Nakisa Aschtiani, playwright and part of the new initiative She L.A. ArtsEXPAND
Nakisa Aschtiani, playwright and part of the new initiative She L.A. Arts
Cynthia Shaffer

An NYC Program to Foster Women Playwrights Is Coming to L.A.

The cliché is that L.A. is heaven for screenwriters and that playwrights find a happier home in New York. Now She NYC Arts, a festival devoted to producing full-length plays, musicals and adaptations by women writers, is bucking the trend and heading West.

With the Nov. 1 deadline fast approaching, aspiring Angeleno writers have just enough time to submit their work and hopefully find that theirs is one of the five shows that will be produced here next July at the first She L.A. Arts Festival.

The new L.A. branch’s executive producer Nakisa Aschtiani was one of three writers who flew to New York to participate in the 2017 Festival. Her fellow newly anointed producer, Kristy Thomas, also made the trip, and it was, in fact, high school theater teacher Thomas who came up with the idea for an L.A. branch.

Aschtiani described it as a “huge deal” to see her play Children of Camelot playing two nights off-Broadway at the Connelly Theatre.

She had begun working on the piece, which is based around the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald went on trial for the murder of JFK, for several years before it debuted with her as director in late 2015 at the Moth Theatre on Melrose Avenue.

“Ever since I had the glimmer of writing a play in my head, I thought it would be amazing if I got to see it performed one day. And the chance it could be off-Broadway? Hell yeah! That’s like the mecca of theater to a great many of us.”

She described the experience as a kind of “organized madness,” and recalled how her play was the only one that brought all the cast and crew from L.A. — yet that didn’t seem to faze She NYC Arts, which usually organizes auditions and behind-the-scenes staff.

“They really had answers for everything and prepared us for the best and worst,” she recalls, adding that they even rounded up fans, ice packs and bottles of water when the air conditioning went out in the theater during the first week.

Thomas and Aschtiani, along with Natalie Margolin, will read and select the L.A. winners for the inaugural event, though this isn’t a free ride. Entering the competition costs $20, and there’s a participant fee of $550 if your work is picked as a winner.

“All festivals have a fee — that's just how they work,” says She NYC’s executive producer, Danielle DeMatteo, adding that the New York Musical Theatre Festival charges more than $5,000.

“For now that subsidizes the cost for the theater rental, advertising, casting, tech staff and production supplies, but it’s my dream for us to one day have enough funds so that we can eliminate the fee,” DeMatteo says.

Aschtiani adds that the participant fee did give her pause, but she was encouraged when she saw that She NYC raises funds to lower the amount every year, and in her case at least, the investment was more than worth it.

“It looks great on a résumé, and you definitely get bragging rights — my parents tell pretty much everyone they meet. More than that, there is a wonderful sense of additional accomplishment: ‘I finished a play. A great play. And I am not the only one that thinks so.’”

Industry judges also give each play a critique, there are awards and exposure, and The Dionysian magazine interviews each playwright and publishes the winning play.

Since New York, Aschtiani, an in-house banker at an investment firm in her hometown of Palms, has written her second play. Romeo and Juliet in Screenland, a comedic take on the classic for Culver City Public Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park, ran for six weeks over the summer during the city's centennial celebrations.

“She NYC Arts gave me such an amazing opportunity that I wanted to help bring the experience to the West Coast in hopes that we can open it up to more female writers,” Aschtiani says. DeMatteo agrees: “Three of the shows in New York were from the West Coast, and we knew it was time we were bicoastal. There was clearly a need for a program like this.”

For more info on submitting a play, visit shenycarts.org/she-l-a.

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