By Darlene Donloe
The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival (LAWTF) celebrated its 23rd anniversary by kicking off a weekend of festivities Thursday night with an opening night, A Toast To Greatness, champagne gala and awards ceremony honoring six women for their career and life achievements.
The event, hosted by actors Starletta DuPois and Barry Shabaka Henley, and written and directed by Shanae Sharon, was held at The Electric Lodge in Venice. The theme of this year’s festival is Telling Our Truths.
“This evening is important because it’s about women supporting other women,” said DuPois. “I like what the festival represents. It shows how women can grow and fly. Women need to understand each other and push each other up. This festival shows how much we love each other.”
Barry Shabaka Henley
“In a world run by men, it’s important to honor the accomplishments of women every chance we get,” said Henley. “It’s an important tool passing on culture and history. It’s a way of honoring our tradition and storytelling.”
Sandra Evers Manly
The night’s honorees included Sandra Evers Manly, who received the Integrity Award, presented to an artist or individual who has brought credibility and dignity to her work. Evers-Manly is a former president of the Beverly Hills Hollywood NAACP. She oversaw the NAACP Image Awards as well as the NAACP Theater Awards. She also supports the Ebony Repertory Theatre and the Los Angeles Mark Taper Theatre Education Program. Evers-Manly is the founding president of the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC) which, for the past 22 years, has sponsored the African American Film Marketplace and S.E.Manly Short Film Showcase, “Sisters are Doin' It For Themselves” and “Real Black Men” Film Festivals as well as the Los Angeles Youth Diversity Film Festival.
Other honorees included the following.
Eloise Laws was given the Eternity Award, given to an artist or individual whose lifetime achievements have made a lasting contribution to the world of theatre. Eloise Laws, known to her
Marja-Lewis Ryan was given the Maverick Award, presented to an artist or individual whose work has set a high standard of individuality and self-styled creativity. Marja-Lewis Ryan (writer/director/producer) holds an Honors BFA in theatre from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts where she studied at The Atlantic Theater Company. 2011: She wrote, produced and starred in her play Dysnomia (Ovation nomination for Playwriting). 2014: Ryan made her directorial debut with her play One in the Chamber (Winner: Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for Best Writing, and for Best Actress Heidi Sulzman; Ovation nomination for Playwriting). 2015: Ryan directed and produced the L.A. Premiere of David Mamet’s The Anarchist starring Felicity Huffman and Rebecca Pidgeon.
Ana Maria Alvarez
Ana Maria Alvarez received the Rainbow Award, bestowed on an artist or individual for her diverse contributions in fostering non-traditional and multi-cultural theatre works. Alvarez, a Cuban-American choreographer, is known for her daring, multidimensional and boundary blurring choreography.
Dr. Chantal Rodriguez
Dr. Chantal Rodriguez also received the Rainbow Award. Rodriguez, Ph.D., is the programming director/literary manager for the Latino Theater Company, operators of the Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) in downtown L.A. Since 2009 she has produced many seasons of culturally diverse work at the LATC including Encuentro 2014, the largest Latino Theatre Festival in over 25 years.
Actress Elizabeth Pena was honored posthumously with the Infinity Award, memorializing exceptional achievements of a theatre artist. She is the daughter of the founders of the Latin American Theatre Ensemble. She was a founding member of the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors (HOLA). Although known for her work in television (Tough Cookies, Shannon’s Deal, I Married Dora, Resurrection Blvd.) and feature films (Jacob’s Ladder, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Lone Star, La Bamba), she also had extensive stage credits, mostly in New York. Her stage work included roles in Act One and Only, Antigone, Blood Wedding, Night of the Assassins, Italian-American Reconciliation, Bring on the Night, and more. Pena passed away in October 2014.
During the opening night gala, Ashley Gayle performed a dance interpretation called, Study on a Butterfly, while honoree, Eloise Laws, performed two songs.
As is its tradition, this year’s LAWTF will present a number of solo works showcasing the many voices of womanhood, while celebrating the theatre community. On tap is a roster of distinguished artists who will co-host four days and five programs through March 27.
On Friday, March 25, actor/playwright and director Joyce Guy and Lula Washington, founder and artistic director of the Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) performed a program titled Fathers and Daughters.
On Sat., March 26, a program titled Culturally Speaking, will feature Iona Morris (actor, director, writer, voice artist) and Adleane Hunter (director, producer).
Also on Saturday, the Identity Revealed program will feature Rosie Lee Hooks (founding member of the musical performance ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock) and award-winning vocalist and Broadway actor Eloise Laws.
“A festival like this empowers women,” said Laws. “This is a great way to meet and greet other people in the business. It’s about communicating. Something like this lets the community know what’s going on in the theater.”
Laws said it was “encouraging” to be honored.
“It’s nice to be honored by your peers,” said Laws. “It’s more meaningful when your peers like and honor your work.”
The festival concludes Sun., March 27, with Striving for Balance, performed by Ingrid Graham (dancer, choreographer) and performance artist Sky Palkowitz.
In its 23-year history, the LAWTF, the longest running annual solo festival for women in Los Angeles, has produced more than 500 multicultural and multidisciplinary solo performers from around the world.
The LAWTF, a non-profit, was founded by Executive Producer Adilah Barnes and Miriam Reed.
General admission tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Students, seniors and groups of 10 or more are $18. Children 12 and under, $10.