Wisconsin Wrights

Wisconsin Wrights and Forward Theater Company support and develop new theatrical work, awarding Wisconsin playwrights with the rare opportunity to develop their plays in a professional public reading series.


The 2017 WI Wrights New Play Festival selections:

HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR by Eric Appleton (Madison), directed by Samuel D. White
Benton Hamm, condiment magnate, has come to the island kingdom of Rhipidos to acquire the world's finest olive oil. This hysterical farce follows his travails as he braves chain-smoking artists, hard-drinking art dealers, amateur cookbook authors, tennis with the King, lusty Russian diplomats, and a coup d'etat.

DIONYSUS ON THE DOWN LOW by Michael Proft (Cedarburg), directed by Dana Pellebon
LGBT activist David Okello flees his native Uganda after an anti-homosexuality bill is proposed in Ugandan parliament and his life is threatened. Settling in Boston, MA, with Matthew Teitman, an ACLU LGBT expert who helped him obtain political asylum, the two men embark on a relationship. The play explores where the sexual and political meet, and where disparate cultures, values and desires struggle to find common ground. NOTE: This play contains strong language and sexual situations. It is intended for mature audiences.

NO WAKE by Erica Berman (Madison), directed by Jake Penner
With determination and a bullhorn, elderly Peter Michaels is on a mission to save the loons of Lake Winnipesaukee, who are dying in record numbers. His summer expectations are thwarted by Sarah, a townie teenager hired to clean the house next door. No Wake tells the story of an intergenerational bond sprung out of loneliness and loss that forces this unlikely pair to confront their fears and teach each other how to move on.

When: September 21st - 23rd, 2017
Where: Fredric March Play Circle, Wisconsin Memorial Union, Madison, WI

Special thanks to the Wisconsin Union Theater and The Marcia Légère Binns Distinguished Playwright Residency Fund, whose generosity made the use of the Fredric March Play Circle possible.



Eric Appleton (Playwright, Hamm in Love and War) is an associate professor of scenic and lighting design at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. His ten minute plays have been performed at festivals in Chicago, Toronto, and Washington DC.  Full length work includes: Among the Squirrels, produced by Chicago’s The Black Ship Co. and which was also given a staged reading as part of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Monty Davis new play development program. homeland was produced by Buffalo’s Road Less Traveled Production and given a staged reading by Urban Stages (NY). Ghostbears! was produced this past summer at San Antonio's Overtime Theatre. He and his colleague Tracey Lyons just wrote a text book for teachers called Teaching Introduction to Theatrical Design, which is due out from Focal Press later this year. He and his husband live in Madison, WI.

Erica Berman (Playwright, No Wake) is thrilled to be selected for the Wisconsin Wrights Festival. In April, No Wake will be furthur developed as part of the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series at Milwaukee Chamber Theater. Most recently, her monologue "The Power" was chosen for Forward Theater’s Out of the Fire - Banned Books Monologues. As the Director of Education at Children's Theater of Madison, Erica produces the Young Playwrights program, which culminates in a festival of one acts by high school students. Erica received a BA in Theatre Arts from Mount Holyoke College and a MA in Theatre Education from Emerson College. Her theses at both institutions focused on playwriting and both pieces won awards.

Michael Proft (Playwright, Dionysus on the Down Low) Michael’s previous play, FAITHLESS, was presented at Wisconsin Wright’s 2015 New Play Festival. It was subsequently performed at the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre as part of their Montgomery Davis Play Development reading series. Michael is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.


Jo Chaloub (Stage Manager) Jo received a minor in Theatre Arts from UW-Milwaukee and moved to Madison in 2010.  Since then, she has worked both on- and off-stage for several professional, university, and community theaters in the area.  Forward Theater credits include working on the stage management teams for THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION, A THOUSAND WORDS, LOVE STORIES, BABYLON: A STAGED READING, IN A CLEARING with Wisconsin Wrights, MR. BURNS: A POST-ELECTRIC PLAY, the “Beyond the Page” monologue series at Dane County libraries and playing hostess for Feast Forward in the past.  Many thanks to the Forward Family for their continued encouragement and support.  


