*These folks know how to put on a show! That was the resounding quote heard by many leaving the grounds of the beautiful Barnsdall Gallery in the Hollywood Hills recently, as the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival wrapped their 25th Annual Gala appropriately themed, Legacy and Destiny.
Generally, the Festival recognizes legendary women — some here, others now gone — who they feel have contributed greatly to the arts; but this year the Board saw fit to celebrate and honor the women who so boldly stepped forward at an event in the Bay Area 25 years ago and founded LAWTF — namely, Joyce Guy, Judith Heineman, Nina Kaufman, Helene McCardle, Miriam Reed, Phylise Smith and Adilah Barnes.
Pay close attention to that last name: Adilah Barnes.
She is the fierce leader who not only nudged Miriam Reed at that aforementioned Women’s Conference years ago; where Reed stood up and asked, “Are there any solo women performers here who would like to talk about starting a group?” but as co-founder and executive producer of the Festival, Barnes has been the brick and mortar of the organization — maintaining its presence and building its legacy with a small team of volunteers and paid staff over the years.
And none of the others forgot it.
Barnes was recognized and saluted by each woman who stepped up to the mic to receive the awards and proclamations from a variety of entities including The City of Los Angeles.
EURweb was there, and senior editor, DeBorah B. Pryor, spoke with some of the women being honored, as well as board members and guests.
The event featured a Theatre Walk — where some of the actors poised to present their solo shows during the Festivals’ 3-day duration at the Electric Lodge in Venice were strategically placed and performing excerpts, outside on the beautiful grounds of the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre as the audience mingled, ate, or just stood and watched.
“I’ve just been obedient to my calling,” Adilah Barnes responded when asked how she endured, leading the Festival for 25 years. “And women have really been my forte. They’ve really been my passion, because I am a woman.
When asked if she, not unlike many other women of tenure in the industry, felt every step of the way, Barnes responds.
“I just put one foot in front of the other everyday; trying to make a difference, giving gratitude, trying to stay on top of it.” Barnes spoke of the tough times when there was no money in the nonprofit organizations account and still marvels at how things work out.
“When you look at your account and think, ‘what are we going to do? And here comes a check, unexpectedly.”
Pryor, a former tenured actor herself, decided to ask some of the actors she spoke with on this night, if they could revisit a role they played in the past, what would it be? It was amazing how many performers mentioned the same character.
“I’d have to say mama (Lena Younger from the Lorraine Hansberry play, ‘A Raisin in the Son). Not because I’ve just done the role (at her Alma mater, U. C. Santa Cruz) but because of her wisdom. Her plain spokenness. Her love of family. Her ability to read people. The words that come out of mama’s mouth, they’re jewels,” said Barnes, who recently returned to TV as the character “Anne Marie” on the reboot of the since cancelled Roseanne; which starred controversial comedienne, Roseanne Barr.
The episode brought in 18.2 million viewers. See DeBorah B. Pryor’s Editorial on the cancellation here.
Pryor and Barnes worked together on an actor’s equity production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ while living in the Bay Area in the 1980s. Adilah played the feisty, educated daughter, Beneatha Younger; while DeBorah played Ruth Younger, wife to the play’s protagonist, Walter Lee Younger.
What do you do to stay looking so young? “Everything I can think of.”–Marla Gibbs
Actress Marla Gibbs, a longtime supporter of the LAWTF was there, and Pryor caught up with her, asking what she’s doing these days.
“I’m working on Station 19, Shonda Rhimes‘ new show,” she says. “It’s the spin off from Grey’s Anatomy.” Gibbs has a recurring role and says she has already taped three episodes.
Marla Gibbs (performed on ‘The Jefferson’s in 207 of the shows’ 253 episodes)
Actress Starletta DuPois joined in on Pryor’s interview with Japanese dancer, Juli Kim, who performed an awesome excerpt of her show to enormous applause.
I saw your face as you were dancing. What do you think about, Pryor asked.
“Joy. Sheer joy,” Kim replies. “Sharing what I feel and l want the audience to feel what I feel.”
Starletta then asked, “When did you learn this style?”
“I was trained until grade school and then I immigrated to Canada. I always presented and studied choreography. Then I started studying music and I kept it going. But now I do mostly innovative work like choreographing and dancing to nontraditional,” the petite dancer responds.
Kim says her son composed the piece she danced to on this night. When the show is done live, she reveals it is performed to piano played by her daughter, and cello, played by her daughter’s boyfriend.
Hattie Winston (Starred in TV series, ‘Becker’ with Ted Danson from 1998-2004)
Actress Hattie Winston has not only lent her name and financial support to the organization as a co-Chairperson with actor Danny Glover, she has also put in the work hands-on, as a co-host with another longstanding supporter, Ted Lange.
Pryor continues her coverage asking Winston, who suffered a stroke a few years ago, about projects she is working on now,
“Right now I’m working with a group. We take theatre into under-served communities; junior and senior high school students.”
Winston is also writing a memoir!
When Pryor says, “You’ve got a lot to tell,” the actress responds with a laugh, “Some of it I shouldn’t!”
When asked what role would she like to revisit from her youth she mentioned the same one Barnes had so lovingly recalled earlier.
“I did Mama in ‘A Raisin in the Sun. I was too young. Now I’ve got experience. I could bring that to the role,” she says with a glint of excitement in her eye and her usual elegant grace.
What would you say to some of the young actors out there today, Pryor asked.
“I’d say study. Learn your craft, because today is more about a look than how you can deliver the words written by people who put years and years into it. They need to do theatre and they need to study their craft,” she asserts.
What would you like to see happen with LAWTF say, within the next 10 years?
“I like the idea that was presented tonight.”
“Yes. I like that idea. We really do need more financial support so that we can let people know about the incredible work that they are doing here. So we can fill those seats.
