Listen: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Discusses His Early Work & More on THE DRAMATISTS GUILD PRESENTS: TALKBACK

Join host Christine Toy Johnson as she interviews fellow members of the Dramatists Guild Council about what inspires them to create art and what inspires them to create.

By: Oct. 24, 2022
Listen: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins Discusses His Early Work & More on THE DRAMATISTS GUILD PRESENTS: TALKBACK
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The Dramatists Guild of America is presenting season four of The Dramatists Guild Presents: TALKBACK. In the fourth season, the Guild celebrates writers from a diverse array of backgrounds and how they've built meaningful careers within a constantly evolving industry. The first episode of the season debuts today and is available for streaming or download on all podcast platforms.

Listen below!

After two years spent in relative isolation, live theatre is back. What is inspiring our fellow writers these days, and where did it all begin for them? What have they learned from the ways in which they managed to serve their national community of playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists during the pandemic? How can they continue to advocate for a more equitable future, one that champions and uplifts all theatre writers within our ever-expanding community?

Join host Christine Toy Johnson as she interviews fellow members of the Dramatists Guild Council about what inspires them to create art and what inspires them to create community. This season, DG Council members Lynn Ahrens, Amanda Green, Stephen Flaherty, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Michael R. Jackson, Lisa Kron, Rona Siddiqui, John Weidman, and Charlayne Woodard provide a searingly honest look into their writing processes and share what drives them to keep fighting for equal rights and protections for theatre writers everywhere.

From conversations about challenging the industry's status quo to insights on crafting new musicals, these six episodes offer a window into the struggles and triumphs of what it means to be a theatre writer in the 21st century.

"We're so excited to celebrate the return to live theatre by sharing these insightful conversations with some of my treasured colleagues from the Dramatists Guild Council about what inspires them to write and what inspires them to be in service to our national community of writers," says Johnson. "I have so much admiration and gratitude for their unique voices and journeys, their generosity, and the commitment they have each made to protecting the rights of all dramatists, everywhere!"

Read more about this season's upcoming episodes below.

"You should feel weird if they love what you do"

A Conversation with Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

DG Council Vice President Branden Jacobs-Jenkins has made his career by building community with other writers - even if that community started as three blogs in the early aughts. In this episode, Branden tells Talkback host Christine Toy Johnson about his passion for fair and equitable treatment of writers and how his role at the Dramatists Guild enables him to advocate on behalf of his community of fellow playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. He also discusses some of his earliest work as a young writer, revealing how his love of R.L Stine's Goosebumps led to an interest in theatrical adaptation.

"I love being in this lousy hotel room with you creating something of beauty"
A Conversation with Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty

Talkback host Christine Toy Johnson interviews Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, a dynamic musical theatre songwriting duo who have been collaborating together for almost forty years. Even at the height of the pandemic, their writing never stopped. Listen to this episode to learn about what it means to view collaboration as teamwork, how they approached the writing process for their current musical, Knoxville, and what inspired them to launch The Dramatists Guild Fellows Program, a mentorship initiative for playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists, that has nurtured a vibrant generation of diverse writers, including Michael R. Jackson, Ayad Ahktar, and Lauren Yee.

"There is no such thing as failure unless you don't get in the game"

A Conversation with Charlayne Woodard

We're excited to welcome back actress and writer Charlayne Woodard. Back in Season One, Charlayne spoke with Christine Toy Johnson about her experiences marketing her work. In this episode, Charlayne takes us to the beginning of her career, sharing about how her early experience in the oral tradition inspired her to start creating theatre. She goes on to discuss how she overcame resistance from members of her community when she wrote her first play as a high school student, and how her own encounters with inequity have kept her motivated to help support her fellow community of writers.

"Talking is easy, writing is hard"

A Conversation with Lisa Kron and John Weidman

In this episode, Christine interviews her longtime friends and colleagues, Lisa Kron and John Weidman. Both John and Lisa have served as officers on the Dramatists Guild Council; under their purview, the Guild grew to become a national organization that seeks to serve writers of all backgrounds. They discuss the labor relations and gender equity issues that fueled their respective desires to help lead the Guild and talk about what it means to them to advocate on behalf of their community of writers. In addition, John reveals what inspired him to write the musical Pacific Overtures with Stephen Sondheim and Lisa shares her approach to adapting and theatricalizing the musical Fun Home.

