Chicago Writers' Bloc 2024 New Play Festival Begins In May At Theater Wit

Festival to feature new musicals and plays from Chicago-area writers.

By: Apr. 15, 2024
Chicago Writers' Bloc 2024 New Play Festival Begins In May At Theater Wit
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Chicago Writers' Bloc has announced the lineup of plays and musicals for its biennial festival of new plays, to be held this year from May 5 to 19 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.

The 2024 festival will feature five new plays and five new musicals from 14 local Chicago playwrights, lyricists, and composers. This year's roster of writers includes John S. Green (Jeff winner and Pulitzer nominated for THE LIQUID MOON), Chloe Bolan (O'Neill semi-finalist for LOVE IN THE TIME OF DEMENTIA), and Joanne Koch (National Nantucket Short Play Competition winner for STARDUST). The works to be performed as staged readings will cover genres from comedies and dramas to documentary theatre, and subject matter that ranges from history to current events, and fantasy to reality.

The musical DREAM CITY, set in and around the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition, will be performed on Tuesday, May 7 at 7:30 pm. The 2024 New Plays Festival will launch on Sunday, May 5 with a 7:30 pm benefit including a reception and an 8:00 pm performance of the musical HEARTS IN THE WOOD, with book by Joanne Koch, and music and lyrics by Jim Lucas. Lively bluegrass tunes and moving country ballads. weave through the story of a once popular West Virginia folk singer who decides to try for a comeback in Chicago when he discovers he has a grown granddaughter. The proceeds from the benefit will go toward continuing Chicago Writers' Bloc's mission to develop and present new plays and musicals from Chicago area writers. Over the past 32 years, the organization has helped launch many new plays and musicals. Many produced works have gone on to win national and international prizes with productions locally and around the country.

The protagonist of the musical HEARTS IN THE WOOD, to be performed Sunday, May 5 at 8 pm following a 7:30 pm opening reception, is a West Virginia dulcimer maker and once popular folksinger. In addition to HEARTS IN THE WOOD, the festival will include four additional new musicals including HELL IS CANCELLED (by Wencke Braathen with music by Gerald H. Bailey), DRIVING THE DREAM (by Chloe Bolan with music by Gerald H. Bailey), DREAM CITY (Book and Lyrics by June Finfer, Music and Lyrics by Elizabeth Doyle), and “Merry Widows, The Musical” (Book by Joanne Koch and Diane Dorsey, Lyrics by Francesca Peppiatt, Music by Ilya Levinson). 

Plays will include two documentary dramas about Venezuelan refugees by former CHICAGO TRIBUNE feature writer Fran Zell, John S. Green's REMEMBER ME, about a Nigerian American veteran from the war in Afghanistan, Nic Hamel's NO KIND OF HERO (about French philosophy professor Simone Weil pictured here, who fought fascism in the 1930s), and THE DECONSTRUCTION OF A HONKY, written by Blake Levinson.

Simone Weil, the subject of NO KIND OF HERO, to be performed May 14 at 7:30 pm Tickets are $25.00 for the opening night benefit and reading, and $20.00 for all other programs. Tickets and more information are available at:

DRIVING THE DREAM, a musical bioplay on the life of Bertha Benz, who introduced the world to the age of the automobile, will be performed on Sunday, May 12 at 7:30 pm  


May 5 – 19, 2024
Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Sunday – Wednesday, May 5 – 8
Sunday – Tuesday, May 12 – 14
Sunday, May 19
All performances at 7:30 pm
Further Information at
Tickets $25.00 for opening night benefit May 5. $20.00 all other evenings
Tickets available now at

Staged readings of ten new works by Chicago writers. The festival features five new musicals and five new plays from 14 local Chicago playwrights, lyricists, and composers; including John S. Green (Jeff winner and Pulitzer nominated, THE LIQUID MOON), Chloe Bolan (O'Neill semi-finalist, LOVE IN THE TIME OF DEMENTIA), Joanne Koch (National Nantucket Short Play Competition winner for STARDUST), and former Chicago Tribune feature writer Fran Zell.

The works to be performed as staged readings will cover genres from comedies and dramas to documentary theatre, and subject matter that ranges from history to current events, and fantasy to reality.


May 5 benefit performance at 8:00 pm, all other performances at 7:30 pm

Sunday, May 5

HEARTS IN THE WOOD. Book by Joanne Koch, and music and lyrics by Jim Lucas.

