciting, “˜take life by the horns’ kinds of women, some of whom grapple with the very idea of womanhood in a post-feminist age.Â And it’s no coincidence that many of these plays were written by women.”
Evelina Fernandez, Actor/Playwright – Latino Theater Company, LATC
“Obviously, I’d like to see more plays by and about women, but especially women of color. I was raised by strong, passionate, intelligent. funny sexual women, and I want to see those women on LA stages. LA is a majority minority metropolis, and I would like LA theater to reflect that more consistently. It’s a matter of survival, really. We’re all headed in the same direction toward a multinational identity of mixed ethnicities, cultural and geographical origins, and LA is in the forefront of that path. I would love for LA theater to be the most courageous, the most innovative, to be the vanguard of the future of the American theater and its audiences. In regard to Latinas/os in LA theater, I would love for LA theater to stop the ongoing notion that we are new, foreign, unusual and unfamiliar. Latinas/os come from all walks of life. We are not just kind-hearted nannies or housekeepers, or humble Latino gardeners or day laborers, or misunderstood gang members. We are as diverse as the city itself.”
Emilie Beck, director and c0-literary manager, Boston Court
“It is not enough to wish for institutions to add more female artists to their rosters. The wishing will not make it so, and it would not address the root of the issue. What is needed is a complete paradigm shift in the way we approach women as theater artists from all sides: practitioners, gatekeepers, tastemakers, and audiences. This is a difficult task, not just looking up at the icons of Miller and Williams, among many other men, but also from where we work in the shadow of Hollywood, which offers us lessons in formula and box-office success.
“From the time of Aristotle, the definition of story has been set out and adhered to with a masculine hand. And women have fit themselves into this standard in the same way we have entered most male-dominated professions: by taking their suits and cutting off the legs to make skirts. The truth is, women often have different ways of telling a story, less linear and myopic, more lyrical and layered. Though, of course, the less generalized truth is that we each have our own distinctive style. And by opening up the overriding ideas of what’s acceptable, we open ourselves up to stories told in unique voices from both men and women.
“What I hope is for all artists to be empowered to create work that is not defined by the ‘should’ or ‘supposed to’ ideas that have guided recent decades of work. What I hope is that both women and men push past the unofficial pro-forma guidelines that have produced only more of what we already know. What I hope is that we can expand theater to be the art form of depth and investigation that comes from each of us sharing our own unique voice. And what I hope for women in particular, is that we can free ourselves of trying to look and sound like men in our evolution as artists, and instead, to look and sound like ourselves, whatever those individual definitions may be.”
Mireya (Murry) Hepner, producer, MainStreet Theatre
“When I think about women in LA theater,Â IÂ think about how many amazing women there are who are actively workingÂ in this community, especially on the creativeÂ end.
“For example, on my upcoming production ofÂ The Phantom Tollbooth, we have a woman director (Jessica Kubzansky), choreographer (Sarah Gorman), musical director (Janice Rodgers Wainwright), lighting designer (Jaymi Lee Smith), costume designerÂ (Tina Haatainen-Jones) and stage manager (Julie Haber).Â Â I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or if this is the case at other theaters, but when I look back at theÂ creativeÂ people thatÂ have worked on our shows, a large proportion of them over the past seven years have been women.
“On the Ovation rules committee, where I serve, women represent about half of the group (Phyllis Schuringa, Dolores Chavez, Jeanie Hackett, Toni Sawyer), which seems about right.Â They are all dynamic, smart, and deeply committed to raising the bar and honoring excellence in Los Angeles theater.
“So… IÂ think what I’d like to see most of all is an acknowledgment ofÂ the many talented, creative, smart women who are so vital to the creative output of LA theater.Â We should use International Women’s Day to celebrate!”
Lisa Wolpe, artistic director, Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company
“As a female theater artist who has seen significant growth in the world theater culture in my lifetime, I am happy to see so many more wonderfully intelligent female directors and actresses working on the stage now than there were when I was younger. I am hoping that the trend toward more diversity in casting will strengthen, and that the percentages of women of color working as directors and actors will steadily grow. I see many American theater organizations committing to positive change in this area, and I am seeing lots of smart women emerge ready and capable of making tremendous contributions to the fascinating stories coming out onstage.
“I just began my stint as Distinguished Artist at the Center for Collaborative Art at Whittier College with a lecture that considers the question: “Might a woman have written the Shakespeare plays?” I’ll be presenting material on Mary Sidney, from Robin P. Williams’ book Sweet Swan of Avon. Mary Sidney was one of the most influential writers and patrons of the arts in Elizabethan times, to whose sons the Shakespeare plays and sonnets are dedicated. It’s possible that she had a big hand in writing the plays, and the evidence that is coming out about her influence is fascinating.
“It’s wonderful to read about the marvelous female writers, politicians, artists, and leaders who came out of the English Renaissance. For me, it’s powerful to consider the great female cross-gender work done in theaters stretching across time and space from artists like Charlotte Cushman and Sarah Bernhardt to Japanese Takarazuka. Whether I am watching “Makers” on PBS or studying the uppity women of 500 years ago, I will always remember that my life in art would have been impossible if the feminists and humanists who came before us had not fought for the rights of women to be allowed to free their voices onstage and in the world.”
