For decades, lesbian, bisexual and queer women in South Florida have felt overlooked by arts organizations and entertainment venues, outnumbered by the region’s large and influential population of gay men.
Retired Wilton Manors psychologist Carol Wartenberg — an aspiring actress in her youth — decided it was time to do something about this frustrating situation, especially as the pandemic set in a year ago, further reducing opportunities for women to participate in and enjoy the arts.
Wartenberg met independent theater producer Ronnie Larsen 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 [POW!].”
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 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 last spring. A busy summer calendar featured more open houses, two evenings of storytelling called “Les Stories,” performances by a local pole dancer and an evening of short plays. The monthly open houses became so popular the group moved to the Wilton Collective on Wilton Drive.
Wartenberg has booked popular singer Tret Fure for performances at The Foundry on Nov. 12-13 and she’s currently planning performances and arts events for the fall and winter seasons. She also plans to continue featuring 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.”