Lara Tate: Menopausal Superhero! WordsAndPictures: Writer and actress Amy Buchwald's new webseries about aging
Amy Buchwald, right, as "Lara Tate, Menopausal Superhero." Courtesy photo.
When I started getting hot flashes a couple years ago, I thought: this has to be a super power! I could light up the whole city with this!
- Amy Buchwald
by Shannon Drury
Imagine a world in which the burning heat of a menopausal hot flash can be harnessed to reduce an obnoxious husband to a pile of ashes, or to disable an attacker with dryness in a place so sensitive the perp no longer can walk.
No, it's not the setting for a 22nd century Wonder Woman sequel: it's the world of "Hot Flash: The Chronicles of Lara Tate, Menopausal Superhero," the hilarious web series created by writer and actress Amy Buchwald. A Minneapolis native and former member of the Children's Theatre Company, Buchwald developed the project when she realized how few public and private conversations were occurring around an important women's health issue.
When Buchwald started experiencing symptoms of menopause herself, it was no laughing matter: "I haven't slept well for three years," she says. She also had anxiety, brain fog, hot flashes and many of the 34 symptoms that Lara Tate's doctor lists in the first episode.
The 34 symptoms aren't an exaggeration for comedic effect: they are the real deal, including a bizarre symptom called "burning tongue." Buchwald says her first thought was: "This is nuts. ... I've got to make [menopause] something good instead of something that is making me miserable."
One symptom in particular provided the catalyst for the transformation to Lara: "When I started getting hot flashes a couple years ago," Buchwald says, "I thought: this has to be a super power! I could light up the whole city with this!"
"The OB/GYN doesn't tell you that this can be a playful time," Buchwald says. "[The web series] is an antidote to that."
On the show, Lara Tate learns to harness her new superpowers with a mysterious guide played by Buchwald's real-life husband Danny Woodburn, a character actor best known for his work on "Seinfeld." The couple also write the episodes together. Response from men to the show has been especially gratifying, Buchwald says. "Some have said they understand [menopause] more, that they have to be more sympathetic!"
Women viewers are opening up about their journeys with menopause. "When we're open about it we can say, 'hey, I have vaginal dryness too, what do you use?' and we can better support each other." Lara Tate makes these discussions much less embarrassing, Buchwald says. "Humor is a great way to approach things that are unpleasant."
"Usually when you see superheroes, you see them in Christian Louboutin [shoes] and latex," Buchwald says. Apropos of her power source, however, a Menopausal Superhero wears only breathable fabric. In fact, in the second episode, Lara finds her secret training lair by giving a clothing saleswoman the code words "loose, breezy and cool." Buchwald says, "This is what a woman in her fifties would experience!"
Aging, Buchwald says, "can be empowering. Many women start a second career, and their kids are grown up - it can be a great new beginning."
Now based in Los Angeles, Buchwald is working to secure funding for future episodes of Lara Tate's adventures, including a possible comic book tie-in that could bring Lara to an even wider audience.
There used to be such a stigma about getting your period," she says. Today, families can buy first-period gift packs online. Buchwald says that "menopause is also very much a time of 'oh no, what's happening to my body,' like puberty, but we talk about it less. It can be cloaked in mystery, which makes it even harder to find a support system."
Reducing stigma and finding support is at the heart of why Buchwald founded the Mulberry Tree Group, the arts nonprofit that produced the web series. Mulberry Tree Group develops projects about taboo subjects that can be illuminated through media, including music, dance and spoken word pieces. "The more you discuss [something], the less it can be shameful or hidden," she says. Recent work has included poetry for Alzheimer's patients and caregivers and a stage musical about domestic violence.
Buchwald encourages anyone in menopause to see herself as a superhero, just like Lara Tate. "Don't let anyone stop your momentum," she says. "Keep generating a support system for women so that you discuss things and empower each other. Then, when you're successful," she adds, "you send the elevator back down, so that your sisters can come up and join you."