Show 89 Part 1 – OPERA America Discovery Grant 2020 Recipients

The Indie Opera Podcast is releasing an episode which was recorded in the Spring of 2020 that got derailed during the start of the pandemic, and features all the composer/librettist teams to receive the 2020 OPERA America Discovery Grants which support composers who identify as women in the development of new operatic works and the advancement of their careers in the opera industry.

We are joined by composers Lisa Bielawa, Mary D. Watkins, Milica Paranosic, Johanny Novarro; librettists Claire Solomon, Cheri Magid, and Jose Felix Gomez; and producer Martha Richards. There are lots of music and video highlights in this long-delayed episode, and we include updates on all the projects that they have been creating since the start of the pandemic.


  • Lisa Bielawa, composer & Claire Solomon, librettist of Centuries in the Hours 
  • Mary D. Watkins, composer/librettist & Martha Richards, producer of Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story 
  • Milica Paranosic, composer & Cheri Magid, librettist of Penelope and the Geese 
  • Johanny Novarro, composer & Jose Felix Gomez, librettist of ¿Y los Pasteles?, Ópera Jíbara en Dos Actos (Where are the Pasteles?, Jibaro Opera in Two Acts)
Show 89 Part 1 – OPERA America Discovery Grant 2020 Recipients


What was the impetus and genesis of this new work?

Lisa Bielawa

  • The idea grew out of my residency as a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow 
  • At the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA. 
  • Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the American Antiquarian Society is both a learned society and a major independent research library. The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century. AAS was presented with the 2013 National Humanities Medal by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House.
  • There I began uncovering an entire alternative American history, woven together through the experiences of women from all socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, of all ages, from all corners of the US and its nascent territories,and from all chapters of our history. 
  • I eventually read 72 diaries, representing staggering diversity.
  • Using texts from the stories of five women, Lisa created a song cycle.
  • Designed with the conductor-less orchestra in mind
  • Conductor-less works deal with decentralized leadership.
  • Each part has specific cues for their entrances.
  • Centuries in the Hours is a five-song orchestral cycle
  • Composed expressly for blind mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin.
  • Laurie is an expert in non-visual musical communication.
  • Each song is a setting of a diary excerpt by an American woman whose life circumstances rendered her historically invisible. 
  • The project meditates on the theme of invisibility: How do we, through performance, make visible the invisible, make things vivid in unexpected ways?
  • Commissioned by ASCAP Foundation Charles Kingsford Fund and ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra).
  • ROCO Artistic Director & Founder – Alecia Lawyer
  • Orchestral version premiered September 27, 2019, Miller Outdoor Theater, Houston, TX.

CLIP: Section 1 – Emily

  • Based on various diary excerpts spanning January 1st, 1890 thru March 29, 1890
  • Emily French’s original diary is at Colorado College Special Collections. 
  • The University of Nebraska published an edited version of the diary in 1987.
  • Mezzo-soprano: Laurie Rubin 
  • Conductor: Mei-Ann Chen
  • ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra)
  • Recorded live September 28th, 2019 at The Church of St. John the Divine, Houston, TX.
  • Lisa met Laurie Rubin in 2004
  • John Harbison/Dawn Upshaw Workshop for Composers and Singers 
  • Lisa created a principal role in her opera Vireo for Laurie.
  • Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser 
  • A made-for-TV-and-online opera 
  • Lisa Bielawa, composer
  • Erik Ehn, librettist (based on Bielawa’s research done at Yale archives.) 
  • Charles Otte, director
  • All 12 episodes were broadcast on KCETLink’s Emmy® award-winning arts and culture series Artbound, as well as online for free, on-demand streaming.

Song Cycle transforms into and Opera:

  • Centuries in the Hours brings forward the lives of American women; through the opera, dozens of manuscripts rejoin the flow of public discourse. 
  • Based on extensive research undertaken by Lisa Bielawa at the American Antiquarian Society in 2019, resulting in a collection of 72 American women’s diaries spanning three centuries.
  • Jennifer Koh, a contemporary violinist introduced Lisa to Claire Solomon.
  • Claire Solomon joined Lisa Bielawa & Laurie Rubin to create the opera libretto.
  • This is Claire’s first libretto and her first time collaborating.
  • She is a trained classical pianist.
  • The opera asks the question: What if these women could be lifted out of their historical contexts and respective life circumstances to encounter one another? 

