By Donn Swaby


Womens Night Out!


If it’s been a while since you’ve last been out and let your hair down, Alicia Brandt and Brenda Varda have something for that is truly emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically stimulating, they call it Women’s Night Out. WNO is where women meet to enjoy music, funny female comediennes, inspiring stories of ordinary women doing extraordinary things.

Brandt and Varda are two energetically and enthusiastic women that have known each other for several years. Three years ago, they were sitting in a coffee shop when Varda, originally from the mid-west, shared an idea she had with Brandt, a native of Brooklyn, New York. Disheartened at having to contend with the dwindling prospects that were offered to women in Hollywood over the age of thirty, Varda sought to create a venue for women to socialize while sharing thoughts, ideas, art, humor, and a glass of merlot or chardonnay, without any fear of being criticized for their appearance or their age.

“I was interested in exploring how we could support each other in a community,” said Varda, “I wanted to figure out how to break down that stratosphere of people living ten layers on top of one another.” Brandt was sold on the idea which would eventually become a monthly gathering including about one hundred women (and some men) ranging in age from twenty to eighty-five, Varda as one of the musicians, Brandt as the consummate host, and many interesting guests. Thus, Women’s Night Out (WNO) was born!

Each event starts off with Varda either playing guitar or keyboards with drummer T.J. Welch and bass/cello player Mike Rainey. The trio, known as The Tool Belts, perform songs written by Varda that have a satirical edge. Then, in no particular order, there will be a variety of speakers and entertainers. Sometimes it might be a comedienne or an author who talks about his or her book, or an arts and crafts expert. Authors Linda Cohen, Motherhood Confidential; Franz Metcalf, Buddha in a Backpack; Christie Mellor, Three Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting; or breast cancer survivor Marcia Wallace, Don’t Look Back, We’re Not Going That Way have all appear at the monthly event.

There is also a “Women We Love” segment, several women will speak about the incredible things they’re doing in their seemingly ordinary lives, like the mother and daughter team who started their own community newspaper called the Valley Social.

Another favorite is sex coach Patti Britton who can give advice as good as Dr. Ruth. The advice segment might then be followed by the Ask The Man segment, where women in the audience get to ask an ordinary guy questions in order to gain insight on the male perspective.

The show might wrap up with some more music. The order of the night’s events is not as important as how smoothly it flows, and whether or nor people are genuinely having a great time. WNO seems to have a little bit of something to stimulate all aspects of the female human psyche. “The show goes from the sublime to the mundane very fast,” jokes Brandt. “Women in the fifties were raised with conventional feminism,” says Brandt, “I was raised to believe girls weren’t funny and did not surf. Now all I want to do is be in the water and tell jokes!” “Women get to a certain mid point in their lives where they make a change in how they relate to the world,” says Varda, “More women are moving out of the business sector into social, non-profit, mentoring and artistic endeavors.” The result? Women who do not fit into any neat little box or category.

When asked about their own bond, both Brandt and Varda point out the ways in which they compliment one another. “Alicia is a gracious, charming host, very interested in the mundane,” says Brandt, “I‘m like the Greek Chorus of the show. Alicia facilitates the audience and reads the books if we have an author on as a guest.” “I would call myself “Alicia the Geisha,” adds Brandt, “I embrace pop culture. Brenda disdains it. I’m funny. Brenda introduces the more intellectual, even philosophical aspects of the event. In that way we really balance each other out.”

Brandt and Varda are proud to see such a wide range in age at WNO. “My ideal would be to have the show proportionately reflect the demographic of L.A.,” says Varda. Both women are also happy that they see a good number of men in the audience as well, men who like the women keep coming back. That’s the show’s big secret,” says Brandt, “Men generally love the show.”

Now that WNO approaches its three year anniversary with this month’s gathering, what’s next on the agenda? Both Brandt and Varda plan to write a book on how women can start their own WNO. “ We would like to start a movement,” says Varda.

Brandt added, “WNO has been the most empowering thing for me, in the last five years.


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© Melt Magazine 2005