A West Virginia dulcimer maker and once popular folksinger discovers he has an adult granddaughter and decides to reconnect with life. His newfound granddaughter prompts him to bring his regional music to Chicago. Grandfather and granddaughter find unexpected romances and finally get past their differences, united by bonds of love and their special musical heritage.

Monday, May 6

HELL IS CANCELED. Book and Lyrics by Wencke Braathen, Music by Gerald H. Bailey 

Archangel Michael lands in Hell and announces to Lucifer that God has decided that this department is defunct and will be liquidated. Michael gets stuck in Hell with Lucifer and a lost soul while Hell disintegrates. Archangel Raphael causes problems from above, and Katie and Kevin save the day by sending new feathers to Lucifer's wings.

Tuesday, May 7

DREAM CITY. Book and Lyrics by June Finfer, Music and Lyrics by Elizabeth Doyle

The musical story of Chicago in a Gilded Age not unlike today, when immigrants, women, and minorities fight for inclusion in an economy controlled by the wealthy. The 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition World's Fair seemed to offer all Chicagoans opportunities for participation, visibility, and jobs, from the architects who designed it to the workers who built it.

Wednesday, May 8

REMEMBER ME. Written by John S. Green.

The story of Jake, a second-generation Nigerian American who joined the army to prove that he was a “real American.” When he returns from fighting in Afghanistan, he reaches out to his acting teacher, Earl, seeking comfort, sanity and a chance to rekindle his broken dreams. They work together to conquer their own personal demons and perform Hamlet.

Sunday, May 12

DRIVING THE DREAM, Book and Lyrics by Chloe Bolan, Music by Gerald H. Bailey.

A musical bioplay on the life of Bertha Benz, the woman who drove the first motorwagen farther than anyone before her and so introduced the world to the age of the automobile. She might seem like a conservative hausfrau, but her rebellion at three different times in her life testify to her strong instincts, her indomitable courage, and her belief in a dream she and her husband shared. 

Monday, May 13

"How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Venezuelans" / "My Name is Renny Edward Milano Salgado,” both written by Fran Zell.

Two timely one-act documentary theatre pieces about asylum seekers will be presented. “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Venezuelans” is based on the playwright's experiences volunteering with asylum seekers in Chicago. “My Name is Renny Edward Milano Salgado” recounts one asylum seeker's journey, a story of loss, grief, mortal danger, and always, hope.

Tuesday, May 14

NO KIND OF HERO, written by Nic Hamel.
Amidst the growing threat of fascism in the 1930's, the young French philosophy professor Simone Weil struggles against the oppression she witnesses all around her. Caught between practical limitations and an unrelenting idealism, Simone's choices are both absurd and inspiring as she seeks to embody hope and heroism in an increasingly chaotic world.

Sunday, May 19 at 7:30 PM

Double-bill of “Merry Widows, the Musical,” Book by Joanne Koch and Diane Dorsey, Lyrics by Francesca Peppiatt, Music by Ilya Levinson, Directed by Joan Mazzonelli;  and “The Deconstruction of a Honky” written by Blake Levinson.

In “Merry Widows, The Musical,” women and men gather together in grief groups to help each other grieve. Only our grief group doesn't just talk about their profound losses. They, along with their empathic leader, use the magic of music and some gentle humor to go beyond their sorrow and bring themselves to reconnect with a new life. With 14 million widows and widowers in the U.S. today, and thousands of these grief groups, the creative team thought it was about time to offer something more than a fluffy operetta.

In “The Deconstruction of a Honky,” emerging white playwright Sam meets with DD, his influential Black director-dramaturg prior to the staged reading of his socially conscious play on racism. Their discussion takes a charged turn when she begins to question the authenticity of his Black characters. Tensions heighten as DD turns the spotlight on Sam's indomitably liberal character and exposes a shocking secret.

About the Artists

Joanne Koch has had many of her eighteen plays and musicals toured to universities and produced in theaters around the country, including SOUL SISTERS, STARDUST, SOPHIE, TOTIE & BELLE and SAFE HARBOR. Joanne and Jim Lucas received an Illinois Arts Council grant for the original development of HEARTS IN THE WOOD. Through her work over the years as president of the Chicago Writers' Bloc, Joanne Koch has helped to bring over one hundred new plays to audiences in Chicago, with many of these new plays going on to other productions and publications.

Jim Lucas is a singer-songwriter who is a graduate of Hope College (B.A.), Indiana University (M.M.), and the University of Iowa (D.M.A.). He is Professor Emeritus of Music at Northeastern Illinois University, where he taught music for many years. While HEARTS IN THE WOOD is his only full-length musical, he has written many compositions for vocal and instrumental ensembles.