"I began writing as a way for me to make sense out of certain things"

A conversation with Rona Siddiqui and Michael R. Jackson

In this episode, hosted by Christine Toy Johnson, Michael R. Jackson and Rona Siddiqui share their creative inspirations, discuss their collaboration on the upcoming musical White Girl in Danger, and reflect upon their respective journeys with the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning musical A Strange Loop. They also discuss the importance of advocating for their community; as active members on the Dramatists Guild Council, both Michael and Rona are passionate champions of supporting and empowering their fellow writers.

"We are the Uber Drivers of the Theatre Industry"

A conversation with Amanda Green

Amanda Green made headlines last year when she became the first female president of the Dramatists Guild of America in its over 100-year history. In this episode, Amanda talks about what DG means to her, telling podcast host Christine Toy Johnson about how the Guild uplifted her during an uncertain time in her life and career. She also discusses the importance of the PRO Act, explains why collective bargaining matters for dramatists, and offers advice on how writers across the country can support each other by being activists in their own communities. In addition, she shares anecdotes from the development process of her two of her recent musical projects, Mr. Saturday Night and Female Troubles and recounts what it was like to make Billy Crystal laugh.

Talkback is a podcast for every playwright, composer, lyricist, librettist, or theatre fan who wants to pull back the curtain to discover the highs and lows of what it means to create theatre and foster community in the complex landscape of American storytelling. Over the course of four seasons, host Christine Toy Johnson and her industry colleagues delve into in-depth conversations about the intricate facets of navigating and sustaining a life in a theatre that strives to make room for everyone.

This season of Talkback was produced by Amy VonMacek and Christine Toy Johnson, with postproduction by John Marshall Media. The music is composed by Andrea Daly. Talkback is a production of the Dramatists Guild of America and is distributed by The Broadway Podcast Network.

Christine Toy Johnson

is a Tony honored, Obie, Rosetta LeNoire, JACL, and Asian American Arts Alliance award winning writer, actor, and advocate for inclusion. Her work has been produced and/or developed by the Roundabout, Village Theatre, O'Neill Center, the Abingdon, Greater Boston Stage Company, Ars Nova, Barrow Group, Prospect Theatre, Weston Playhouse and more, and is included in the Library of Congress's Asian Pacific American Playwrights Collection and published by Rowman & Littlefield, Applause Books, and Smith & Kraus. Christine most recently was awarded the 1st annual Alvin Epstein Memorial Prize for Solo Performance for her new play A Little More Blue. She is the co-director (with Bruce Johnson) and Executive Producer of the multiple award-winning documentary feature Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story. Treasurer of the Dramatists Guild. Co-founder, AAPAC (Asian American Performers Action Coalition). BMI, Writers Lab, Sarah Lawrence College alum. As an actor, Christine has appeared extensively on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in regional theatres across the country and on television and film and currently plays Diane and others in the First National tour of Come From Away. Insta/Twitter: @CToyJ Details:


Since its inception in 1912, THE DRAMATISTS GUILD OF AMERICA has been the professional association for playwrights, librettists, lyricists, and composers writing for the American stage. With over 8,000 members around the world, The Guild is guided by a governing council of writers who each give their time, interest and support to advance the rights of dramatists everywhere, including the right for dramatists to own and control their own copyrighted work. The Guild's advocacy, programs, events, publications and other services provide dramatists with the resources, the community and the support they require to protect their property, their livelihoods, and their unique voices in the american Theatre.


is all about creating an engaging, immersive, user-friendly experience where theatre stories of all kinds can be easily found, shared, and enjoyed. A mix of new, exciting original programming alongside podcasts you already know and love, the Broadway Podcast Network is building the perfect daily digital destination with partnership with tremendously talented content creators, all-star hosts, producers, writers, industry leaders, and storytellers of all kinds. With a vast range of theatre-related programming, Broadway Podcast Network podcasts offer something for everyone, including behind-the-curtain access to the creative process, advice on everything from how to break into the business to how to audition, magical theatre history, candid interviews with your favorite stars, and so much more. Broadway Podcast Network's audience includes theatre professionals and industry leaders, theatre students, up-and-coming artists, and theatre fans from all over the world.


