During the lockdown, South Florida resident Carol Wartenberg, like many others, craved live theater. She stepped into the Foundry in Wilton Manors for a socially distanced performance by Plays of Wilton and was immediately impressed.
She then had an idea.
"While I was there, I mentioned that there really are no lesbian organizations for women's performing arts and events," Wartenberg tells New Times. "They said, 'Hey, why don't you try and start something here?' So we did."
Since retiring, she'd been wanting to get back into the theater. Though it had been 40 years since she had any connection to the performing arts, she took a chance. And so the Lesbian Thespians began.
Wartenberg is the director, founder, and producer of the company. She creates set designs with duct tape and found objects in her backyard. Her main obstacle so far has been finding plays worth producing. Wartenberg has spent countless hours perusing lesbian scripts, which is already a sparse theme.
"I have read some horrendously awful lesbian scripts," she laughs.
But all the searching pays off when she finds a good one. She reads it repeatedly, does a play reading, modernizes it, and, finally, starts auditions. Once everyone's rehearsed, the small theater troupe takes the stage.
The company's first few shows took place at Plays of Wilton. However, as South Florida moved on from the pandemic, the Lesbian Thespians needed a new home.
"I started asking where we could take our little tiny theater group, and luckily enough, I happened to talk to the folks at ArtServe," Wartenberg says. Once again, she was pleasantly surprised. "I walked in the door thinking, Well, you know, let's see if this pans out. They'd already researched us, and during our conversation, they said, 'We'd like you to be our theater company in residence.' I'm hearing impaired, so I looked at her and said, 'I'm sorry, I'm not quite sure I heard you correctly. You said you want us to be your theater company in residence?' And she said, 'Yes.'"
Since then, the Lesbian Thespians has flourished, thanks to ArtServes's support of queer women.
"We're primarily a women-oriented group run by women," Wartenberg explains. "We only use women actors and primarily with women in relationships with other women. We've had trans and cis women join us, so we've had a real fun and interesting combination of people. We've been thrilled with what we've been able to do. We're planning bigger and better performances."
"People saying, 'We've been waiting so long for this to happen,' I had no idea it would come this far and be this important to people. Women were coming to our performances and events that hadn't seen each other in years. We've been getting full houses," she remarks.
The Lesbian Thespians have been at ArtServe for a year, and the company is constantly evolving and growing and even recently received a grant. With spoken word, music, and theater groups, there's something for everyone, whether they're performance veterans or new to the stage.
The group's latest performance is somewhat of a passion project for Wartengberg.
"It's something I've been kicking around in my head for over two years," she says. "I had the idea because I was standing in the shower, washing my hair. The song ["Lady Marmalade"] came on, and I had this memory of an earlier time in my past, and I thought, Oh wait! That would be a really good premise for a play."
Shower Songs focuses on four women in a two-act structure, each 45 minutes long. Unlike their performances in the past, it doesn't follow a script. Instead, it's an improvisational performance. Each performer picked songs that have a story behind them. "Their stories are sexy and steamy and personal and poignant," Wartenberg adds.
But it doesn't stop there. With this play, the group wanted to have even more fun. According to Wartenberg, they'll be squirting the audience with water, "giving the women what they want" with sexy scenes for women, by women.
But the wonderful performances are not the only things that make Lesbian Thespians meaningful. In a state where the LGBTQ population is in danger of having its rights taken away, the Lesbian Thespians have created a necessary community.
"I'm so thrilled by what we've done for women and lesbians in the community. Even if we ended today, I would be so happy with what we've done so far. We're just so thrilled to be here and be a part of the art scene in Wilton Manors and South Florida," Wartenberg says. "[Lesbian Thespians] is like a golden opportunity for me, and it has just taken off."
Shower Songs. 7 p.m. Friday, June 23, and Saturday, June 24, at Our Fund Auditorium at ArtServe, 1350 E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale; lesbianthespians.com. Tickets cost $20 to $25 via tickettailor.com.