from the LA times:
"This salon-meets-slumber party with intellectual discussion, music and comedy that occasionally reaches the fever pitch of a tent revival is called Women's Night Out."
HOSTED BY Alicia Brandt

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A Sisterhood in Hollywood - LA INDEPENDENT
A doctor on sex education, an astrologer, a professional esthetician and even a magician who tried to cut her in half tried their best to entertain the audience at the M Bar in Hollywood last Wednesday night, and one by one proved unable to upstage Alicia Brandt, the star of Women’s Night Out.

As longtime friends Alicia Brandt and Brenda Varda approached their 40s, they found their social life — along with the rest of 40 something year-olds in the city — caught in between leather pants and tequila and the senior early-bird special. Not satisfied with the options, they came up with a choice of their own: Women’s Night Out. “Women are starving for information and entertainment,” said Brandt in a recent interview. Women entertaining women became the concept of the show that started four years ago at a sandwich shop in San Fernando Valley, which Brandt says was as big as a Starbucks.

The swelling number of women willing to escape jobs, husbands and kids one night every month to enjoy dinner, wine and girl talk eventually pushed the show to its current location in Hollywood. By now Women’s Night Out has as big of a list of regulars as it does newcomers. Beth Anne Becker, 50, has not missed a show in two years. “It’s just fun, it’s not a meat market. I don’t have to worry about getting hit on,” she says. Becker was first introduced to Women’s Night Out by a friend who wanted to help her clear her mind from the worries of her husband’s cancer, Becker says. She met Brandt and became her friend, since then, even if her girlfriends are unavailable, Becker comes to the show. “I feel safe here,” she says.

During the first year of Women’s Night Out, Stacy McQueen was invited to share her hand-made crafts with the audience. The crafts, along with her personality, fit the structure of the show so well that she became a regular contributor known as the Craft Whore. Brandt and McQueen quickly became best friends, so when Varda decided to stop co-hosting the events, Brandt asked McQueen to take Varda’s place.

“It’s that time of the month again,” said McQueen to the audience as the lights of the stage turned on last Wednesday. The groups of women — and a few brave men — sitting at the tables of the M Bar cheered for the show to start, and even though technical problems were delaying the first performance of the night by magician Misty Lee, the audience was entertained by the improvised comedy routine Brandt and McQueen performed while the DJ fixed the problem.

The theme of the night was “bringing back sexy,” so following the sexy magician tricks, they showed a video of Brandt getting a Brazilian bikini wax. After the hosts commented with the audience the highs and lows of the experience, Dr. Patti Britton, a regular contributor to Women’s Night Out and president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists got up on stage to correct Brandt from using the term “va-j-j” and to talk about the latest research on polygamy versus monogamy. “Polygamy doesn’t really work,” concluded Dr. Britton in between the comments of Brandt who kept the audience giggling through the brief lecture.

Another regular segment of the show is “Ask a Man,” in which one brave male soul goes up on stage to speak on behalf of his kind. Astrologer Ed Krupp of The Griffith Observatory was the lucky man for the job this time, yet other than taking complements from Brandt and other women in the audience who labeled his as “very cute,” Krupp was allowed to stick to the subject he knows best. “[Astrology] is a very inefficient way of understanding human behavior,” he said. A few questions from the audience regarding planets and stars and a report of what Krupp calls “planet abuse” on Pluto, and the interrogation was over.

Guest Kim Airs took the last presentation of the evening to talk about her career as a call girl. Unlike the stories of poverty and desperation that have come to justify this profession, Airs told the audience she was simply curious and had always wanted to try it.

As empty wine glasses and left over dinner plates were picked up from the tables, Brandt and McQueen said good-bye to their fans. “[We are] superstars in our own little world,” McQueen said in between hugs. Woman after woman approached the hosts to tell them they should have their own TV show. “I would love this to be in late-night television,” said Brandt, but for now they are happy with their free-admision once-a-month show, Brandt added.

