First Draft – Our First Story Summit

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By Bridget Morgan, Senior PR & Communications Manager

It’s going to be a busy week at The 5th Avenue Theatre…

Nine writing teams made up exclusively of womxn, gender non-conforming and non-binary folkx will be onsite at The 5th for an intensive 5-day development process as they mold their concepts for new musicals into pitches with an accompanying couple of songs. On Day 5, they present their pitches to a panel of theater industry professionals. This panel will make recommendations to The 5th for three to five pieces to receive a “First Draft Commission.” The spirits are high. The staff is ready. This week marks our very first First Draft Story Summit.

Designed to introduce and nurture new musical theater writers from traditionally marginalized populations, each cycle of First Draft: Raise Your Voice will shepherd writing teams representing intentionally-targeted communities across a 12-month development cycle. The first cycle solicited submissions from womxn, gender non-conforming and non-binary folkx. They needed only submit a bio and a concept – no music, no pages, no references, no experience necessary. Just an invitation to share ideas.

In the space of a few months, we received over 80 submissions! A panel of respected professional womxn in the Seattle theater landscape reviewed all of these and made recommendations to The 5th with regard to which projects most merited further development. This review process was thrilling and fascinating. This under-represented population had so much they wanted to talk about, with story themes including intersectional feminist history; aging; nuclear disaster; immigration; coming out; and #metoo; a group of women who must decide if saving the world holds value if it means preserving the patriarchy; a re-telling of a classic piece of English literature told from the perspective of the female characters who wish to be more than a plot device. There was humor. There was grief. There was gritty reality. There was escapist fantasy. Not one submission was a classic love story.

The panel identified nine pieces of theater that should move forward to the next round of the program: a week-long story summit at The 5th during which teams will develop their pitch, a few songs, and a few pages of dialogue. The Story Summit will take place September 24-28.

The Story Summit Participants include:

Women’s Suffrage Musical
Rachel Atkins (Book & Lyrics)
Shontina Vernon (Book, Music & Lyrics)
Catherine Harris-White (Music & Lyrics)
Local Writing Team

This ambitious musical project posits that although women were granted the right to vote in 1920, the suffrage movement is ongoing today. Spanning nearly 80 years, the powerful female characters in this epic musical will grapple with race wars, class wars, conflicts between moderate and radical activists, a female presidential candidate, and much more.

From the writers:
“In Trump’s America, the women’s suffrage movement gets more relevant every day. We’ve seen the phenomenon of Hamilton, and how it has empowered people of color and marginalized communities to connect to American history, making it accessible to those who might otherwise feel alienated by it—although there wasn’t much for the ladies, was there? We believe that a contemporary approach to the women’s suffrage movement (and the issues that women of color continued to face around voting afterward) could have the same kind of impact, particularly in today’s social and political landscape.”

Bha Zhang
Emily Chiu (music & lyrics)
Lauren Taslitz (book & lyrics)

After the death of her Ah Mah (grandma), Alice, a 17-year-old Taiwanese-American, just wants to taste her grandma’s special bha zhang (a glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves) but cannot track down the recipe. Desperate for connection to her Ah Ma and her Taiwanese heritage, Alice sets out on a fevered quest to discover the recipe, which leads her to a community of dumpling-making grandmas who guide Alice through her grief and (eventually) to the dumpling.

From the writers:
Bha Zhang is about the power of food and the complicated relationship women have with it. Historically, responsibility for food prep has been foisted upon women—as it continues to be in most places—while we are also taught not to consume it (because we’ll get fat.) Yet even women who resent this and view it as a burden understand at a deep level that food creates community and bolsters identity by attaching us to a specific individual, heritage, or tradition. We use food to find comfort and to give comfort; to fill both literal and figurative holes/hunger. We cook for others to nurture and express our love. And, you have to eat.”

Leslie Wisdom (book & lyrics)
Annastasia Workman (music & lyrics)
Local Writing Team

Prepare yourself for the story of the longest-running, least attended off-off-off Broadway musical in history, inspired by truly unbelievable true events. CRIME! TO MUSIC is shrouded in misery and mystery. The script is abysmal. The lead is worse. Critics hate it. Understudies disappear without a trace. Yet, an anonymous benefactor underwrites the show for 31 years. Determined to land a front page story, a New York Times reporter goes behind the scenes to uncover the mysteries and finds more than she bargained for.

From the writers:
“Theatre creates community; a place where we come together to imagine, dream, wonder and learn. To be challenged and entertained. I strive to tell stories that are relevant, vibrant, unique, honest and crafted with great care and respect of the audience’s time and attention. I see each story as an opportunity to connect with people. My deepest hope is that audiences will find pieces of themselves and their fellow man in every story and will be better for having taken the journey.”

Joshua/Cifrese/Ragusa: Unnamed Project
Jasmine Joshua (book, music, and lyrics)
Alexei Cifrese (lyrics)
Heather Ragusa (music and lyrics)
Local writing team

In the small town of Ennytown, Indiana, Sam Brown has been spending too much time on the internet which can only mean one thing: trouble. Famous Aunt Meredith is coming home for a family reunion, and in an attempt to get to know this emotionally distant relation through the gossip pages online, Sam discovers troubling concepts like “gender isn’t the same as sexuality” and “trans umbrella” that unearth some big feelings and trigger some big personal questions. Questions that can’t be asked in a Catholic conservative family or among co-workers at the local Pizza Hut. But maybe Aunt Meredith…

From the writers:
“In this musical, we want to explore what it’s like to discover your gender and sexuality for the first time, especially when you’re living in an area that doesn’t have the community, and therefore the vocabulary, to help you with discovery. It’s a story that explores representation—if you don’t see it, how can you be it? … We want to use humor and music to explore coming out with all its pitfalls—explaining it to those who don’t get it, living authentically in public, not knowing all the answers—and to show that it’s never too late to become yourself.”

