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The 31st Annual Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival To Host Opening Night Champagne GALA

This year's theme for the Awards Ceremony is In Honor Of. The event will be hosted by Hattie Winston and Margaret Avery.

By: Feb. 21, 2024
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The 31st Annual Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival will honor eight deserving women for their exceptional career and life achievements in the Opening Night Champagne GALA and Awards Ceremony on March 28, 2024 at 8:00 pm, preceded by a reception and Red Carpet at 6:30 pm, at Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601.

This year's theme for the Awards Ceremony is In Honor Of. The event will be hosted by Hattie Winston and Margaret Avery.

The 2024 Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival is directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson.

These worthy honorees who have made laudable contributions to the world of theatre are listed here:

The recipient this year for the posthumous Infinity Award, memorializing exceptional achievements of a theatre artist, is Shirley Jo Finney.

Shirley Jo Finney was born in Merced, California and received an M.F.A. in Theatre Arts at UCLA. She was the first African-American in that Master's Degree Program. She achieved early success as an actor, starring as her friend, Olympic champion Wilma Rudolph, in the NBC television movie Wilma. She also appeared in guest roles in episodic television (Lou Grant, Hill Street Blues, Amen) and several feature films before turning to directing. She directed at regional theatres across the country, and locally at Mark Taper Forum, Pasadena Playhouse, and Los Angeles Theatre Center. Her artistic home, however, was The Fountain Theatre, where she directed nine shows. Her many directorial credits included Citizen: An American Lyric, Yellowman, Central Avenue, The Ballad of Emmett Till, From the Mississippi Delta, Runaway Home, and more. Ms. Finney received multiple awards and was revered as an important figure in the Los Angeles theatre community. Her final show was Clyde's, at the Ensemble Theatre of Houston.

caryn desai and Maria G. Martinez will be bestowed with the Eternity Award, presented to an artist or individual whose lifetime achievements have made a lasting contribution to the world of theatre. caryn desai is the Artistic Director and Producer at the International City Theatre in Long Beach. The recipient of an M.F.A. in Directing from UC Irvine, her numerous directing credits include Beast on the Moon, Uncanny Valley, Art, Doubt, Cardboard Piano, Other Desert Cities, Red, God of Carnage, Dinah Was, Backwards in High Heels, Raisin, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Once on This Island, Contradictions (her original work), and many more. She is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. She taught college for over 25 years and received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Long Beach City College, where she was inducted into its Hall of Fame. She was also named Distinguished Alumna at Cal State Long Beach. She teaches Theatre Management at Cal State Fullerton. She was recognized as a Community Hero by the African American History and Culture Foundation., and as an LA 2023 Inspirational Woman by the Los Angeles Times.

Maria G. Martinez is a Board Member and active supporter of CASA0101. She has participated in CASA as a co-producer, writer, director, and actor with the Chicana, Cholas y Chisme's Play Festival. Maria also collaborates with: TeAda Productions, and Frida Kahlo Theater. As a playwright she staged Breakfast With My Mother at CASA 0101, and at Miles Memorial Playhouse. Her updated version of For My Cause Your Spirit Will Speak has been presented at CASA 0101 and at Los Angeles Woman Theater Festival. Maria has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Business Administration from California State University at Los Angeles.and a certificate in Engineering and Construction Management from UCLA. Maria retired from the City of Los Angeles in the Community Development Department where she held the position of Director of the Neighborhood Development Division. A theatre activist, Maria G. Martinez joined the CASA0101 Board of Directors in May 2014.

Two recipients will receive the Maverick Award this year. This award is presented to an artist or individual whose work has set a high standard of individuality and self-styled creativity. The recipients are Naomi Grossman and Wendy Raquel Robinson.

Naomi Grossman created a trilogy of three solo shows: Girl in Argentine Landscape (L.A. Weekly Theatre Award nomination, Pick of the Week), Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust and Other Human Oddities ("Recommended" by L.A. Weekly, with a transfer to London's West End), and American Whore Story (winner of Broadway World's Los Angeles Regional Award for Best solo Production, followed by a run off-Broadway). The New Mexico native graduated from Northwestern University and was a member of the famed Groundlings Sunday Company. She received an Emmy nomination for her acting in the series Ctrl Alt Delete, but became an international TV star for her roles in the series American Horror Story and its spinoffs, for her memorable characters Rabid Ruth, Samantha Crowe, and most especially Pepper, which gained her millions of fans around the world. Additionally, Naomi Grossman has created numerous comedy shorts available for view online.