“We loved it, it was hysterical,” said Nanet Harty, a first timer who came with her partner Dawne Iannaci. Harty assured she would be back for the next show on Dec. 13, as longtime fan Becker. “Nobody has done something like this in this town,” Becker said, “trust me, I would know.” - Photos by Lorena Fernandez

Female bonding - LA TIMES!
What would you want on a Women's Night Out? Music, laughs, talk, wine? An answer man?
They've got it.   By Adam Tschorn, Special to The Times
Once a month, in a tiny upstairs restaurant/performance space on La Brea Avenue, two women are hosts of a no-host dinner party, a book club without books an event that feels like part coffee klatch and part Chardonnay-infused, NC-17 version of "The View," uniting guest speakers, authors, craft queens and sexperts for a night of food, fun and femininity.

This salon-meets-slumber party with intellectual discussion, music and comedy that occasionally reaches the fever pitch of a tent revival is called Women's Night Out. For almost two years, it has given women a chance to shed their husbands, ditch the kids and share an evening of camaraderie and highbrow conversation, albeit one that at any moment could take a detour into the realm of dating advice from an astronomer, alternative definitions of PMS and ethical dilemmas solved by a stand-up comic/Methodist minister.

"You never see women over 35 in public in Los Angeles," Women's Night Out co-founder and co-host Alicia Brandt says. "It's like they died. You don't even see them on the streets."

That's precisely why you will find thirtysomething women (as well as a good number of twenty- and fortysomethings) at the round of dinner, drinks and discourse. The nights began in September 2002, when Brandt and her longtime friend Brenda Varda realized there wasn't a place where women their age felt comfortable for an evening of fun, intelligent interaction. (Brandt, an actress, and Varda, who scores and composes music and acts, cop to being barely fortysomethings.)

"You get to a certain age where you don't want to wear tight clothes and impress a guy," Brandt says. "It's more like getting out of the house, having a few drinks, without feeling like you're trying to attract a man."

Varda describes it as a night out on the town for "time-crunch people." "Where you get a chance to laugh, to hear something serious, to hear some music, eat and drink all in one evening," she says.

Backed by a trio of male musicians known as the Toolbelts Mike Rainey on cello and bass, T.J. Welch on percussion and Michael Johnson on guitar the duo takes the predominantly (but by no means strictly) female audience on a 90-minute romp through book readings, movie reviews and musical guests. Varda sings and plays the keyboards, while Brandt cracks wise from her perch slightly stage left.

The lineup varies from month to month, but each show usually consists of an author reading (actress Marcia Wallace will discuss her fight with breast cancer from her book "Don't Look Back, We're Not Going That Way" at Wednesday's show; last month Christie Mellor delivered tongue-in-cheek tales from "The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting"), a musical guest, a "women we love" segment and a demonstration from "craft mistress" Stacy McQueen. (Among the items from her craft closet: a duct tape purse, a holiday card made from pictures of grocery-store meats, slippers made from sanitary pads and a colorfully hand-decorated X-ray of her own rib cage.)

Other staples include "sex coach" Patti Britton, who matter-of-factly answers the audience's bedroom questions with the help of a large plush version of the female anatomy rarely seen outside a seventh-grade sex-ed class, and the Rev. Jane Voigts, a former stand-up comedian-turned-preacher who helps audience members sort through their ethical conundrums.

One of the most popular segments of the female-centric night is "Ask a Man," in which a male guest gives his perspective on anything asked by the audience. Past participants have included a fireman, a yoga instructor and the director of the Griffith Observatory.

At the last show, landscaper Brent Green counseled a woman on how to deal with a paramour who made unwelcome advances. ("Step aside, look him in the eye and say: 'Homey, don't play that way!' ")

At the end of the show, when the hosts pass the hat to take up a donation to defray the cost of the Toolbelts' tunesmithing, it's the only time (except when settling the dinner tab) that money changes hands; besides being a night of fun and friendship, it also happens to be free. "We wanted to get a bunch of women who were very different and very interesting to have a really good time we didn't want to charge them money," Brandt says. "That would be like charging money for your book group."

