Photo: Joyful Raven in “Breed or Bust”
The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival (LAWTF) was founded in 1993 by Adilah Barnes and Miriam Reed, who met at a California Arts Council Touring Roster Conference in Pasadena and discussed the possibility of giving solo artists within Los Angeles their own festival and circle of support. The duo was shortly joined by Helene McCardle, Joyce Guy, Judith Heineman, Nina Kaufman, and Phylise Smith. Their wide-ranging backgrounds in the performing arts led them to become LAWTF’s seven co-founders.
They were inspired by the already-established Women’s Theatre Festival in Philadelphia, which came to LA in 1992 looking for a satellite in order to expand their organization into what they were hoping to call the “National Women’s Theatre Festival”. However, opinions quickly changed as the Philadelphia Festival decided not to say in Los Angeles, unknowingly allowing the city to come into its own.
Photo: Danny Glover and Hattie Winston Co-Host the 25th Anniversary Annual Festival
Photo: Adilah Barnes as “Harriet Tubman” in I Am That I Am: Woman, Black
“The beauty is that by the time our group came together the following year, I said, ‘Why don’t we pick up the torch where they left off last year? They brought something wonderful here, something we did not have here—let us not end it.’”
It wasn’t long before soloists flocked to the group and sent them submissions in the hopes of being selected for the festival. According to Barnes and Guy, solo acts were less common in the early ’90s, which made LAWTF that much more attractive to the often overlooked theater community in this city, although the acting was not the only category that was showcased. “We wanted a variety of people,” says McCardle, “Not only actors but dancers and movement and poetry—as much of a broad range as we could.”
Now, LAWTF is the oldest and longest-running festival of female solo artists in Los Angeles. The organization has also expanded to include multiple services designed to help aspiring performers all over the city. Barnes says that part of its mission statement from the very beginning was to include community outreach programs. As of 2018, the organization has served over 5,000 youths through the
LA Unified School District and continues to offer classes for adults, seniors, underserved artists, and women recently released from prison.
It’s become a landmark in LA that people look forward to happening each March of the year,” says Guy. “The number of women performers has widened. It’s not just LA people—it’s people from all over.”