Jim Buske (Actor, NO WAKE) is a founding member of the Forward Theater Company and serves on its Advisory Company.  With Forward Theater, he has appeared in ALL ABOUT EVE, MOONLIGHT & MAGNOLIAS, FROM UP HERE and (briefly!) THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION, as well as the staged readings of KIRITSIS, UNCIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, STANDING ON CEREMONY: THE GAY MARRIAGE PLAYS, OATSLAND and FAITHLESS.  Jim was also an original member of the Madison Repertory Theatre’s acting company and appeared in 11 productions there.  He will be in Forward Theater’s January production of EXIT STRATEGY.

Liz Cassarino (Actor, HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR) Liz is honored to be involved in The Wisconsin Wrights Play Festival and to be working with Forward Theater again. Other Forward credits include SILENT SKY (Margaret) and THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION (Pem Farnsworth). Other Madison credits include YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (Essie Carmichael), THE THREEPENNY OPERA (Lucy Brown), VALPARAISO (Livia Majeski), INTO THE WOODS (Baker’s Wife), BLOOD WEDDING (Maid); THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE (Rona), Andrew Lippa’s WILD PARTY (Queenie). Liz also works locally as a dialect/vocal coach, voice over artist and a teaching artist at CTM. Now let’s celebrate these playwrights!

Jason Compton (Actor, HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR) is pleased to make his Forward Theater Company debut. He recently appeared in THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS, produced by Left of Left Center and directed by Forward Theater Company’s Jake Penner. Other recent credits include SLOSHED SHAKESPEARE: MACBETH, AS YOU LIKE IT, ANGER DANCE, BETA BLOCKERS: GENERATIONS, and ARE WE DELICIOUS? SCIFI. He will appear in Madison Theatre Guild’s production of WAIT UNTIL DARK in November. Jason is executive director of Madison Shakespeare Company.

Samara Frame's (Actor, HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR) theatrical highlights include Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum in Los Angeles: CYMBELINE (Arviragus), A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Puck, Hermia), AS YOU LIKE IT (Celia), THE THREE MUSKETEERS (Queen Anne), DRACULA (Vampire Mistress), MERLIN (Asis). Samara has performed in two one-woman shows MY NAME IS RACHEL CORRIE and Teresa Rebeck’s hit play BAD DATES with Foothill Theatre Company. She originated the role of Mutti in AND THEN THEY CAME FOR ME, by James Still. Samara worked as a professional stage mime, had the honor of training with Marcel Marceau and graduated from Northwestern University. This is her first performance with Forward Theater and in Madison. 

Karen Moeller (Actor, HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR) is delighted to be a part of Wisconsin Wrights and to support new works by Wisconsin playwrights. Karen has been on the Forward stage in THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION, IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY), FROM UP HERE, and LEARNING TO STAY. Karen is proud to call Madison home, and has worked with many of its fabulous theater companies. A busy voiceover actor and commercial actor. Karen is also the Artistic Associate for Forward, and is grateful for the theatrical home Forward has created for so many Wisconsin theater professionals.

Francisco C. Torres (Actor, HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR) has had the opportunity to work from coast to coast. However, he has certainly enjoyed working in Madison. His most recent productions have been "Melancholy Play" for Krass, and "As You Like It" for Madison Shakespeare Company. He has also written, produced, and directed several commercials, stage productions, and films. Francisco is a founder of the independent film company Frozen Stage Films and is the Artistic Director for Madison Shakespeare Company. He is looking forward directing "Sloshed Shakespeare: Macbeth" once again, plus directing "Henry IV, Part 1" for MSC. He thanks Forward Theater and his family.

