Military Veteran, award-winning playwright, and radio host, only a couple of ways to describe Donna “Dee Jae” Cox, the whirlwind woman’s activist who moved to Los Angeles, Calif. to chase after love and make a name for herself.
Cox is the radio host of California Women 411 and founder of The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project, using theater and radio to reach out to women and give women a voice.
Born in Ohio, Cox knew she had a passion for writing from the time she was little. She wrote for her high school and college newspapers, and her writing eventually led her to write three successful critically acclaimed plays: “Prove It On Me,” “The Rape of Djuna Barnes,” and “Letters Home.”
“Each of my plays has a special meaning to me,” Cox said. “I enjoy writing historical fiction, and that allows me to combine my love of history, with my love of storytelling.”
Cox said “Letters Home” was her most autobiographical play and it reveals the first and only time she has ever spoken about a true-life experience through writing. The play is about a group of women who are under investigation for alleged lesbian practices while stationed with the US Army in Germany.
In addition to writing the play, Cox had to learn and understand the other roles that came with producing a show. Her first play “The Rape of Djuna Barnes,” was critically acclaimed, but was as she described her “biggest learning curve.”
“Theater is a collaborative art,” Cox said. “My only role in the production of my first play was as the playwright and I still had to learn how all of the pieces fit together with the director, the producer and the actors. “It was magic the first time that I heard actors say my words out loud and was able to see the story that had been created in my imagination, come to life on the stage.”
Actor Lucki Wheating, a long time friend of Cox’s, has been cast in several of her shows and has worked with Cox numerous times, had nothing but praise for Cox and her work. She auditioned for “The Rape of Djuna Barnes” as well as “Letters Home.”
“Dee Jae tends to go on what she feels, are you delivering her words, do you have feeling,” Wheating said. “I was very appreciative [to be cast in her plays], she’s a very hands on director.”
Cox is the recipient of the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation award for best new play for “Letters Home,” and best production for “The Rape of Djuna Barnes.”
In 2007, Cox set her eyes on changing theater, especially for women. She did some research and found that women comprise only 20% of the writers and directors in theater demographics.
With help from her partner and songwriter Michele Weiss, they founded The Los Angeles Women’s Theater Project (LAWTP), nonprofit organization, with the sole purpose of creating opportunities for women in the performing arts, as well as advocating for the women in theater.
“Theatre is my passion. It is so much more than just entertainment,” Cox said. “It reflects our communities, our culture, our politics, our hopes and dreams and if 80 percent of the voices and perspectives that are being presented, are male, that is just inherently wrong.”
Weiss wrote the original music for Cox’s play “Prove It On Me,” which had the opportunity to be produced by a Hollywood Theatre. However, the two decided the show deserved a bigger venue and set about searching for a nonprofit to help with fiscal sponsorship of the production, but found there was no organization whose purpose was to support women in the performing arts.
“When Dee Jae gets an idea to do something, there’s no stopping her,” Weiss said. “We both care very deeply about women having a platform so their voices are heard.”
Wheating has been on the board of directors for the LAWTP several years and been involved in several shows and events.
“She reached out to women who are under appreciated in theater for lighting, directing, writing, so everything was structured so that it had to be women,” Wheating said. “It’s been wonderful.”
This past September, Cox set her sights on the radio airwaves with her new show California Woman 411. Cox’s show is a one-hour live broadcast that features women in the California community in the areas of the Arts, Business and Politics and specifically addresses topics that are of interest to women both nationally and locally. This isn’t the first time Cox has worked with radio. She used to do commercials for the Armed Forces Network while in the Army.
However, this is her first show.
The radio show is an extension of Cox’s mission with the LAWTP. She said she sees it as a way to give women a voice, and give them some perspective on topics that are important to them.
“It feels so natural to be doing this,” Cox said. “I love it. I get to interview women who lead and inspire and talk about topics that effect women most.”
Cox has had the opportunity to speak with many women who are influential in the Los Angeles and Palms Springs area like women CEO’s, filmmakers, politicians, and women involved in theater and the arts.
“What has resonated most with me is their passion for what they do,” Cox said. “I think it takes a lot of passion and commitment for anyone to succeed, but for women who have additional barriers in place simply because of their gender, their determination is what resonates most.”
Weiss, the producer for the show, works behind the scenes with Cox on the show especially on commercials and helping to make sure things run smoothly, since she has her own experience working for a radio station.
“I love it,” Weiss said. “It feels very empowering to be the producer for CA Woman 411 and the co-founder of the LAWTP.”
Weiss had only positive things to say regarding Cox’s inspiration on the two organizations and the meaning behind them.
“She cares very deeply about women having a platform so their voices are heard,” Weiss said. “Dee Jae is a very inclusive woman who is not about competition, but about the unity and empowerment of women.”
While Cox knows that big strides have been made towards more gender equality, she believes that there is a lot of work to be done.
“A lot of women like to believe that ‘we’ve come a long way baby’, and that our fight for equality is over, but it’s not,” Cox said. “Look at the low percentages of women in Congress, top executive positions and in the arts. And look at how women are still portrayed in commercials and advertising. These are clear signs that we have work to do.”