Wendy Raquel Robinson was born in Los Angeles and received her B.F.A. from Howard University. Her stage work includes roles in Agnes of God, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Black Women's Blues, The Colored Museum, The Vagina Monologues, and Vanities, for which she received an NAACP Theatre Award for Outstanding Choreography. She achieved national fame on television for her series regular roles on The Game, The Steve Harvey Show, Minor Adjustments, and Grand Hotel, and won an Emmy for PBS' Theatre Corner. She has also appeared in twenty feature films, including A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story, Miss Congeniality, and Hip Hop Holiday, Wendy Raquel Robinson is also known for her contributions to the community, notably as the Co-Founder of the non-profit Amazing Grace Conservatory (AGC). Located in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles, AGC focuses on providing personal growth, professional training, and opportunities for inner city youth.

There will be two recipients of the Integrity Award, presented to an artist or individual who has brought credibility and dignity to her work. This year's designated recipients are Lisa Sanaye Dring and Carolyn Ratteray.

Lisa Sanaye Dring is a writer, director, and actor originally from Hilo, Hawaii and Reno, Nevada. She is currently the Tow Foundation Resident Playwright with Ma-Yi Theatre Company. Her plays include Sumo, Hungry Ghost, Happy Fall: A Queer Stunt Spectacular, Kairos, Seven Hoshi, The Wicked One, The Sea, Big Ones.. As a director, she has worked with Theatre of NOTE, Circle X, Antaeus Theatre Company, We the People at Sacred Fools, California Repertory Company, The Blank Theatre, Know Theatre of Cincinnati, and more. As an actor, her work includes roles in 4000 Miles, Wood Boy Dog Fish, O Gastronomy!, Measure for Measure, Death Play, Double Me Double You, Six Seeds. She has also performed on episodic television, including two seasons of How to Get Away with Murder. Her accolades include an Emmy nomination for Welcome to the Blumhouse Live, which she co-directed and co-wrote, and the PLAY LA Stage Raw/Humanitas Prize. Lisa Sanaye Dring is an alumna of USC.

Carolyn Ratteray is an Emmy-nominated actor, director and playwright based in the Los Angeles area. She has appeared in off-Broadway, as well as in TV/Film and voice over. Credits also include appearances at The Mark Taper Forum, The Geffen Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, Boston Court Theatre, A Noise Within, Antaeus Theatre, Echo Theatre Company, The Garry Marshall Theatre. Regional theatres include The Old Globe, The Pearl Theatre Company and the Classical Theatre of Harlem. In addition to performing, Carolyn has directed By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, In Love and Warcraft, and A Midsummer Night's Dream. She received her M.F.A. from The Old Globe/University of San Diego. Carolyn Ratteray is a Resident Artist at A Noise Within Theatre, a member of Antaeus Theatre and Ammo Theatre Company and she is a professor at Pomona College.

Jessica Lynn Johnson will receive the Rainbow Award, bestowed on an artist or individual for her diverse contributions in fostering non-traditional and multicultural theatre works. Jessica Lynn Johnson is a published playwright, recipient of Best National Solo Artist Award from the Dialogue One Festival, Advisory Board Member of the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival, Co-Executive Producer of both the Stars Solo Series and the Joshua Tree Solo Theatre Festival, and Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo Studios International. Jessica has aided in the development, direction and producing of over 150 solo shows (and still going strong)! Jessica was also nominated for the Female Director of Distinction in Theatre by Girl Trip LLC at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival and most recently nominated for Best Director of a Play by Broadway World 2023. Jessica Lynn Johnson is honored to receive this treasured award.

There will be special performances at the GALA, in addition to the Awards Ceremony. Performers include:

Karen A. Clark in The Women.

In this excerpt, through music and spoken word, Karen honors women and also reflects on the women in her family, particularly her mother.

Juli Kim, dancer, performs Salpuri Adagio, a slow-tempo Korean cleansing dance that wishes great peace. Five Drum Dance is a popular Korean dance that incorporates five standing drums.

Founded by Executive Producer Adilah Barnes and Miriam Reed, the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival is an Annual Event unique among Los Angeles cultural institutions and should not be missed as LAWTF celebrates its 31st year.


Tickets to the March 28 GALA are $60 each or $100 a pair (includes reception). Tickets to each of the weekend's other five shows are $25 for early birds (through March 10) and $30 thereafter. A VIP all access pass for the entire weekend is $150. Reservations will be available at (818) 760-0408 or go to


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