It’s been a whirlwind year for Carol Wartenberg and the Lesbian Thespians.
The informal group of women actors, musicians, artists and art lovers founded during the COVID-19 pandemic experienced rapid growth as it tapped into the region’s largely unnoticed lesbian community. And just this summer, the group claimed a new home as theater company-in-residence at ArtServe in Fort Lauderdale.
The group got its start under the auspices of the newly formed nonprofit Plays of Wilton (POW!), founded by independent theater producer Ronnie Larsen at the intimate Foundry theater space in Wilton Manors.
Wartenberg and a core group of women artists who had always felt marginalized within the male-dominated LGBT community began hosting monthly mixers and soon added play readings, spoken word events and concerts.
The events proved popular and the group quickly outgrew the Foundry. But, with the pandemic subsiding and other theater companies and arts organizations returning to regular schedules, the availability of venues was limited.
“The past year has been difficult because theaters have gotten back into business and finding appropriate spaces to rehearse and perform has been a challenge,” explained Wartenberg, a retired clinical psychologist who always had an affinity for acting and theater. “We’re so grateful to Ronnie and POW! because they really gave us our start.”
When the opportunity to call ArtServe home was presented, Wartenberg jumped. The Broward County arts incubator, gallery and performing space would offer a safe, nurturing environment for the young organization and its largely amateur artists.
“When ArtServe asked, I told them I didn’t need my car to drive home because I would just float home,” she recalled. “We needed to grow and ArtServe was like going to heaven.”
Wartenberg and her colleagues will make their debut on the ArtServe stage on Friday, Aug. 26 with a staged reading of “Enid’s Fly Trap,” Terry Baum’s play about the employees and patrons at an old-fashioned lesbian bar that has seen better days. Three regulars wind up at the colorful dive to celebrate Enid’s 60th birthday, when “a beautiful and very conventional female stranger” wanders into the bar and joins the festivities.
In keeping with the group’s mission to provide opportunities for aspiring artists, three members of the cast have never performed on stage before.
“Every time they finish a performance, I get goosebumps,” said Wartenberg, who tirelessly promotes the organization within the local women’s community. “It’s just so exciting and the women have been so thrilled to be able to get together in a women’s only space and be comfortable.”
In addition to a growing schedule of public and women-only events, she is committed to growing the organization, including recognition as a tax-deductible charitable organization from the Internal Revenue Service and recruiting board members and sponsors.
Most importantly, Wartenberg celebrates the growing recognition of the women’s community. Since the pandemic, other theaters have added women’s nights and programming reflecting the experiences and interests of lesbian and queer women.
“I’m really glad to see that. I don’t see that as competition at all. We provide a certain niche in the community as far as getting women into theater,” Wartenberg added. “The more choices women have to go to activities and continue to grow ourselves, the better.”
Lesbian Thespians present a staged reading of “Enid’s Fly Trap” on Friday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. at ArtServe, 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. For more information, go to Facebook.com/PlaysOfArtServe.