Greg Moomjy Note about the Score:

  • Centuries in the Hours is an extremely colorful opera. I say that because the composer, Lisa Bielawa, has a knack for using instrumental combination and textures to bring out a wide variety of colors from the orchestra. In this way, it is very reminiscent of the painterly quality of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, where the orchestration must reflect sudden changes in atmosphere every time Judith opens another door in the castle.

Broadcast from Home

  • A new work in response to the coronavirus crisis featuring contributions from the public
  • Claire Solomon is the archivist for this project
  • Kaufman Music Center in New York City as Lead Partner
  • Broadcast from Home is a new large-scale work open to contributions from the public that will evolve and premiere in sections here on this page. Then, when group gatherings are possible again, we can perform the whole piece live to memorialize the journey we have completed.
  • I am collecting: YOUR TESTIMONIES, reflecting on experiences of the coronavirus crisis 
  • YOUR VOICES singing melodies that I will write using these testimonies. Your voices will be the building blocks of the new work. 
  • New CHAPTERS will be released each Thursday.
  • By contributing your experiences and your voices from wherever you are in the world, you’ll join the Broadcast from Home project.


  • Chamber Opera in One Act 
  • Based on The Curious Impertinent from 
  • The Ingenious Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes
  • Opera Synopsis:
  • Camila has confined herself in a convent and asks God to grant her the oblivion of her terrible past. In the convent, she remembers that her husband, Anselmo, doubted her love and tested her faithfulness. As part of the test, Anselmo proposed his best friend, Lotario, to seduce Camila to make her fall in love with him. Lotario, hurtfully surprised refuses the proposal. After long obstinacy from his dear friend, Lotario accepts to be the test for Camila’s faithfulness. Throughout the test, love surprised Camila and Lotario and they fell deeply in love with each other. Anselmo, coming upon the love of his friend and his wife, feels betrayed and vows to get revenge. The now new lovers escape to fulfill their new and true happiness. When Camila feels having found her true happiness, her lover Lotario is called to serve in the military during the war. Despite his love for Camila, Lotario fulfills his patriotic duty and dies in the front-line of battle. Camila, tormented and heartbroken decides to confine herself in a convent. Anselmo, demented and hunted by the treachery of his friend and wife, dies of love.
  • Frenesi was Johanny’s first opera score and the beginning of her collaboration with Jose Felix Gomez.
  • The chamber opera received it’s world premiere in Washington, D.C.

CLIP: Scene 3 – Love Duet for Lotario and Camila


  • Camila: Natalia González Santaliz 
  • Anselmo: Jehú Otero Mateo 
  • Lotario: Martín Alicea 


  • Conductor: Daniel Peterson
  • Clarinet: Víctor M. Carrión 
  • Piano: Jiashu Song 
  • Violin I: Enrique Reynosa 
  • Violin II: Shinya Blattmann 
  • Viola: Jean C. Faria 
  • Violincello: Diego Marrero 


  • Director: Wyatt Thompson 
  • Stage Manager: Eliza Durham 
  • Recording: Ismar Colón 
  • Mixing: Manolo Navarro 
  • Mastering: Wiso Rivera Video: NG Productions

Puerto Rico premiere June 14, 2018 at Sala Jesús María Sanromá at the Teatro Bertita y Guillermo L. Martínez of the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico.

Greg Moomjy Note about the Score

  • Listening to Johanny Novarro’s opera, Frenesí, there is something about the way she writes for the voice that reminds me of Puccini. Perhaps it is the melodic contour of the opening aria and the way it interacts with the orchestra. Additionally, judging from the very somber yet emotionally charged use of the orchestra in the opening, you can see that she has a great sense of how to write for the theater. Which in itself is very much like Puccini as well.

Redempcion, 2nd opera by Johanny & Jose still to be produced.

¿Y los Pasteles? (Where are the Pasteles?) is their third opera, and the project that received the Discovery Grant funding. 

