JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed Announces 30 Participants

Established in 2013, The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed is an unparalleled, long-term residency program devoted exclusively to musical theatre writing. 

By: Jan. 20, 2022
JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed Announces 30 Participants

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Johnny Mercer Foundation Writers Grove at Goodspeed Musicals will return to the Goodspeed campus January 31 - February 27, 2022 after being virtual in 2021. 30 established and emerging composers, lyricists and librettists representing 15 new musicals will gather in East Haddam creating a truly exceptional environment for discovery and inspiration at one of the premier writers' residencies in the nation.

Established in 2013, The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed is an unparalleled, long-term residency program devoted exclusively to musical theatre writing. It provides a sanctuary for composers, lyricists, and librettists to embark on new musical theatre work or to devote a substantial amount of time to a work-in-progress in an environment rich with creative energy. For four weeks, starting January 31, the writing teams work in residence in Goodspeed's Artists Village, each team in their own house, with whatever support is needed, from dramaturgical to Goodspeed's fine music department. In the evenings writers get together in an informal, salon-style environment and share the day's work. This gathering allows the artists an invaluable opportunity to gain insight from their colleagues. The Grove is the ultimate think tank of veteran Broadway and young working professionals in theater today.

"Every winter, we are honored to welcome the most outstanding group of musical theatre creators to the Goodspeed campus and give them the freedom and luxury of total immersion in their work. This year will be all that much sweeter since we had to meet virtually last year and weren't able to gather in person. I can't wait to get to know these artists and their beautiful work," said Donna Lynn Hilton, Goodspeed Musicals' Artistic Director.

Jonathan Brielle, Executive Vice President of JMF and Writer/Producer in Residence stated, "By following strict Covid protocols, writing teams from around the country will be able to collaborate in person and once again create the sense of community that lingers long after we've left East Haddam. Our evening Salons make the Grove the unique experience I look forward to all year long."

Over the course of the program, Jonathan Brielle will again serve as a writer and Producer in Residence. His first Broadway credit was writing music and lyrics for Foxfire starring theater legends Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy (who won the Tony) and Keith Carradine. Subsequently, he became Composer in Residence of the prestigious Circle Repertory Company in New York, providing scores for some of New York's top playwrights. His recent credits include Himself and Nora (book, music, lyrics), Minetta Lane Theater; Nightmare Alley (book, music, lyrics), Geffen Playhouse; and 40 Naked Women, A Monkey and Me (book, music, lyrics), Eugene O'Neill Cabaret Conference. His Las Vegas shows include book, music and lyrics for Enter The Night (Stardust) and MADhattan (New York, New York). For television, he is the music director and composer for Wonderama on the Tribune network and is the founder of Vala Musicals, a streaming platform for new shows and forever free musical theater education. At this year's JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed, Jonathan will be working with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jake Bernstein on an untitled project.

Blair Russell will also serve as Producer in Residence. Mr. Russell is a producer, developer, supporter and lover of theatre and live performances whose experience ranges from fringe festivals to Broadway shows. His most recent theatre projects include the 12-time Tony-nominated Slave Play by Jeremy O. Harris, Lizard Boy by Justin Huertas, and the concept recording of the new musical For Tonight. Recent credits include the critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway production of Sweeney Todd and the West End productions of Gypsy with Imelda Stanton and Show Boat. He is currently Co-President of the board of New York Theatre Barn and Vice Chair of the board of The New Harmony Project. "The Grove represents such a unique opportunity in the landscape of music theater development where writers are centered so fully in their process. Even during my days as an early-career theater artist at Goodspeed I appreciated how special it was, so I'm excited to be returning many years later as the Producer in Residence," said Mr. Russell.

Clifford Lee Johnson III will serve as Resident Dramaturge. As part of Wonder City Productions, he produces and develops new plays and musicals. Their current project is a new musical about a beloved American figure. Between 1993 and 2009, he was the Director of Musical Development at Manhattan Theatre Club; prior to that he was the Assistant Literary Manager at Actors Theatre of Louisville. He has been a critic for BACKSTAGE and published articles on the theater in various publications. He has also taught at the Kenyon Playwrights Conference and served as an adviser during the creation of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. Mr. Johnson recently co-created the Theater Consultants Resource website, a centralized location for consultants wishing to share information and clients seeking to locate consultants. He is especially proud of participating in a citizen-scientist effort to discover new planets. So far, he has one to his credit.

Goodspeed's Artistic Director Donna Lynn Hilton is guiding Goodspeed Musicals' efforts on The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed with additional artistic support from Goodspeed Artistic Associate Michael Fling.

Establishing the Grove created a confluence of Goodspeed's long-held mission of fostering new works and JMF's dedication to nurturing the discipline of songwriting. With this unique collaboration, Goodspeed continues to be an incubator for the next generation of musical theatre artists and performers, as well as the home of the American Musical. This is best-illustrated by several projects that Goodspeed has moved from The JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed forward to production including the acclaimed 2019 productions of Passing Through by Brett Ryback and Eric Ulloa and Hi, My Name Is Ben by Scott Gilmour and Claire MacKenzie as well as the 2017 productions of Deathless and Darling Grenadine, Indian Joe in 2015, and Chasing Rainbows in 2016. In 2022, Goodspeed will be further developing Private Gomer Jones by Marshall Pailet which also was included in Goodspeed's 2020 Festival of New Musicals. Other notable productions from the Grove include the Pulitzer Prize-winning new musical A Strange Loop by Michael R. Jackson, which ran Off Broadway in 2019 and is expected to open on Broadway in spring 2022.

The Grove is pleased to announce that the 2022 participants are (in alphabetical order) Melis Aker, Avi Amon, Jake Bernstein, Jonathan Brielle, Ty Defoe, Nolan Doran, Dr. Amma Y. Ghartey-Tagoe Kootin, Alex Hare, Elliah Heifetz, Paul Hodge, Alphonso Horne, Naomi Iizuka, Jessica Kahkoska, Jesse L. Kearney, Jr., Zhailon Levingston, Nevada Lozano, Peter Mills, Cheeyang Ng, Hayley Gene Penner, Kyle Puccia, Kalani Queypo, Cara Reichel, Jorge Miguel Rivera-Herrans, Benjamin Scheurer, Rona Siddiqui, Eric Sorrels, Khalil Sullivan, Rotana Tarabzouni, Joshua Williams and Zack Zadek .

The outstanding writers who have been invited to participate in the 2022 JMF Writers Grove at Goodspeed have earned tremendous recognition in the industry with honors including Pulitzer Prizes and Grammy Awards, MacDowell Fellowship, Fred Ebb Award, Global Indigenous Heritage Festival Award, Jonathan Larson Award, New Voices Award (Disney/NMI), Harrington Award for Creative Excellence, Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award, Robert Rauschenberg Artist-in-Residence, TED Fellow, ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Lyric Award, ASCAP Foundation Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Award, ASCAP Foundation Max Dreyfus Scholarship, New Music USA Grant, BroadwayWorld Award, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, Show Shepherd Career Launch Fellowship, New Music USA Grant, Brisbane Young & Emerging Artist Fellowship, Dame Joan Sutherland Grant, PEN/Laura Pells Award, Alpert Award, Joyce Foundation Award, Rockefeller Foundation MAP Grant, McKnight Fellowship, Princess Grace Award, and RI International Film Festival Directorial Discovery Award among other awards and nominations.


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