Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative

There's something new happening in town. A grassroots movement working to ensure fair representation of women playwrights on LA-area stages is gaining momentum - the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, or the LA FPI. The 100+ "instigators" behind this initiative are men and women who recognize that female playwrights are critically underrepresented on stages across the country, and want to take positive action in Los Angeles by saying "We're with the FPI!"

It's a hard fact that on the theatrical landscape, wherever you look, works written by women are few and far between. One of the goals of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative is to connect with local organizations already working on behalf of women playwrights and theater artists, and to give the issues and efforts increased visibility. The LA FPI has created a nexus of support on two fronts: for women playwrights, and for Los Angeles-area artists and organizations interested in producing plays by women. In addition, the Initiative provides an inside source for LA theatergoers who want to support the movement's goals, and invest in the theaters who are doing the same thing - by buying tickets to plays by female playwrights.

"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 Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative website, lafpi.com, is set up as a hub for theater artists as well as theatergoers. Visitors will find resources for playwrights and theatermakers; information about plays by women onstage in the LA area and also theater-going groups through the "LA Theater Task Force"; a blog written by a female playwrights who are "Persons of Interest"; information on LA FPI events and how to become a part of the all-volunteer movement; and details about using the LA FPI Logo - an easy way to spread the word which acts as a clear signal of change. The website also outlines the facts about inequality on stages across the country, and the history behind the LA Female Playwrights Initiative.

The initiative was, in part, motivated by a groundswell of activities in New York and elsewhere following a 2009 study on gender disparity in the American theater. Among the findings in the study by Princeton economics student Emily Sands were numbers that confirmed those in earlier studies: plays by women represent less than 20% of the works on and off-Broadway and in regional theaters. The study turned artists into activists, prompting women including Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman and stage and TV writer Teresa Rebeck to speak out about the issue.  

LA-based playwright Laura Shamas, who also works frequently on the East Coast, responded to the call and reached out to her colleague, playwright Jennie Webb to found the LA FPI. "What was happening in New York inspired us," says Shamas. "We wanted to take action here in Los Angeles. And at the same time, we looked at the statistics and realized that none of the numbers were representative of the LA theater scene. Jennie and I saw this as a terrific opportunity: we could use the LA FPI to help compile an accurate history of Los Angeles theater in the 21st century."

One of the most important components of the LA FPI is the LA FPI Study, which will compile data about the producing and development trends on stages in the Greater Los Angeles area from 2000 to 2009. The Study will also tally the plays of Los Angeles-area female playwrights over the same period. Once completed, this Study will provide a baseline against which the current and future accountability of gender issues of Los Angeles playwrights may be considered. Playwrights, theaters and producing companies are encouraged to participate in the LA FPI Study to ensure that individual achievements aren't overlooked as data is collected from various sources. NOTE: The deadline for participation is August 15, 2010. The results are expected to be published by Study Director Ella Martin in November, 2010.

"Once the LA FPI Study is complete, we'll be able to use the results as a tool to raise awareness and create change, in the same way as we're using our Logo," says Webb. "We can also celebrate the impressive accomplishments of LA playwrights, and our theater community as a whole. Face it: LA is consistently marginalized as a theater town; this is a way to say to the rest of the country, 'Look at what we've done, and hey! We're still doing it!"

There's another aspect of the Initiative that is important to those involved: its potential to help bring together the LA theater community. "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!"

For more information on the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, or to participate in the LA FPI Study, go to lafpi.com.