Hattie has been a supporter of the Festival, lending her name and putting in the work for the past 20 years.
“And it just gets better and better!”
“L.A. women,” is what Walking Dead actor Chad L. Coleman said brought him to the LAWTF opening night Gala.
Hmm…we like that answer.
“In this day and age, all of the atrocities and misbehavior by ignorant, narrow-minded men now is the time to celebrate women,” Coleman adds.
This is actually the first year Ms. DuPois is not co-hosting the Festival because she is working on the upcoming film, “Magic Max.”
“I just had to come and support!” the renowned actress tells EURweb, adding, “…what Adilah has done over these past 25 years has been phenomenal, inspirational and just a straight out blessing. We have to be able to speak our truth, and these solo performances are amazing.”
When asked about the role she’d love to revisit she says, “Rita” in “The mighty Gents”
DuPois originally performed the play on Broadway in 1978 with Morgan Freeman, Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Dorian Harewood, and Richard Gant.
Joyce Guy (currently performing in the stage play, Her Portmanteau, at Pasadena’s Boston Court Theatre through June 30).
Actress, producer, and playwright Joyce Guy, danced her way on stage after a rousing intro and audience recognition as one of the founding artists of the Festival. Obviously moved, she said of the journey, “It’s been remarkable. I am just watching all of the beautiful work and I am honored to be a part of it… Time is just flying by. I mean, I know I said 25 years, but its just registering. The fact that we did this in Adilah’s apartment, looking at VHS’s, writing our first grant…”
Guy shared stories about the early days of LAWTF during her time on stage. At one point she recalled what happened during a meeting at the home of founding member, Judith Heineman. She told the audience, “I just told her, her rabbit ate my Coach bag! I had no idea rabbits ate everything!”
On the one role she wishes she could revisit today:
“I know exactly what it is. It was a soap opera done by Aaron Spelling called Sunset Beach and the role that I played was a Voodoo Priestess: “Mrs. Maroe,” and even though it was cheesy and you know, campy, and it was a soap opera, I had the best time EVAH [sic]!
…and how she would do it differently:
“Well, I think because it was during the time when Miss Cleo was popular. You remember Miss Cleo? And I think every soap opera said ‘OK, lets have a Voodoo woman or something on the show…I had to school them…I said ‘You know what? If shes a Voodoo Priestess, she’s not Jamaican, she’s Haitian.”
Guy goes on to say that she believes it was her intimate knowledge of the character, and the comments she made to the casting director, that got her the job.
“If I were to do it today, it would be less over the top. I’d take out a little bit of the camp.”
Sky Palkowitz, who has been with the Festival for quite some time.
“I’ve been with the Festival close to 18 years, but I’ve been on the Board for almost a decade…Every year is a different year, but THIS one seems to be very special year. 25 is such a magical number. Think about it, most nonprofits don’t even last 5 years; so its really, really special and each year it feels like it gets better and better.”
“I’ve just seen the Festival go through changes and I’ve just kind of been a constant. Board of directors come and go, we’ve gone up and down in our budget and things that we’ve been able to do, but this year we’ve gone full out; we’re having a lovely Gala, its really well-attended; everybody’s dressed up to the nines. We even have a martini bar with cocktails!”
The Gala was written and directed by another fierce woman, Iona Morris, an accomplished actor who, on this night, performed a moving rendition of the Maya Angelou piece, Phenomenal Woman; which began as she walked through the audience to resounding applause at evening’s end. The daughter of the late Greg Morris, the handsome actor best known for his role on the iconic TV show, Mission: Impossible (1966-1973), and noted as one of the first African American actors to star in a hit television show, was asked her to share her thoughts on the evening.
“I was very proud. I thought the evening did what was intended. We honored with grace and style, music and joy, LAWTF and the brilliant, talented women who had the foresight to bring a women’s solo festival to Los Angeles; putting a special concentration on its force of nature, Adilah Barnes.”–Writer/Director, Iona Morris
“I was very happy with the new Theatre Walk I added, with several solo artists greeting audience members as they walked to the theatre with 15 minutes of their solo show and the musicians playing throughout the program really elevated the evening,” Morris added.
LAWTF will present LEGENDS, MOVEMENT AND MEMORIES — an evening of live entertainment featuring stars of Broadway, music, movies and television on Sunday, June 24, at the Ivy Substation in Culver City, California. The event will feature several theatre performances, and will be hosted by Florence LaRue, an original member of the legendary, Grammy® Award winning pop singing group The 5th Dimension, along with popular actor-comedienne Kym Whitley.
R&B legendary award-winning star Freda Payne will premiere an excerpt from her nationally-touring show Ella Fitzgerald First Lady of Song.
Eloise Laws, an award-winning member of a legendary and celebrated jazz family (Ronnie, Hubert and Debra Laws), will also perform.
Tickets for the performance are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Industry (with valid I.D.), seniors and students, $18.
To join and follow LAWTF on Facebook and Twitter, click on their links at http://www.lawtf.org
About the writer:
DeBorah B. Pryor began her career in journalism in Harlem, New York in the early 70’s. She has worked in public relations for New York’s Metropolitan Opera, as personal assistant to music legend Sly Stone and began her work with Lee Bailey’s Electronic Urban Report (EURweb) in 2003. AREN’T YOU SCARED: Lessons from a Lady Rideshare Driver, her first nonfiction book sharing insights on the rideshare industry (after nearly five thousand trips!), conversations with her celebrity passengers, and how she handled challenging situations was recently released. Learn more about it and listen to excerpts on the books’ official website, http://www.lessonsfromaladyridesharedriver.com
Follow DeBorah via Twitter @ pryor_deborah and on Facebook and LinkedIn at DeBorah B. Pryor