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Wanted: Lesbian Playwrights

July 05, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

L.A. lesbian theater, which often has seemed like the kid sister of L.A. gay male theater, is about to get a room of its own.

The Ivy Theatre, a company devoted to lesbian playwrights, opens Friday with Alicia Madrid's "Shame on the Moon," about a Chicana construction worker and her pregnant girlfriend, at Los Angeles Theatre Center Theatre 4.

In a sense, the company is an offshoot of the Celebration Theatre, L.A.'s primary gay theater company. The Ivy's founder and artistic director, Marian Jones, produced three lesbian-related shows and two festivals of staged readings of lesbian-oriented plays at the Celebration.

However, Jones doesn't believe that the Celebration adequately serves lesbian playwrights, she said. Lesbians get about one Celebration production each year, plus readings. She acknowledged the reason for this: "Gay male audiences keep the Celebration open, so it makes sense they have to produce more male plays."

Celebration artistic director Robert Schrock doesn't disagree. The Celebration's supporters include many more men than women--of the seven board members, only one is a lesbian. And there isn't much crossover between the men's and women's audiences--which is an example of the diversity within the gay audience that led the company to abandon subscription seasons a few years ago, he added.

"Any time we've done a lesbian play, we generally lost money," Schrock said. "We can do them only if they're [specially] funded. And it's difficult to cultivate a [lesbian] audience without doing consistent programming."

This is precisely Jones' point. "No. 1, I want to develop the audience," she said. "A lot of lesbians would go to the theater consistently if they had the opportunity, but the Celebration comes with a history that it is a male space. To try to change that now is very difficult."

This doesn't mean that the Celebration will become exclusively male, Schrock said. "We'll probably continue to do lesbian plays, because it's part of our mission." If this sounds competitive, Schrock hopes the two companies "will feed each other more than compete with each other." In fact, he "totally supports" the Ivy and personally sent a $100 donation, he said.

Jones wants all of the Ivy playwrights to be lesbian (though "we won't be asking" about a playwright's orientation, she said). She recently rejected a script "with a beautiful premise" and lesbian themes--it was by a man. "We chose a focus; we want to stick by it," she said. She may even present plays that are not about lesbians--as long as the writers are lesbian.

However, she added that those behind the scenes, on stage, or in the audience need not be lesbian. "I'm also reaching out to mainstream audiences to see plays by lesbians," she said.

The company is looking for a permanent home--and, of course, for financial support. She hopes that anyone who wants to honor lesbian activist Ivy Bottini, after whom the theater is named, will contribute, as well as lesbians who support theater.

She acknowledged this could be a challenge. "Gay men seem to be willing to support their image by giving money," she said. "Women aren't as used to doing it. Women do a lot of thinking instead of just reaching in their pocket."

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