Barbara Beckley, artistic director, Colony Theatre Company
“I don’t have a few paragraphs on this one — just two sentences.Â In LA we have an abundance of brilliant actresses of a certain age, and it was my honor to work with three of them in the past year — Anne Gee Byrd, Bonnie Bailey Reed, and Mariette Hartley.Â Younger actors can learn aÂ lotÂ by sharing the stage with experienced professional artists like these women, and I hope to see many more of them on LA stages in the coming year.”
caryn desai, artistic director/producer, International City Theatre
“What do I want to see in the coming year for theater?Â I can’t say that what I want to see has as much to do with being a woman as an artist.Â There are many women leading theater companies, and there are great women directors, writers and actors.Â What we need is incentives to keep good artists working, maturing and thriving in their craft.Â Artists need to be paid.Â We all need to do a better job communicating with the people who can make a difference in supporting theater.Â We must communicate with our subscribers and our audiences about the important role subscribers play in the development and future of this most human art form.Â Without subscribers, theaters (and I am talking about theaters who are paying artists) cannot afford to take risks or venture into new unproven work.
“If every play had to be sold individually, non-profit theaters would be out of business or be forced to offer safer choices.Â Subscribers provide a base of support for a season — not just one play.Â And this makes it possible to include newer, lesser known and riskier choices.Â If good playwrights are to be encouraged, their work needs to be produced.Â Subscribers are instrumental in sustaining theater.Â There should be a campaign to educate the public — at least the public who cares about the future of theater.”
Sabra Williams, director of outreach and The Prison Project at Actors’ Gang
“I would like to see arts in education become recognized as being as a crucial part of the development of children’s lives and success in the future, as math or English. I’d like to see the state start to support the transformative potential of arts in rehabilitation and re-entry — for the sake of the incarceratedÂ and the society they are coming back to. For me, as an actress, I want to help create a world where what happens on stage is regarded as invaluable as a conduit for social change and is supported financially in order to become sustainable.”
Dale Franzen, director of Broad Stage
“I think women want to see relevant stories that move and illuminate. They can be from any culture, any time, as long as they tell a story that claims the heart and soul. We go to theater to be elevated, to laugh, to share and cry.”
Mary Chalon, actress, co-founder of Parsons Nose Productions, associate director and producer
“We now live in a time and place in this country where women can beÂ heard, seen, appreciated, respected, and valued, not merely for theirÂ individual attractiveness and appeal to men, but also for theirÂ intelligence, wit, capabilities, hard work, and senses of humor. Our stories of growing up, finding passions, seeking careers, fallingÂ in love, winning, losing, marrying, mothering, aging, leading, deserve to be told by both talented female and male writers, in serious ways,Â humorous ways, and with wit, style, and substance.
“Our young girls in this country need to grow up listening to the voicesÂ and seeing the stories of real women, who lived before them, come aliveÂ in the theater. It’s our history, and time can fly by all too quickly.Â I remember seeing what a struggle the women’s liberation movement wasÂ in the 1960s and ’70s, and its results are now so taken for granted.Â We can so easily forget about past times that shape who we are, unlessÂ we are reminded. The theater can do that for us so beautifully. MomentsÂ in the early 21st century will be behind us soon too. Let’s tell theseÂ stories. To help that to happen let’s see more funding given toÂ developing new and young playwrights who write for and about women.
“Think of Lorraine Hansberry and what she did for young AfricanÂ American men and women with A Raisin In The Sun, or WilliamÂ Shakespeare’s character, Rosalind in As You Like It, and of 20thÂ century playwrights such as Beth Henley and Wendy Wasserstein. Let’sÂ nurture our young writing talents consciously and tenderly, and giveÂ our newer female writers places to try out their work, as well as honorÂ fine writing for women from long ago.”
Amy Ellenberger, founding member, Chalk Repertory Theatre
“As a performer and founding member of a female-run theater company, I simply want to see women represented in proportion to our society. Â That means more women in leadership positions, more female directors, more female playwrights being produced, and casts that feature a balance of men and women. Â I would also like to see women valued economically for their work. Â There are some fantastic female leaders and artists operating in small to mid-sized theater companies with small budgets and little to no compensation. Â It would be great if some of the larger theater companies would invest in these women to help lead the theater community into the future. P.S. If you want to see some women in action, check out the show we just opened, Mommune.”
Janet Miller, independent director and choreographer
“In theater, I always hope for more opportunity for women”¦Period. More women artistic directors, writers, directors, designers, stage managers, choreographers, actors. And especially for women in that “˜over 50’ category. We have much to offer, so just ask us to join the party. Actually, in many cases, we bring the party, and lots more besides.”
Jean Bruce Scott, producing artistic director and co-creator of Native Voices at the Autry
“We need more stories with leading female roles about important timely topics, more women writers writing those stories, and more women producers and directors willing to tackle them. Theater, which gives audiences the opportunity to see more of the tougher issues on our stages, can start discussions which may just lead to change.”