  • ¿Y los Pasteles? is a comic opera, guided by Chica, an empowered young woman deeply in love with her country and culture. Throughout the opera, she encounters different situations that make her trust herself to overcome them. She falls in love with her culture and traditions and also with a beautiful soul. The work takes place during Christmastime, and its traditions, such as food, music and festivities, are emphasized.
  • In Puerto Rico Their Christmas Holiday period begins the day after Halloween and ends around St. Valentine’s Day.
  • Pasteles, also known as pastelles in the English-speaking Caribbean, are a traditional dish in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. 
  • In Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and Panama. It looks like a tamale. 
  • In Central American cuisine, it more closely resembles a British pasty or an Italian calzone.
  • Making and serving pasteles at Christmas time is a Puerto Rican tradition. 
  • Pasteles became a special Christmas dish not only because they were hard to make, but also because they resemble a wrapped present. 
  • On El Día de Los Santos Reyes, which is celebrated on January 6, Puerto Ricans honor the three kings who brought presents to Jesus Christ. 
  • The pastel symbolizes a gift, the quality of the gift corresponds directly with the difficulty of making the pastel.
  • Typically, the Christmas pastel consists of some combination of mashed viandas (root vegetables and plantains), a mixture of yautía (malanga) and guineo verde (green banana), olives, garbanzo beans, manteca de achiote (annatto-infused lard), and minced pork, all wrapped in banana leaves and parchment paper. The whole package is boiled in salty water for an hour. The hearty earthiness of the banana leaf and the masa is punctuated by the olives and fresh pork, which have been stewed in sofrito, a paste-like sauce created from cilantro, recao (culantro), green pepper, aji dulce pepper, cubanelle pepper, tomato, onion, oregano, capers, and garlic.

Penelope and the Geese

  • This is Milica Paranosic’s 4th attempt to write an opera. 
  • Her three previous attempts were not completed.
  • It is her first collaboration with Cheri Magid
  • They met via the Composer Librettist Studio
  • New Dramatists, NYC
  • The Libretto by Cheri Magid’s is based on a new translation of the story. 
  • The first libretto draft was written in 5 days for a grant application.
  • In November 2017, W. W. Norton published Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey
  • Written in iambic pentameter verse, Wilson’s Odyssey is a lean, fleet-footed translation that recaptures Homer’s “nimble gallop” and brings an ancient epic to new life.
  • Penelope and the Geese is an opera manifesto that is a feminist retelling of the Penelope story from The Odyssey. It explores the issue of faithfulness, which has two completely different metrics in The Odyssey, one for Odysseus and one — with barely any room to breathe — for Penelope. With this opera, the creative team aims to level that playing field. Wherein we investigate fidelity, love, sensuality and desire from a female perspective.
  • Opera Synopsis:
  • In our opera, Odysseus has just returned home and he and Penelope have just made love for the first time.  Odysseus falls asleep under a large and unusual blanket.  This is what Penelope has been weaving while Odysseus has been gone, rather than the funeral shroud, and unbeknown to Odysseus, it is made from locks of hair from all of Penelope’s lovers. In a recurring motif, Penelope wonders, “Where should I weave his hair?”; where should she weave a lock of Odysseus’ hair into this narrative, in a way that fits her husband, who she loves more than anything, into her experience of those twenty years?  How can she unite these two selves?  Other female characters from the Odyssey– goddesses, demi-goddesses and slaves—add their voice to the mix, bringing their own experience of sexual agency or the lack thereof.  At the end of the opera, Penelope decides to wake Odysseus up, to tell him her experience, for better or for worse. 
  • The opera is scored for harp, flute and cello and those instruments’ ancient twins: ancient lyre, aulos and Serbian gusle. (The players are intended to play both versions of the instruments in performance.) 
  • Paranosic is from Serbia and there is a connection between the ancient oral storytelling tradition in Serbia and in Greece. 
  • The chorus (which can be 3,6, 9 or 12 people) are all sopranos and Penelope is a mezzo-soprano.

Twelve Slaves

  • (This recorded excerpt is part of the section where Penelope sings about all her lovers. Odysseus has returned and is asleep under the quilt she’s woven.)
  • Conductor: James Allen Anderson 
  • Director: Blake Smith
  • Principal Singer: 
  • Kaitlyn Tierney (Penelope) 
  • Chorus/Soloists:
  • Nicole Cherecwich 
  • Cassidy Dixon 
  • Cara Ferro 
  • Hannah Hieronimus 
  • Rachael Lipson 
  • Rachel Pomeranz
  • Musicians: 
  • Sarah Gober, keyboard 
  • Barbara Carden, cello 
  • Rebecca Murphy, flute
  • SUT Theater Sewanee: The University of the South Sewanee Music Festival July 12, 2019
  • Paranosic and Magid were artists in residence at Sewanee University of the South for the summers of 2018 and 2019. 

Greg Moomjy Note about the Score

  • This piece is very reminiscent of Bel Canto opera, especially the works of Bellini. The chamber orchestration and exposed vocal lines create a sense of unending melodiousness. Yet, there’s also great use of sprechstimme. Especially in times when soloists interact with the chorus. This hybrid of dramatically spoken and sung text gives the work an added depth.


