In her youth, Carol Wartenberg always dreamed of a career on the stage.
She pursued roles in school, but eventually, “I realized I had to start working on my career because I wasn’t going to be a great actress … or even a mediocre one.”
Wartenberg taught physical education for a few years and went on to become a clinical psychologist, but she never abandoned her love of theater.
Nearly four decades later and retired in Wilton Manors, she’s dedicating her energy to creating arts experiences for other women at the Foundry.
Wartenberg met theater producer Ronnie Larsen last year and expressed her desire for more programming for women.
“Right after the pandemic started, I ran into Ronnie and told him there were no places for women’s only theater, women’s only events. Women have no place to meet,” she recalled. “I was so interested in getting back into the theater at that point … that’s when he told me he was starting a new nonprofit, Plays of Wilton.”
Larsen, the creator of gay male-oriented shows with lots of nudity like “Making Porn” and “The Penis Talk Show” might have seemed like an unlikely champion for theater for lesbians, but he enthusiastically encouraged Wartenberg to pursue her mission and invited her to join his board to give the lesbian community a voice.
She sought out “every lesbian group and talked to just about everyone in South Florida who does women’s arts,” seeking ideas and drumming up interest. She also created a Facebook group, LESBIAN Thespians, and website.
“I’m not looking to be competitive, but give women more choices, things they can do a couple of times a month,” Wartenberg explained, noting that there are only 26 lesbian bars remaining across the country and South Florida’s LGBT scene already skews heavily towards men.
More than 50 women attended the first open house at the Foundry this spring. And just this week, she hosted a successful “casting call” for women interested in performing and a sold-out sing-a-long cabaret night featuring pianist Maxine Lemarr and vocalist Tanya Gigante.
A busy summer calendar also features more open houses on July 12, Aug. 9 and Sept. 13; two evenings of storytelling, “Les Stories,” on July 16 – 17; “An Exotic Evening with Jade,” a pole dancer, on Aug. 14; and a play reading of a comedy about lesbians in space on Aug. 23.
Later this year, Wartenberg has booked popular singer Tret Fure for performances at the Foundry in November. She’s also looking at holding performances featuring magicians and comedians, and features the work of visual artists in the lobby at each event.
As the local audience continues to grow, she anticipates the shows and social activities will also attract women from outside the area, especially those who vacation in the area or may be departing on cruises as that industry picks up following the pandemic.
“I’m just trying to think outside the box as much as I can,” she said enthusiastically. “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.”
Wartenberg thanked Larsen and her fellow board members of POW! for providing financial and moral support to the effort. (She also thanks her “theater wife” of 35 years, Laura Hohnecker, for her understanding, too.)
“POW! has been so wonderful at this point for covering the events,” she said. “Women tend to have less money than gay men and we’re working very hard to make the events free. Eventually we’ll need to charge, but the theater is not expecting a profit from us. I do want to get there for them, since they’ve been so good to us.”