Lynn Ahrens

is a lyricist and librettist with an extensive career in theater, film and television. With longtime collaborator Stephen Flaherty, she won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for the Broadway musical Ragtime and was nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes for Twentieth Century Fox's animated feature film, Anastasia, which they also adapted for Broadway. Additional Broadway: Once On This Island, (Tony Award, Best Revival); Seussical (one of the most produced shows in America); Madison Square Garden's A Christmas Carol (composer Alan Menken); My Favorite Year; Rocky; Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life. Off- Broadway: Lucky Stiff; A Man of No Importance; Dessa Rose; The Glorious Ones; Upcoming: Knoxville; Little Dancer. Film: Lyrics for Anastasia, Camp, After the Storm, Lucky Stiff, Nasrin. Ahrens has been nominated for four Grammys and won the Emmy for her work in network television. She's a mainstay singer/songwriter for the classic animated series Schoolhouse Rock. Her short stories and essays have been published nationally and her work has been nominated for Best American Essays and the Pushcart Anthology. She serves on Council for the Dramatists Guild of America and co-founded the DGF Fellows Program for Emerging Writers with Stephen Flaherty. In 2014 Ahrens and Flaherty received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2015 they were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Stephen Flaherty

is a composer for theater, film and the concert hall. With longtime collaborator Lynn Ahrens, he won Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for the Broadway musical Ragtime and was nominated for two Academy Awards and two Golden Globes for the animated feature film Anastasia, which they also adapted for Broadway. Additional Broadway credits include Once On This Island (Tony Award, Best Revival), Seussical, Rocky, My Favorite Year, Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life (original songs) and Neil Simon's Proposals (incidental music.) Off-Broadway and regional credits include A Man Of No Importance, The Glorious Ones and Dessa Rose (all three at Lincoln Center Theatre); Lucky Stiff (Playwrights Horizons), Little Dancer (Kennedy Center and Seattle 5th Avenue), In Your Arms (Old Globe) and Loving Repeating: A Musical Of Gertrude Stein (About Face.) Upcoming: Little Dancer and Knoxville. Film includes Anastasia, After The Storm, Lucky Stiff and Nasrin. Additional awards include London's Olivier (Best Musical), Chicago's Joseph Jefferson (Best Musical) and four Grammy nominations. He serves on Council for the Dramatists Guild of America and co-founded the DGF Fellows Program for Emerging Writers with Lynn Ahrens. In 2014 Ahrens and Flaherty received the Oscar Hammerstein Award for Lifetime Achievement and in 2015 they were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.

Amanda Green

is a two-time Tony Award-nominated lyricist /composer, Mr. Saturday Night (2022, Lyrics) Hands On A Hardbody (Music & Lyrics). Other Broadway: Bring It On (Tony nom, Best Musical, Drama Desk Nomination, Lyrics), revivals of Kiss Me Kate (Additional Book & Lyrics) & On The Twentieth Century (Addt'l Lyrics) and High Fidelity (Lyrics). Currently writing lyrics for the original musical comedy Female Troubles, a Regency Era Romp about Women's Reproductive Freedoms, set to premiere next Fall. Amanda serves as the first woman President of The Dramatists Guild of America.

Michael R. Jackson

is one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people of 2022. His Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle winning A Strange Loop (which had its 2019 world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in association with Page 73 Productions) received 11 Tony nominations in 2022, and was called "a full-on laparoscopy of the heart, soul, and loins" as well as a "gutsy, jubilantly anguished musical with infectious melodies" by Ben Brantley for The New York Times. In The New Yorker, Vinson Cunningham wrote, "To watch this show is to enter, by some urgent, bawdy magic, an ecstatic and infinitely more colorful version of the famous surreal lithograph by M. C. Escher: the hand that lifts from the page, becoming almost real, then draws another hand, which returns the favor." In addition to A Strange Loop, he also wrote book, music and lyrics for White Girl in Danger. Awards and associations include: a New Professional Theatre Festival Award, a Jonathan Larson Grant, a Lincoln Center Emerging Artist Award, an ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Award, a Whiting Award, the Helen Merrill Award for Playwriting, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk Award, an Obie Award, an Antonyo Award, a Fred Ebb Award, a Windham-Campbell Prize, a Dramatist Guild Fellowship and he is an alum of Page 73's Interstate 73 Writers Group.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

His plays include Girls, Everybody, War, Gloria, Appropriate, An Octoroon, and Neighbors. A Residency Five playwright at Signature Theatre and a 2020 Guggenheim fellow, his honors include a USA Artists fellowship, the Charles Wintour Award, the MacArthur fellowship, the Windham-Campbell Prize for Drama, and the inaugural Tennessee Williams Award. He currently serves as Vice President of the Dramatists Guild council and sits on the boards of Soho Rep, Park Avenue Armory, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and the Dramatists Guild Foundation. Thisfall, he joins the faculty of Yale University as Professor of Practice.