  • Mary D. Watkins found the Impetus for this opera when she read Volume 1 of a 3 volume work about the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi.
  • Taylor Branch’s first volume of the trilogy Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 was that book.
  • The other two volumes are: Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65; At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-1968
  • Mary has composed two other operas on historical themes:  
  • Emmett Till: The Opera (about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till).
  • Based on a play and libretto by Clare Coss.
  •  Scheduled for a New York premiere at John Jay College Gerald W. Lynch Theater, October 8th & 9th, 2020.
  • Queen Clara (about Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross).
  • Libretto by Lance Belville
  • Workshopped by Goat Hall Opera Company and Z Space Studio in San Francisco, CA
  • Oakland Opera Company in Oakland, CA
  • Berkeley Arts Center in Berkeley, CA
  • Dark River is the first opera libretto Mary has written.
  • Oakland Opera Theater in California in 2009 gave Dark River it’s first staged workshop production.
  • Martha Richards attended this production and joined the project as a producer from 2009 onwards.
  • Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra in Massachusetts did a concert staging in 2014. 
  • Other Concert versions have been performed in Atlanta & Washington, D.C.


  • Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story is an opera in two acts about Fannie Lou Hamer, the granddaughter of slaves and daughter of sharecroppers who was one of the first African-Americans to register to vote in Mississippi.  
  • She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and she endured death threats, beatings, and imprisonment in order to obtain voting rights for her people. 
  • The opera uses a fusion of classical, spiritual, gospel and protest music to bring to life the story of this heroic woman
  • The libretto traces Fannie’s childhood, her decision to register to vote, her growing leadership as an activist, and her electrifying televised speech during the 1964 Democratic National Convention which focused national attention on the brutal KKK attacks on African-Americans who tried to vote.

CLIP 1: “Fannie’s Song” from Act 1, Scene 6 of Dark River

  • Workshop dress rehearsal
  • Earlier in this scene, Fannie returns from registering to vote.  Pap is afraid of the consequences and tries to persuade her to back down. She refuses.  He recognizes that he cannot get her to change her mind and sings this song about how he loves her for her independent spirit.
  • Credits: 
  • Pap Hamer (Fannie’s Husband): Philip Lima, baritone
  • Conductor: Tian Hui Ng 
  • Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra.

CLIP 2: “Freedom Now” from Act 1, Scene 15 of Dark River 

  • Workshop dress rehearsal
  • The song “Freedom Now” is the finale of Act 1. In this scene members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee rally and march to demand their freedom.
  • Credits: 
  • Fannie Lou Hamer: Andrea Chinedu Nwoke, soprano  
  • Ensemble: Farah Darliette, Melynda Davis, Ernest Jackson, Robert King, Synthia Pullum, Aaron Reeder, Craig Simonetti, Mauri Tetreault, and Miguel Angel Vasquez.  
  • Director: Darryl V. Jones
  • Conductor: Ng Tian Hui
  • Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra
  • Mount Holyoke College on April 4 & 5, 2014

Greg Moomjy Note about the Score

  • There is a baritone aria, “Fannie’s Song,” which has the feel of a romantic aria in the lush vein of Verdi. Think of the “Count di Luna” or “Plebe, Patrizi, Popolo” from Simon Boccanegra. However, the orchestration is very Copland-eqsue in its sense of Americana.

What’s up with and where are our Artists during this Covid-19 shutdown?

  • Johanny & Jose are in Puerto Rico.
  • The island is under Covid-19 shutdown shelter at home rules.
  • There has not been a lot of testing at all!
  • Still rebuilding everything from 2017’s Hurricane Maria damage.
  • Recently experienced a series of earthquakes.
  • Milica & Cheri
  • Milica is in Harlem, NYC.
  • She had already scheduled a self-imposed retreat for all of March and April to finish the opera score’s completion.
  • To quote Katherine Spencer of City Lyric Opera, NYC: “ It’s okay to let yourself just be. To step back and relax for a while.”
  • Cheri is in Saugerties, NY.
  • She is teaching her NYU classes remotely to complete the semester.
  • Mary & Martha
  • Mary is at her home in Oakland, CA. working on Dark River’s score.
  • Martha is working remotely from her home in Berklee, CA. for WomenArts.

