Danny Glover400*The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival, a multi-cultural festival of solo artists, celebrated 20 years of presenting live theatrical performances in the Los Angeles community last night. Since 1993 this small company, which began with a “chance meeting” of two solo actors from differing cultures, Adilah Barnes, an African American; and Miriam Reed, an Anglo, stands distinct as the longest-running annual solo festival for women in Los Angeles. The festival annually demonstrates its respect for women and the art of performance by showcasing performers from around the globe and throughout the year, produces workshops and partners with schools and community organizatons to encourage and empower youth in the arts.

On stage at the Renberg Theatre, a beautiful Hollywood hideaway right off Santa Monica Boulevard on McCadden Place, a very appreciative audience of theatre supporters watched as Co-hosts Danny Glover and Hattie Winston (both honorary chairpersons) handed out awards to women who had been chosen from scores of nominees, for their work in the arts. On this first of four consecutive nights, Dulce Capadocia, Starletta DuPois, Lissa Reynolds, and Heidi Duckler received the Integrity Award, Eternity Award, Rainbow Award, and the Maverick Award. The eldest son of actress Lupe Ontiveros, best known for her roles as “Yolanda  Saldivar” in Selena and “Mrs. Solis” on Desperate Housewives, accepted the posthumous Infinity Award on behalf of his family.HattieWinstonThese awards were not bestowed lightly.

They speak to artists’ who have brought credibility and integrity to their work; those whose lifetime achievements have made lasting contributions to the world of theatre; someone whose diverse contributions have fostered nontraditional and multicultural theatre; a person whose work has set a high standard of individuality and self-styled creativity; and finally, an artist who is being memorialized for her exceptional achievements in theatre.

EURweb caught up with Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Lethal Weapon) moments before he was set to hit the stage. Glover, one of Hollywood’s most recognized and respected African American actors, has been a major supporter of the LAWTF for many, many years. Sitting in his dressing room it is obvious that he is exhausted. We learn that he has just flown in from Atlanta, where he is currently on a college tour campaign; going to schools to help galvanize support for Nissan auto workers in Canton, Miss. He flew in especially for this festival, and will fly back out later this evening.

Journalist DeBorah B. Pryor asks him what keeps bringing him back to this festival, in particular.

“Sometimes you support an idea, and you support the idea from far away…the idea itself…the vision itself,” confirms Glover. “So when I come here, I am celebrating and supporting the vision; a vision that focuses on women and their unique contribution to art — in particular, theatre; from one-woman shows to material that you’re not going to see anyplace else in the public space. Adilah (Barnes) and all of the founders of that knew exactly what they were doing; [they] had that in mind and set that out as their goal. To have 20 years commitment to a vision, a goal, is pretty remarkable.”

The beautiful thing about attending events such as this is you get to see a plethora of artists, well-known and not, in the comfort of their own element. Artists whose names may not be household, but when you see them you realize they are fixtures in so many of the films we have come to enjoy. On this day thespians such as Bennet Guillory (“The Color Purple”), Shabaka Henley (“Shameless”), Ja ‘Net DuBois (yep, our Good Times girls started in theatre in NYC!), Fay Hauser (“The Young & The Restless”), Margaret Avery (The Color Purple) and more mingle, laugh, hug, and catch up on each others’ projects; pose together on the red carpet, and primarily show their support for the women of the L.A. Women’s Theatre Festival.

Hattie Winston (Becker) who will begin her recurring role on the Cedric the Entertainer/Niecy Nash vehicle, Soul Man, has supported the festival since 1999. On this night, the LAWTF showed their appreciation by bestowing their distinguished “Angel’s Award,” on the teary-eye actress who had declined an out-of-town invitation to be at the event. When asked about her obvious dedication she said,

“Well, its Adilah primarily. She’s very committed to women artists because as quiet as its kept, its difficult for women out here and I think what makes us different and special is that its only for solo artists,” says Winston, who looks great in a striking off-white dress. She continues, “So women are able to create their pieces; able to express their creativity, without someone else telling them what it is they should be doing. Oft times you’ll do a play, you’ll do a TV show, and you’re really at the mercy of who is the creative force. But with this Festival, you’re given the opportunity to express yourself in a way in which you choose to do it. I think that’s what makes this very special.” Adilah300Barnes, an actor who, though not be a household name, is definitely respected and recognized from her hearty performances in star vehicles such as Erin Brockovich with Julia Roberts, Basic Instinct with Sharon Stone and Murder By Numbers with Sandra Bullock as well as her roles as an educator, author and businesswoman.

“I feel honored that the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival has thrived and expanded over the last 20 years,” says Barnes. “Many have stood in the trenches along the way and we have outlived 3 theatres we have presented in. In other words, we are still standing! I was so moved at the Awards Ceremony last night standing next to our 6 other Co-Founders. What a testament to our bond and love for the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival.”

With solid performances by Lee Meriwether (Batman, Barnaby Jones, Desperate Housewives) who effortlessly transformed herself into five different women (23 in the full piece!) right before our eyes in an excerpt from her touring show, “Women of Spoon River: Their Voices From the Hill,” and singer Freda Payne who wowed the audience with “Freda Sings Lena ad Ella” this night provides a great kickoff to the 4-days of performances which offer matinee and evening shows on Saturday and Sunday; and a performance on Wednesday at the Ivy Substation in Culver City.Freda Payne performs Lena HorneMeriwether, who originated the role of “Cat Woman” in the first Batman film alongside the original “dynamic duo” Adam West and Burt Ward, finds herself amazed at the tenacity of the L.A. Women’s Theatre Festival and says,

“Having…been around for 20 years is amazing, and it proves to the point that its needed, its wanted, and it has found a home for itself…Its just a wonderful organization that they have continued on this long, they have cared about women and theatre and the art of displaying their talents.”LAWTF, Lee MeriwetherAnd you know we couldn’t let her go without asking about the cat suit.

“Not easy. Not easy to wear,” Meriwether says. “Everybody thinks [it is]…It was incredibly tight and it did not stretch, and there was not very much freedom.”

Ouch!

Karen A. Clarke, who began her journey with LAWTF as a volunteer, and now serves as a member of the board, has worn a variety of hats since meeting Barnes at a Black History Month program sponsored by the “Black Banker’s Association” more than a decade ago.  She sums the evening (and the validity of a company such as this) up nicely. Recalling how she initially met Adilah Barnes she says,

“She did an excerpt from her one-woman show and I thought she was just fabulous. She told us about the festival and I came that first year. I came to every show that year. I thought it was amazing. All these women doing different things, singing, dancing, acting, comedy, for four days non-stop; and I just thought it was phenomenal. So I became a sponsor and every organization that I worked for I made sure that they, no matter how little, became a sponsor.”

Super kudos as well to two great sign language interpretors, especially Kyla Wilkenfeld, whose authentc animated style was entertaining in itself!

 The festival runs March 21st through March 24th. For more information on the “Emerald 20th Anniversary,” other LAWTF events, or to purchase tickets, click here. Take a peek at a promo of the 2013 festival directly below.