Women’s Stories Have a Home and a Festival


Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival (LAWTF) is not just an event, it’s an entire support system for female storytellers. The 29-year-old North Hollywood-based organization honors—and encourages—the achievement of women in theater through workshops and networking as well as an annual showcase for solo shows.The Buzz spoke to LAWTF co-founder and president Adilah Barnes and board member JC Cadena, both of whom also have acting careers, about the organization’s past, present and future.


JC Cadena

You’ve been around for almost 30 years. What has changed the most since then, both in what you do and in the state of the art, so to speak?

Adilah Barnes: One of the biggest changes is that we went from a group of seven women who founded the festival so we could have our work produced to well over 600 solo artists. In 1993, we were focused on having our voices heard, as well as the voices of others. That’s still the case. Beyond our own artists, we’ve done so much outreach, with young LAUSD students, an LGBTQ group home, ex-offender women and at-risk youth and seniors.

Tell us about your members and your greater community.

Adilah Barnes

AB: We don’t have a large paid membership and are doing a membership drive to bring our numbers up. They are artists, friends and colleagues. Our community as a whole is a combination of performers, college interns, volunteers, sponsors, grantors, individual donors and advertisers.

JC Cadena: We have a fellowship, this wonderful place where we’re just ourselves. You often hear women saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” This is a place where we can be without apology, This is a positive space for women.

What role do solo performances play?

AB: When I met Miriam Reed in 1993 [at a California Arts Council Conference in Pasadena], we were both solo artists. At the end of the weekend, when they asked if anyone had any questions or comments, Miriam asked if there were other solo artists. So many people—actors, dancers, storytellers, comedians, performance artists—responded that we knew we were onto something. Everything we do is for solo artists.

You hold your festival in March. What do you do the rest of the year?

JCC: I got involved through the Empowerment Weekend, which offers workshops for women on the business of making a solo show, the business of the business and new themes, such as the empowerment of our mental health and positivity. We love to give women that opportunity. Workshops show them you can do it, you can have a solo career. So much talent came through there. The next LAWTF  Empowerment Weekend is scheduled for August 12-14, 2022.

AB: Hot off the Press is a reading series we have for new solo works. Normally, four artists share about 15 minutes of their work and then there’s a post-performance discussion. It’s been virtual but we hope to be back on a stage soon so the artist and audience can interface. Our next one, June 18, will likely be virtual, though.

JCC: We have a senior citizen program, where our teaching artist helps seniors tell their stories. Then actors will present those stories to their friends and the public. We’ll be holding an event tied to this program honoring the Culver City Senior Center at a future date. Check www.lawtf.org for updates

AB: Teaching artists have held many different types of workshops, often through our grants. We’ve had Jessica Lynn Johnson give a free writing workshop as part of the festival. City of West Hollywood had community members come in for workshops in Plummer Park. A number of artists have provided workshops on developing a solo show or telling their stories. We are grateful for grants from the City of Los Angeles, LA County Arts, the California Arts Council and the cities of Culver City and West Hollywood.

What are you planning for your 30th anniversary?

AB: We kicked off our 30th year with an in-person wrap party for this year’s festival in March. Women shared their stories of the pandemic and we captured and presented them virtually. We’re just starting to plan for next March, identifying a venue, likely in the Valley.

Any closing comments?

JCC: We have lots of stories that make us who we are. I’m so excited about it because we’re omen supporting each other. We’ve got to keep at it. We have to keep telling everyone we deserve a huge platform to show off our God-given talent.

AB: LAWTF welcomes anyone who wants to be a part, whether as performers, interns, volunteers, donors or audience members. We open our net wide.


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About Laura Foti Cohen

Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.

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