Composer & Librettists Short Biographies

BIO: Lisa Bielawa

is a Rome Prize winner in Musical Composition, the recipient of the 2017 Music Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters and was named a William Randolph Hearst Visiting Artist Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society for 2018. Kulturprojekte Berlin recently premiered her work Mauer Broadcast, a series of pop-up choral performances for the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her music has also been premiered at the NY PHIL BIENNIAL, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, SHIFT Festival, and Naumburg Orchestral Concerts. She began touring as the vocalist with the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1992. In 2019, she became the inaugural Composer-in-Residence/ Chief Curator of the Philip Glass Institute at The New School. She received a 2018 Los Angeles Area Emmy nomination for her made-for-TV-and-online opera Vireo: The Spiritual Biography of a Witch’s Accuser, created with librettist Erik Ehn and director Charles Otte. Bielawa is currently at work on her expanded opera version of Centuries in the Hours as well as Broadcast from Home, a new large-scale interactive work in response to the coronavirus crisis. Broadcast from Home combines short compositions by her with performance submissions from the public, as well as their written testimonies about the current experience of living in isolation.

BIO: Claire Solomon

is a writer, translator, and professor of Latin American and comparative literature. She is the author of Fictions of the Bad Life, a book about literary prostitutes, and short fiction and essays about avant-garde theater, anarcho-feminism, Manic Pixie Dream Girls, translation theory and new music.

Solomon’s fiction blurs the line between historical and speculative, pop and avant-garde, to create darkly comic works that are both futuristic and steeped in the past. As a critic, she is known for a multidisciplinary approach to narrative, theater and music, which centers “minor” works by historically marginalized writers.

She speaks several languages, and has translated the work of Roberto Arlt, Lidia Falcón and Juan Goytisolo. She is currently writing a novel about higher education. She is also a classical pianist.

Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature Chair of Hispanic Studies. Education: AB, Oberlin College, Summa cum laude, 1998; MA, MPhil, Yale University, 2001; PhD, Yale University, 2007

BIO: Johanny Navarro

The Puerto Rican female composer, Johanny Navarro have been commissioned, and performed by leading ensembles and soloists, including Elisa Torres, Luis Miguel Rojas, The Catholic University of America Symphony Orchestra, American Harp Society, Inc., and Coralia from the Puerto Rico University. Her piece Celebration for piano trio (2016) was selected by The Arts Club of Washington DC has the music work for the commemoration of its 100th anniversary.

Navarro’s Videntes Stellam for chorus and orchestra (2016) was premiered at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. With this majestic and colorful work, the composer made her debut with the Symphony Orchestra of Puerto Rico, conducted by Maestro Roselín Pabón at the José Miguel Aglerot Coliseum. Her first chamber opera, Frenesí (2017), was premiered in Washington D.C. and later in her country, Puerto Rico, produced by the composer. In the summer of 2019, Navarro was chosen to be part of the Puccini International Opera Composition Course in Luca, Italy; mentored by the maestro, composer, and director Giralomo Deraco. 

The afro-Caribbean influence are Navarro’s cultural inspiration and are especially present in her musical aesthetic. Her music has been performed in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, United States, France, Italy, and Spain.

BIO: José Félix Gómez

(1949). B. A. in Humanities, University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras (1971), M.FA. in Directing, Ohio University (1974), PhD in Literature, Murcia University, Spain, (2007). Mostly known locally as an actor for his interpretation of Marat, Marat- Sade, by P. Weiss (1975); Pedro Navaja, La verdadera historia de Pedro Navaja, by P. Cabrera (1980); Baby, Mandrake and Papá Morrison, in Quintuples, by L. R. Sánchez, (1985); Cyrano, in Cyrano Of Bergerac, E. Rostand (1993), and George, Who´s afraid of Virginia Woolf? by E. Albee (2004). Worked as a professor at the Drama Department, University of Puerto Rico (1974 – 2010). Member of Teatro del Sesenta, Inc. for which has directed over ten stage productions, and performed as an actor in Santo Domingo, Cuba, Venezuela, Spain, Costa Rica, México, Colombia, New York (under Joe Papp production) and Washington (Kennedy Center For The Arts). As a movie actor, outstands his roles in Jacobo Morale´s, Angel (1997), and in A. M. Cruz´s, ¿Quién eres tú? (2017). Among his dramatic production outstand, El bombón de Elena, (2000); El turroncito mágico, (1985); Fuego en el alma, (film) (2002), and Frenesí, (opera) 2019.