Lisa Kron

is a playwright and performer. She wrote the book and lyrics for the musical Fun Home, which won five Tony Awards including Best Book, Score, and Musical, and which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Other plays include Well, 2.5 Minute Ride (Obie, L.A. Drama-Logue and GLAAD Media Awards), The Ver**zon Play, In the Wake (Lilly Award, Lortel nomination). Acting: Good Person of Szechuan (Lortel Award: Best Supporting Actress), Well (Tony nomination: Best Actress). Honors include: Guggenheim, Sundance, and MacDowell fellowships; Doris Duke, CalArts/Alpert, and Helen Merrill Awards; grants from Creative Capital and NYFA; and an AVNPI residency at Arena Stage. Founding member of the OBIE- and Bessie-Award-winning collaborative theater company The Five Lesbian Brothers, whose plays include Brave Smiles, The Secretaries, and Oedipus at Palm Springs. Lisa is also a member of AEA, SAG, and the WGA, and serves on the boards of MacDowell and The Sundance Institute.

Rona Siddiqui

is a composer/lyricist based in NYC. She is a recipient of the Jonathan Larson Grant and Billie Burke Ziegfeld award and was named one of Broadway Women's Fund's Women to Watch. Her show Salaam Medina: Tales of a Halfghan, an autobiographical comedy about growing up bi-ethnic in America, had a reading at Playwrights Horizons (dir. by Raja Feather Kelly). Other musicals include One Good Day, Hip Hop Cinderella, and The Tin. She has written pieces for Arena Stage, Wicked's 16th anniversary commemoration Flying Free, 24 Hour Musicals, Prospect Theater Company, The Civilians, and has performed concerts of her work at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and Feinstein's/54 Below. She is the recipient of the ASCAP Harold Adamson Lyric Award, the ASCAP Foundation Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Award and ASCAP Foundation/Max Dreyfus Scholarship. Rona is also Music Director of the Broadway show A Strange Loop.

John Weidman

has written the books for a wide variety of musicals, among them Pacific Overtures, Assassins and Road Show, all with scores by Stephen Sondheim; Contact, co-created with director/choreographer Susan Stroman; Happiness, score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, Take Flight and Big, scores by Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire; the new book, co-authored with Timothy Crouse, for the Lincoln Center Theater/Roundabout Theatre/National Theatre revivals of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, and Arrabal, score by Gustavo Santaolalla, directed and co-choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. He is currently working on a musical adaptation of the movie Norma Rae with composer/lyricists Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal. When his children were pre-schoolers, Weidman began writing for Sesame Street, receiving more than a dozen Emmy Awards for Outstanding Writing for a Children's Program. From 1999 to 2009 he served as President of the Dramatists Guild of America.

Charlayne Woodard

Ms. Woodard is a two-time Obie Award winner and a Tony Award nominee. As Playwright: The Garden; Pretty Fire (LA Drama Critics and NAACP awards); Neat (Irving and Blanche Laurie Theatre Vision Award, Outer Critics Circle nomination); In Real Life (Audelco, Backstage West Garland and NAACP awards, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations); The Night Watcher (LA Drama Critics and NAACP awards); and Flight. As Actress: Broadway: Ain't Misbehavin' orignal company (Tony and Drama Desk nominations). Off-Broadway: The Witch of Edmonton (Obie Award); Suzan-Lori Parkes' In The Blood (Obie Award); Daddy, Jeremy O. Harris (Lucille Lortel nomination); Hamlet; WAR, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins; The Substance of Fire, Jon Robin Baitz; Fabulation..., Lynn Nottage; Stunning, David Adjmi; Sorrows and Rejoicings, Athol Fugard (Audelco award); The Caucasian Chalk Circle, dir. George C. Wolfe. Regional: A Midsummer Night's Dream, dir. Chris Ashley; The Taming of the Shrew, dir. Rebecca Taichman; The Good Person of Szechuan, dir. Lisa Peterson; Pretty Fire dir. Michael Greif. Film: M. Night Shyamalan's Glass and Unbreakable; John Sayle's Sunshine State; Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible; John Schlesinger's Eye For An Eye. TV: POSE (series regular); (Recurring): In Treatment, Prodigal Son, Sneaky Pete, Law and Order, Special Victims Unit, ER, Chicago Hope. (Guest Star): All Rise, Bull, Chasing Life; The Leftovers; The Blacklist. Training: Goodman School of Drama; The Actors Studio, member. Guest Artist: USC, CAL ARTS.

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