Terry Baum is a slightly world-renowned lesbian playwright. She has been creating theater since 1974 on issues ranging from gay rights and medical/ethical dilemmas to the eternal pursuit of love. Critics have compared Baum to Lily Tomlin, Norman Mailer, Godzilla, Bea Arthur and Woody Allen—but never in the same review. Her plays have been published in three anthologies, and subsequently produced in many countries and languages. As a solo performer of her own work, she has toured the U.S., Canada, Western Europe, Israel, South Africa, Cuba and Morocco.
Baum was born in 1946 in Los Angeles to a middle-class Jewish family. She received a B.A. in Theater from Antioch College. After graduating, she moved to New York City to study directing at Columbia University and directed at Circle Repertory Theater.
In 1972, while getting a Masters in Directing at U.C. Santa Barbara, Baum founded Isla Vista Community Theater. There, she met Carolyn Myers, her lifelong collaborator. The IVCT produced much original work and many fabulous parties, where Baum realized she could dance. It was a magical time, but Isla Vista was just too small a town. So, in 1974, she moved to Santa Cruz to help her Antioch theater friends found Bear Republic Theater. But she couldn’t stand being the only woman in the group. She had a vision on LSD of starting a women’s theater. So, she moved to Berkeley and founded Lilith Women's Collective with Charlotte Colavin and Shelley Fields. Carolyn Myers joined Lilith in 1975.
Baum led Lilith for five years, during which time they created four original plays:
Liliththeater, about the lives of the three Lilith founders
Good Food where five waitresses jostle for power in a mythical café
Moonlighting about women and work
Sacrifices, a fable about the women’s movement.
Lilith toured the Northwest and Europe during that time.
In 1979, Baum left Lilith when the collective fired her lover (What did they expect?). Her next project was Dos Lesbos, A Play by, for, & about Perverts, an extended riff on Baum’s life with Alice Thompson II, the aforementioned lover. This was Baum’s first full-length play, written with Carolyn Myers. It opened in Ollie’s Bar in Oakland in 1981. For the audiences, it was the first time they had seen lesbians presented from a lesbian point of view. Dos Lesbos inspired Kate McDermott to edit the first anthology of lesbian plays in the history of the universe (Places, Please 1985). Dos Lesbos (in Italian translation) also offended the Pope during World Pride 2000 in Rome.
Immediate Family was also included in that first anthology. This solo play is about a woman at the bedside of her dying wife. At that time, gay marriage was a distant dream and gay people had no legal say in their spouse’s medical treatment. Immediate Family premiered at the National Women’s Theater Festival in 1983 in Santa Cruz. After being published, it was produced throughout the world, in many languages. The play was also produced as part of political campaigns for gay rights in San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Boise. Baum herself performed it at festivals in Amsterdam, Toronto, Stockholm, and New York City. In 2016, she performed Immediate Family at the Diversity Center in Santa Clara, Cuba, after handing out a Spanish translation to audience members. A film of Baum as Virginia has been selected for gay film festivals in San Francisco, Berlin, and Milan. With a Dutch movie star in the role, it was made for prime-time network television in Holland.
While performing Immediate Family at the International Women’s Cultural Festival in Amsterdam, Baum met a Dutch dyke, fell in love and moved to Holland. From 1985 to 1994, Baum lived mostly in Amsterdam. She toured Europe extensively as a solo performer and wrote two plays inspired by her time in Holland. One Fool or How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Dutch is a solo farce about a rather heedless American lesbian’s desperate search for love in Amsterdam after she has been dumped by the Dutch dyke who inspired her to move there. (Don’t mess with Baum. You could end up onstage as an evil coatrack!)
Divide the Living Child, Baum’s most serious play, delved into the experience of Dutch Jews under Nazi Occupation. An early version of the play was produced at Ashland University in Ohio, as part of a ten-day symposium on the Holocaust. The great Elie Wiesel spoke at the symposium and praised Divide the Living Child in a letter to Baum. The play, produced by Heather Ondersma, had a production on Zoom in 2021, with a cast from San Francisco, Brooklyn and Tel Aviv.
From 1996 to 1999, Baum lived in New York City, producing One Fool and Immediate Family many times. She also directed two productions of her play about the joys and sorrows of two women loving across cultures and borders, Two Fools or Love Conquers All–Not!
In 1999, Baum returned to San Francisco. it’s a very pleasurable city to live in, and she wanted to be closer to her parents as they aged. In 2003, Waiting for the Podiatrist opened at Venue 9 in San Francisco. This play was inspired by Baum’s father’s stroke and the resulting coma. She transmuted this family crisis into a tragic farce taking place in an Intensive Care Unit, with songs by Scrumbly Koldewyn and David Hyman. Mother and Father are hand puppets, and Baum has always been jealous when Mom (on Baum’s left hand) gets more applause at the curtain call than Baum. Baum has performed Waiting for the Podiatrist at Studio 7 in Amsterdam, Antioch College, and the San Francisco Fringe Festival, where it won a Best of Fringe award in 2016.
Starting in 2008, Baum was one-half of The Crackpot Crones, creating subversive feminist comedy and improvisation with Carolyn Myers. Together, they wrote Crones for the Holidays, The “I Hate Valentine’s Day” Show, Bride of Lesbostein and Moms!, among other projects. The Crones’ signature sketch is Eve in Therapy, wherein Eve seeks a cure for her guilt at causing the downfall of humankind. Her therapist happens to be Lilith, Adam’s first wife.
The Crones have performed throughout the U.S., and at two fringe festivals, in New York and Santa Cruz. They also toured Mexico as Las Rucas Locas (Crazy Old Women) with performances in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and San Miguel de Allende. In each city, they hired a local actress to translate during their performances.
In 2014, Baum and Myers brought Lilith Theater to life once again, to produce HICK: A Love Story, The Romance of Lorena Hickok & Eleanor Roosevelt. This solo play is based on the 2,336 letters that Mrs. Roosevelt wrote to her lover Hick, who was the most famous woman journalist of her day. At the New York International Fringe Festival, HICK received a Fringe Fave award and was chosen for the Fringe Encore series. HICK also won a Best of Fringe Award at the S.F. Fringe Festival. Exit Theatre did a Zoom production of HICK during the pandemic.
In 2019, Exit Press published One Dyke’s Theater, an anthology of ten of Baum’s plays, three of them written in collaboration with Myers, who edited the anthology.
Baum is a committed political activist and a passionate believer in democracy, working on many campaigns and running for office twice. The first time was in 2004, for U.S. Congress, because her own Representative Nancy Pelosi supported the invasion of Iraq. She turned the experience of campaigning into a play, Baum for Peace, which was produced in San Francisco and as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. When Baum ran for Mayor of San Francisco in 2011, her primary goal was pushing Green Power SF, a project to put small wind and solar installations on government buildings throughout the city. Green Power SF moved forward after the election, and eventually came into being. Green Power SF has inspired similar programs all over the world. Baum feels that she had some part in making this happen.
Currently Baum writes BAUMblog, about whatever grabs her fancy, be it politics, theater, or family memories (www.terrybaum.blogspot.com). She is also working on a new play, Mikvah, which takes place in a Jewish women’s ritual bath in a tiny shtetl in Poland. Mikvah explores the collision of lesbian lust with sadistic patriarchy.