BIO: Milica Paranosic

is a Serbian-born composer, performer, educator, producer currently living in New York City. Her work was supported, commissioned and  presented by organizations such as LMCC, NYSCA, ASCAP, Whitney Museum, New Dramatists, HERE Arts Center, American Composers Orchestra, LVMH Moët Hennessy/ Louis Vuitton, Vision Into Art, Buglisi Dance Theater, Joyce Theater, Symphony Space, Zankel Hall/Carnegie, Alice Tully Hall/Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, BAM Café, Bohemian National Hall among others. Intercontinental highlights include BEMUS (Serbia), EtnaFest (Italy) and UFBA (Brazil).

Milica’s works range from one-woman multimedia shows, theatrical soccer chants, sound installations to operatic and symphonic works. Paranosic’s musical and performance style, which often blends contrasting elements creating unpredictable results, has been compared to “liquor-filled pralines,” (Morgenpost), and ’edgily comical’ (Klaus Klingbeil Der Lausitzer Rundschau Germany)

Milica earned her Master’s Degree in composition from The Juilliard School where she was a music faculty for over 20 years; a positions she has recently  order to dedicate her time to writing, teaching and producing, and to running her Harlem-based non-profit for music and multimedia, Paracademia Center, Inc.

BIO: Cheri Magid

The opera Penelope and the Geese, for which she wrote the libretto and Milica Paranosic composed the music, will have a workshop production August 2020 co-produced by ShoutOut Saugerties and 11 Jane Street Gallery in Saugerties, NY and will have two concert performances in Mexico City in October at the historic Anfiteatro Simón Bolívar. Cheri’s plays have been seen at Primary Stages, New Georges, The New Group, The Women’s Project, Rattlestick and South Coast Rep, among others.   She was the inaugural Susan P. Stroman Playwright at University of Delaware and the Tennessee Williams Playwright at Sewanee, where she also had a two-summer residency for Penelope and the Geese. She is a member of Dorset Theatre Festival’s Women Artists Writing group, was a 2014 Audrey Resident at New Georges, and a 2014 Walter E Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Cheri has been commissioned by Cincinnati Playhouse, South Coast Rep, The Keen Company, and the Southern Foodways Alliance. Cheri is writing a podcast for Pretty Matches, Sarah Jessica Parker’s company.  She wrote for the Emmy-award-winning television show Arthur and is an Assistant Arts Professor of Dramatic Writing at NYU Tisch.

BIO: Mary D. Watkins

is a composer, arranger, performer, and recording artist based in Oakland, California.  She has composed three operas on historical themes – Dark River: The Fannie Lou Hamer Story (about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer), Emmett Till: The Opera (about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till), and Queen Clara (about Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross). Trained in classical music at Howard University, her music is a passionate mixture of classical, jazz, gospel, and blues influences.  Her opera about Fannie Lou Hamer was staged by Oakland Opera Theater in California in 2009 and by the Mount Holyoke Symphony Orchestra in Massachusetts in 2014. Concert versions have been performed in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.  There are plans for a New York production of Emmett Till: The Opera at John Jay College this year. 

Watkins has released four albums of her own compositions, and she has been featured on many others as a composer, arranger, and performer. She has written music for individual singers, theatrical productions, films, instrumental ensembles, and symphony orchestras. In the Bay Area, she is especially well-known for her jazz adaptation of The Nutcracker Suite, which was performed annually by San Francisco’s Dance Brigade for many years. 

BIO: Martha Richards 

is the Founder and Executive Director of WomenArts, formerly known as The Fund for Women Artists. Prior to WomenArts, Richards served as Executive Director of Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College and as Managing Director of StageWest, a regional theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts. She writes and lectures frequently on arts and cultural policy issues.

Richards has been frequently recognized for her commitment to women and to the arts. In April 2006 she was one of three U.S. nominees (with Quincy Jones and Wynton Marsalis) for the prestigious international Montblanc De La Culture Award for outstanding service to the arts. In April 2009 she was inducted into the BayPath College 21st Century Women Business Leaders Hall of Fame for her work in philanthropy. She has been honored as one of three “founding mothers” of the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts.  In 2018 StateraArts created an  award in her honor, the Martha Richards Visionary Woman in Leadership Award, which is given annually to a visionary woman who uplifts, amplifies, and advances women in the arts.

Richards has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California Berkeley and a J.D. from the University of California Hastings College of Law.  She is a member of the California bar, and she was one of the founding directors of California Lawyers for the Arts. 

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