Women's Night Out
Los Feliz Ledger, January 06
Womens Night Out:
Local creates Night Of Fun For
Women to Have a Laugh in their Own Image
By Kimberly Thorpe/Ledger Contributing Writer
      It's funny, but in a city so busy providing entertainment to the world, the women living in it are overlooked as a possible target audience.
      Even at the movies, the Los Angeles woman often finds herself straining to find any common ground between her own life and that of the female on screen.
      Three years ago, Los Feliz resident Brenda Varda had this in mind when she invited comedian Alicia Brandt to co-found an evening "for, by and about women": a chance to get out of the house, be entertained, and leave inspired by it.
"I was tired of the range I knew about L.A. women and culture," said Los Feliz resident Brenda Varda, founder of Women's Night Out.  "I wanted to see if you could create an opportunity for women to experience a diverse representation of Los Angeles women, from sublime to ridiculous."
      While Varda eventually left the host microphone to Brandt"she's just way more funny than I am," she saidVarda remains on stage throughout the night on the keyboard, decorating the audience's laughs and gasps like garland on a tree with musical intros and interludes from her band, The Toolbelts.
      The line-up of guests that take their seat alongside Brandt to discuss their life, views or accomplishments are diverse women leading myriad lifestyles from strippers to scientists, singers and moms who surf.
"The truth is that women who are smart do an enormous range of things," said Varda.
       The show begins half an hour after the doors open at Hollywood's dinner-theatre M Bar. Before the show, it's possible to order dinner, and throughout the show drinks are available.  Already in its third year, the M Bar is Women's Night Outs third location, and still barely large enough to accommodate the growing audience.
"Women are really receptive to the type of evening we eventually created," said Varda.  "You can go out with eight friends, have dinner, get drinks, and be entertained."
     Mindy Borghi, an audience regular, said she and her friends never miss a show.
"It's better than Viagra for that stronger, more lasting experience!" she said.
While the crowd is mostly older than 30, the show caters to women from 18 to 80. Bringing a sense of humor, in tow, is a requirement. "There are no sacred cows," cautioned Brandt.
     The guest line-up usually includes a woman who has made an effort to be an expert in a field (Brandt calls her the 'smarty-pants' guest), a sexologist, a craft queen (like the recent guest who makes slippers from maxi pads) and there is always an 'ask the man' segment.
     "Whatever part of your life you are in, there is something about going out and being with a bunch of women that's liberating," said Brandt. "You're not taking care of anybody. You're there for yourself."
The hosts are dedicated to giving the audience a chance to feel comfortable with who they are in life.
"We want them to leave a little smarter, and their face to hurt from laughing so much," said Brandt.
    The guests at the upcoming January 26th show include Catherine Curry Williams of Shane's Inspiration, who has dedicated her life to developing and implementing playgrounds accessible to handicapped children and Anne Gentry of Real Food Daily, a chef and food visionary.
 Women's Night Out, Every last Thursday of the month. The next show is Jan. 26, 2006, M BAR, 7:30 pm (7:00 dinner). 1253 North Vine. No cover $10 food minimum. Reservations: (323) 856 0036 or
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.

In addition to an evening of entertainment, each installment of Women's Night Out inevitably ends up providing an array of oddball advice and insights. A few tidbits culled from the May show:

What it's like to be a mom

"I had a great Mother's Day. I found myself saying things I never thought I'd say, like 'Don't take a bath with a candy necklace on' and 'Don't lick the phone.' "
co-host Alicia Brandt

How to tell a good friend that her child acts like a monster

"The only time you can say something is if she opens up the opportunity. She won't ever hear it unless she's the one that's asking."
"Ethical Dilemmas" guest Rev. Jane Voigts

What relationship advice a former "player" would give to his daughter

"Love yourself first and don't come from a place of desperation. Otherwise you'll settle."
"Ask a Man" guest Brent Green

What the word "woman" really means

"Wild, Open, Magical, Authentically Empowered, Nectar. That's the essence of what we are what we're trying to get to."
guest Gina Cloud of the Sacred Cycle

Another innovative use for duct tape

"Once when I was here I made duct tape purses and someone in the audience bought one for $25 and the handles fell off it ... so I brought some duct tape to fix it."
craft mistress Stacy McQueen

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