Elizabeth Heffron (book and lyrics)
Hope Wechkin (music and lyrics)
Local Writing Team

Meet Heather, Rashid, Lin, and Stan. Four Americans with nothing in common…except they all have type A- blood and identical biomarkers—and they are all in need of a liver transplant. As they each vie to get higher on the recipient list, we discover their histories, hopes, and secrets. Now, meet Charlene on the morning she is set to drive to her parent’s house. By nightfall, she will give these four people the possibility of a most precious gift. By nightfall, only one of them will have received it. MELD takes us on a journey through the confusion, heartbreak, and euphoria that is our current organ donor system.

About the writers:
Hope Wechkin is known for her ability to bring together seemingly disparate worlds of art, medicine and thought. Wechkin is a physician practicing as a specialist in hospice and palliative medicine at EvergreenHealth in Kirkland. Featured as one of six physicians in Seattle Magazine’s Top Docs 2015, and honored again with this recognition in 2018, Wechkin is also a singer, violinist, and composer whose one-woman show, Charisma, played an extended run to sold-out audiences at ACT in 2008.

Elizabeth Heffron’s plays include Bo-Nita, which won TCG’s Edgerton New Play Award and received its world premiere at Seattle Rep in 2013, Portugal, selected for Northern Stage’s New Works Now Program in 2017 in Vermont, and Mitzi’s Abortion: a Saint’s Guide to Late-Term Politics and Medicine in America, first produced at ACT – A Contemporary Theatre and since performed across the country.

Kit Yan (book and lyrics)
Melisa Li (book, music, and lyrics)

Pam is an unremarkable transgender woman in her mid-forties who has been living a basic life in a one-bedroom apartment in Cranbury, New Jersey and working in a toll booth on a New Jersey Turnpike. Shy but sweet, and very averse to risk, she spends most days at home binging on Netflix with her pet fish for company. When Pam’s father dies suddenly from a heart attack, she convinces a ragtag group of trans friends to join her in an attempt to realize her father’s late dream and win the Midwestern Regional Aerobics Competition championship. But in order to win, she must beat her high school arch nemesis!

From the writers:
“Our work is a dreamspace where queer and transgender folx time travel in order to witness, remember and heal our herstories. We hold writing as a spaceship into the borderless ancestral past, the puzzle pieces of an imagined queertureverse, and a lifeline back onto this earth. Here, we can ground, explore and discover stories on our own terms—messy, ugly, and wholly beautiful.”

Sinutoke/Dawis: Unnamed Project
Tidtaya Sinutoke (music)
Isabella Dawis (book and lyrics)

For ages, the tallest mountain in the world has lured hundreds of would-be conquerors to their deaths. A young woman named Aom sets out to become the first Thai-American woman to reach the summit. With the company of a precocious teenage Sherpa and a ragtag group of hopeful climbers from around the world, Aom is tested constantly be the terrain As she stumbles across the deadly history of the mountain, frozen in time, the borders between countries and cultures—past and present—waking and dreaming—begin to blur.

From the writers:
“Our writing partnership is founded on the concept of multicultural expression in America. After working together on an evening of new plays about cultural identity with the Living Room Theater in 2017, we began an ongoing collaboration. As a Thai immigrant and a first-generation Filipino-American, we desire to create work fusing Asian and American perspectives, expanding the musical theater canon, and providing a platform for visibility for Asian/Asian American performers.”

The Last Babushka
Amy Wheeler (book)
Natalie Nowystki (music)

About Amy Wheeler:
Amy Wheeler is the Executive Director of Hedgebrook, the renowned retreat and writer’s residency on Whidbey Island. Over 12 years she has led the organization from a small local nonprofit to a global community of women authoring change, recognized for supporting and nurturing the careers of some of the most influential writers, poets, playwrights, filmmakers, and songwriters of our time. Under Amy’s leadership, Hedgebrook has been selected for the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award for Arts & Innovation and an achievement award from Humanitas. Amy is a playwright, actor and alumna of Hedgebrook and Yaddo. Her plays (including: Every Atom, A Mighty Craic, Wizzer Pizzer: Getting Over the Rainbow, Driven, Two Birds & A Stone, and Intersection) have been produced and developed in New York (at the Lark Play Development Center, the Greenwich Street Theatre, and the Guggenheim Museum), in the Bay area Playwright’s Festival, at Portland’s Stark Raving Theatre and in Portland Center Stage’s JAW West Festival, and Seattle’s Theatre22 and the Capitol Hill Arts Center.

Tides of Fortune
Mara Elissa Palma (book)
Rheanna Tendido (music and lyrics)
Local Writing Team

Worlds clash aboard the Fortunata, a cruise ship routed between Manila, Philippines and Honolulu, Hawai’i. Passengers aboard the boat are seeking a meaningful way to connect with their heritage, grappling with identity and belonging. Meanwhile, the ship’s entertainer, a Filipinx drag king named Reyna, is driving toward the future with big hopes and dreams. This musical examines the price we pay for the American Dream and reminds us that in an ocean of dreams, each person must steer her own course, no matter how rough the seas.

About the writers:
Mara E. Palma is a performer, playwright, director, and producer. Her artistic mission statement is to bring big, bold stories to life about women—especially women of color—who take control of their own destinies. Born in the Philippines and having lived in California, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, she moved to Seattle for the Intiman Emerging Arts Program where she worked with Sara Porkalop and Dedra Woods.

Rheanna Atendido is a singer-songwriter and theater artist born and raised in Seattle. Being a first generation Filipino-American, her mission in life is to create art that truthfully reflects the Asian-American experience and puts womxn of color at the forefront of storytelling.




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