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Cloquet alumni stage musical about health care struggles for women

The co-authors of "Endometriosis: The Musical," set to premiere at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis, grew up together in Cloquet.

Five members of a cast hold hands in a circle and sing.
The cast of "Endometriosis: The Musical" rehearse a number written by Cloquet alumni Maria Bartholdi and Kristen Stowell. From left: Aly O'Keeffe, Abby Holmstrom, Tara Borman, Nora Sonneborn, Drew Tenenbaum and Christian Unser.
Contributed / Maria Bartholdi
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CLOQUET — Classmates of 2002 Cloquet High School graduates Maria Bartholdi and Kristin Stowell may not be surprised to hear that the lifelong friends have created a musical.

"Through grade school, middle school and high school, Kristin and I always loved to write music together," Bartholdi said. "We had a band called 'The Ripped Nylons' and we were in all of the plays together. Anyone at our upcoming class reunion would likely hear we were doing a show in Minneapolis and go, 'Yeah, that makes sense.'"

Kristin and Maria of "Endometriosis: The Musical"
Co-authors Kristin Stowell and Maria Bartholdi of "Endometriosis: The Musical" are pictured in Cloquet in 1994.
Contributed / Maria Bartholdi

The two met in first grade at Churchill Elementary School and became fast friends. Together, they've combined their love for musical theater with a passion for storytelling to create "Endometriosis: The Musical," which debuts at the the Minnesota Fringe Festival on Aug. 5. The show tells the tale of a woman named Jane as she tries to discover the source of her chronic pain while continuing to climb the corporate ladder and find success.

“Jane’s journey in this show is modeled after the same experience Kristin had while trying to obtain a diagnosis for her pain,” Bartholdi said. “I know some people are going to see this show and think, ‘Nah! No way does this stuff actually happen to women at the doctor’s office!’ But those people are very wrong. Every moment in this show is based off of something that happened to one of us, or our friends, in real life.”

Endometriosis: The Musical
"Endometriosis The Musical" will debut at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis on Aug. 5.
Contributed / Maria Bartholdi

Stowell began suffering at age 16 from what she described as crippling pain, which many people told her was a normal part of menstruation. After a long struggle, she was diagnosed with endometriosis at 32, a disease where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in other areas of the body, which can lead to debilitating pain.

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Maria Bartholdi
Maria Bartholdi.
Contributed / Maria Bartholdi
Kristin Stowell
Kristin Stowell.
Contributed / Kristin Stowell

"Something I noticed when we did our read through of the show in 2021, was that immediately afterwards, everybody at the table began sharing their stories of the health care system," Bartholdi said. "And I was like, 'Yes, please! We need to talk about this.' Women's health care is just such a taboo topic. So I hope people see the show and walk away feeling a little more comfortable talking about these things and also feeling like they're not alone."

Bartholdi and Stowell started writing the show in 2019 with plans to take it to the 2020 Minnesota Fringe Festival. Originally, the show was a musical revue that covered several aspects of women's health. But after the 2020 festival was postponed due to the pandemic, the writing duo decided to spend more time with their show and reshape it.

"Kristin thought it would be better to focus on one woman's struggle. At first I was a little worried that focusing on endometriosis was too narrow," Bartholdi said. "But when I saw what she was thinking, I saw how effective it could be. So we switched our focus and used the pandemic as an opportunity to keep writing."

The team used Zoom and Google Docs to put the show together despite living in different parts of the country; Bartholdi is based in the Twin Cities and Stowell was based in Washington, D.C. at the time. When not writing their own show, both are employed in the entertainment industry. Stowell works in musical theater as a musical director, composer, pianist and educator. Bartholdi is a performer, writer, podcaster, e-sports host and video creator. This is their first musical together.

When the show was ready to begin rehearsals, the pair decided it was time to rope in some other Cloquet alumni to help out. Fellow 2002 graduate and dance studio owner Krista Grover was brought on to choreograph the show. Another former classmate, Anna Lehr, made costumes.

"It's been amazing getting to work professionally with my first collaborators," Stowell said. "On one hand, we all now have decades of professional experience in the entertainment industry; on the other, we are still laughing together at period jokes."

If you go

  • What: "Endometriosis: The Musical"
  • When: 8:30 p.m. Aug. 5; 4 p.m. Aug. 6; 10 p.m. Aug. 9; 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13; 1 p.m. Aug. 14
  • Where: Minnesota Fringe Festival, Theatre in the Round, 245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
  • Tickets: endomusical.com
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Related Topics: CLOQUETMINNEAPOLISTHEATER
Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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