Wencke Braathen writes about relationships across dimensions. You'll find gods, angels, humans and ghosts in her work, and discover how they all influence each other's development. She delivers her controversial viewpoints unabashed, and challenges old dogmas and preconceptions wrapped in humor and entertainment and asks her audience to laugh with her.

Gerald H. Bailey In addition to his work on HELL IS CANCELED and DRIVING THE DREAM, Mr. Bailey has written music for COURTING, THE ENCHANTED ISLAND, and THE LEGEND OF KING ARTHUR, among others. Mr. Bailey is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild.

June Finfer has written plays and musicals and documentary films. Her plays, THE GLASS HOUSE and COUPLES THERAPY, were produced in New York at the Harold Clurman Theatre. Tonight's musical, DREAM CITY, is a rewrite of BURNHAM'S DREAM: THE WHITE CITY, which was produced at Theatre Wit in 2018 by Lost and Found Productions.

Elizabeth Doyle is an award-winning Chicago artist in demand for concerts and events. She is the composer of several theatre musicals, among them FAT TUESDAY, DUO, and BURNHAM'S DREAM, which have been mounted at prestigious locations such as Steppenwolf Theatre and Theater Wit.

John S. Green's play, THE LIQUID MOON, won Chicago's Jeff and After Dark Awards for Best New Work. It was subsequently nominated for a Pulitzer and published in New Plays Chicago. His play, TWILIGHT SERENADE, was published by Dramatic Publishing. His short story, “The Me Zone,” won the Leon Forrest Prose Award and was published by Chicago Quarterly. 

Chloe Bolan recently had her O'Neill semi-finalist play, "Love in the Time of Dementia" stage-read for a Perennial fundraiser August 2023 and in Her Story Theatre's Women's Writers Festival in June 2023. She has received grants from the Illinois Arts Council ("Heart of Chac") and Target ("M. Kiki") besides a fellowship from Dale Wasserman's Midwest Playwrights ("Egg") sponsored by the University of Wisconsin.

Fran Zell is an award-winning playwright and fiction writer whose plays have appeared in festivals in Chicago and New York. Her book, THE MARCY STORIES, won the Banta Award for literary achievement from the Wisconsin Library Association. She is a former feature writer for the Chicago Tribune.

Nic Hamel is an actor turned playwright and the current artistic director of Chicago Writers' Bloc. A staged reading of his solo documentary play, TURKEY BOYS, was presented by the Writers' Bloc in 2016. In addition to artistic pursuits, Dr. Hamel is a scholar of theatre, performance, and disability studies with a specialty in theatre and intellectual disability.

Diane Dorsey is a Chicago actress/writer/director/coach and Meisner teacher who many years ago wrote a solo show called “Kaleidoscope.” Today she thanks the creative team of “Merry Widows, The Musical” for inviting her to collaborate on the Book. And dedicates it to her husband Danny Goldring.

Francesca Peppiatt is a speaker, teacher, writer and performer. She wrote the book for the new musical “Golden” and book and lyrics for “Treasure Island.” Francesca is an actor and Emmy nominated writer with 5 published books plus multiple produced non-musical plays. 

Ilya Levinson is Assistant Professor at the Music Department of Columbia College Chicago and Music Director and Co-Founder of the New Budapest Orpheum Society, an ensemble-in-residence at The University of Chicago. Levinson has composed four operas, four musicals, various symphonic and chamber music, film scores and original music for theatre productions.

Joan Mazzonelli has produced, directed, and designed for the theater in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City. She has written “Border Crossing,” a short play, with Marianne Kallen; the musicals REASONABLE TERMS with Marianne Kallen and Karena Mendoza; BOTTOM'S DREAM with James L. Kurtz, an adaptation of ALL IN THE LAUNDRY by Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers NEIGHBORHOOD; and the operas HIGH FIDELITY and THE PROPOSAL with Philip Seward.


Chicago Writers' Bloc is a play development group that focuses on presenting new plays developed in monthly sessions and regular new play festivals. Led by Joanne Koch, a widely produced playwright and noted Emeritus Director of the National Louis University Master's in Written Communication Program, the not-for-profit 501 (c ) (3) Writers' Bloc has brought over 250 new plays and musicals to Chicago area audiences, supported in part by grants and by festival attendees and contributors. Many of these plays have gone on to win national and international prizes with productions locally and around the country, including Midwest, East Coast, West Coast, off-Broadway and in publications.


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