Celebration of creative women invites female playwrights to submit a page

By Michael Aushenker

“Shorties,” a series of brief plays written and directed by women, continues this week at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica Photo by Alex Dilks Pandola

“Shorties,” a series of brief plays written and directed by women, continues this week at the Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica
Photo by Alex Dilks Pandola

This Saturday in Santa Monica, the writing is on the wall for playwrights: women need apply.

SWAN Day Action Fest and its companion Micro-Reads Festival, organized by the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative (LAFPI) and hosted by Free Association Theatre at Bergamot Station Arts Center, offers a free day of play staging readings and networking that specifically highlights women writers and directors in collaboration.

“It’s really grassroots; everyone brings something to eat. It’s all about raising awareness of gender parity issues,” said LAFPI co-founder Jennie Webb — herself the playwright behind “crazy/bitch,” staged as a reading in August at the Santa Monica Public Library.

The “swan” in SWAN Day stands for “Support Women Artists Now,” an annual commemoration created 12 years ago in San Francisco that has since spawned 1,200 events in 24 countries, Webb said.

Until recently, however, the Los Angeles area was lagging in its SWAN participation, so last year LAFPI launched its inaugural Action Fest in Hollywood.

This year’s promises to do even better, said LAFPI co-producer Debby Bolsky.

“I’ve read some of the stuff being performed. It’s really good. There’s an incredible amount of talented women writers out there,” said Bolsky, a Santa Monica resident. “It really comes down to people meeting people, making connections and supporting these artists.”

Raegan Payne, a Culver City resident, will be staging her inept stalker comedy “Ill Informed” as one of six featured Action Fest plays.

“This event is needed because we’re underrepresented,” Payne said of women in the entertainment industry. “There needs to be more advocacy.”

Following refreshments and networking at noon, stagings of Action Fest plays commence with “Box” (written by Robin Byrd and directed by Julianne Homokay), “The Proposal” (written by Carolina Rojas Moretti, directed by Laura Steinroeder), and “The Mixing Bowl” (written by Leslie Hardy, directed by Gloria Iseli).

The Micro-Reads Festival, beginning at 1:30 p.m., is an open call for women to submit a page of writing that an experienced female director will cast and stage on the spot as a one-minute play, Webb said.

Action Fest continues at 3:30 p.m. with “Mankind” (written by Beverly Andrews, directed by Alexandra Meda), “The Missing Staircase” (written by Morna Murphy Martell, directed by Lane Allison), and Payne’s “Ill Informed” (directed by Courtney Anne Buchan).

More Micro-Reads follow from 4:30 to 6 p.m., leaving the closing bill a bit of a mystery at this point.

For Payne, a native of Kentucky, becoming more involved in L.A.’s theatrical community has cast her in a different — and, for her, more fulfilling — creative circle than most writers trying to break down doors in Hollywood.

As a female playwright, “you are one of the odd men out,” she said. “Most people out here are doing screenwriting, doing television specs. I write plays because I thoroughly enjoy it; you don’t do it for financial reasons.”

Payne said she finds a kind of immediacy in theater that she doesn’t get in television or film.

The good news is that the Action Fest and Micro-Reads Festival aren’t the only SWAN-related events happening in the area this weekend.

The 22nd annual Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival takes place today through Sunday at the Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice (visit lawtf.org for more info).

Green Light Productions Artistic Director Alex Dilks Padola is also staging the second week of the female-driven “Shorties” short play series at the Miles Memorial Playhouse, 1130 Lincoln Blvd, Santa Monica. Stagings happen at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday as well as 2 p.m. Sunday (find out more at facebook.com/milesplayhouse.)

Planning this year’s Action Fest, Webb said she thought to herself, “Let’s do it in Santa Monica to concentrate the femme energy.”

Both Webb and Payne, in fact, have plays in “Shorties”: Webb’s “It’s Not About Race,” a black comedy about two white women discussing race at Santa Monica’s former Inkwell Beach, and Payne’s “Sweet Nothings,” about a woman whose sexual discovery suddenly makes her very popular among her friends.

“We’re just trying to find more opportunities of women’s plays to be produced,” Payne said. “It’d be great if this got bigger every year.”

SWAN Day Action Fest takes place from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday at City Garage Theatre, Bergamot Station Arts Center, 2525 Michigan Ave., T1, Santa Monica. Free. For more information or to participate in the Micro-Reads Festival, visit lafpi.com/events.