Lee Waldhart (Actor, HAMM IN LOVE AND WAR) is excited for his first role with Forward Theater Company. He has been a regular fixture at West High Drama for almost 25 years, directing, designing and building sets. He is familiar face to Madison area theater goers, and has been an avid supporter of community theater for over 40 years. An actor, director, instructor and set designer, he has over 200 stage productions under his belt. He wishes to thank his wonderful and talented wife for agreeing to marry such a character and putting up with him for over 27 years. Unique fact: Toured as a stand-up comic and ‘magicomedian’ for 8 years. Performed on Broadway, Disney’s Epcot Center, the COMEDY STORE and THE IMPROV in L.A. and won the title of “Wisconsin’s Funniest Man” in 1984.

Marcy Weiland (Actor, DIONYSUS ON THE DOWN LOW) has been acting in Madison since 1975. She is a charter member of Mercury Players Theatre and was Artistic Director from 1995 to 2001.  Favorite roles include Kerr in the one-man play CHESAPEAKE (Lee Blessing), Lisa in WELL (Lisa Kron), Nat in RABBIT HOLE (David Lindsay-Abaire), and on the musical side, Jeanette in THE FULL MONTY and Aunt Eller in OKLAHOMA. She also spent ten years as keytar diva for local dance band VO5. Marcy is currently Board President of Encore Studio for the Arts, a professional company for actors with disabilities and a local treasure.



In a Clearing by Karen Saari

Synopsis: Set in a small town in Northern Wisconsin, In a Clearing centers around Mark, a newly recovering alcoholic embarking on a relationship with Pam, a childhood friend who has returned home in the wake of a family tragedy. As Mark copes with sobriety, he begins to suffer from flashbacks to an event that may eventually threaten his relationship and the life he is trying to rebuild.

Additional Development:

- In a Clearing was accepted into the PlayLab at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Alaska (2017)

- Playwright Karen Saari named finalist for the ATHE Award for Excellence in Playwriting for In a Clearing. (ATHE is the Association for Theatre in Higher Education)

- Member Open Play reading at Playwrights Center in Minneapolis on Oct. 16, 2016.

- Semi-finalist in Capital Stage's Playwrights Revolution (Sacramento)

- Semi-finalist in IATI Theater's Cimientos 2017 (New York City)

Faithless by Michael Proft

Synopsis: In 1906 Boston, journalist Sibyl Wilford O’Bryne interviews the renowned Mary Baker Eddy, 86, founder of Christian Science. Eddy has recently been under attack by Joseph Pulitzer’s gutter press, who dispute Eddy’s mental and physical competency. As the women’s relationship grows, it becomes clear that Eddy is not the only one who is in crisis.

Additional Development:

- Staged reading at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in May 2016 as part of the Montgomery Davis Play Development Series

Learning to Stay by James DeVita

Synopsis: Adapted from the 2013 novel by Madison-based author Erin Celello, Learning to Stay asks what you would do when the person you're married to is no longer the person you married. Attorney Elise Sabatto is thrilled when her husband returns home in one piece from his military service in Iraq. But as the after-effects of his trauma set in, Elise must find a way to help him – and save herself.

Additional Development:

- World Premiere - Commissioned as part of Forward Theater Company's 2016-17 mainstage season, produced in March 2017


Waiting by Kimberly Megna Yarnall

Synopsis: Crystal and John are married professionals who shop at REI, and eat canned soup sometimes because it's easier. They also can't get pregnant. Armando and Darla guide the audience along on Crystal and John's quest for a baby, often playing the other characters Crystal and John have to deal with: fertility doctors, nosy colleagues, overly-friendly dentists. It's a story about wanting something and having to wait for it, and how to negotiate life in the interim.

Additional Development:

- Staged Reading at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in October 2013 as part of The Montgomery Davis Play Development Series

Discovering Austen by Kristin Hammargren

Synopsis: Visit the dressing room of an actor who has been cast as Jane Austen herself. Still searching for the essence of her character only hours from opening, she explores Austen’s writing in an attempt to find the author in the pages of her novels and letters.

Additional Development:

- On April 15th-24th of 2014, Kristin performed the show at 6 libraries around Madison through a Beyond the Page grant.

Coyote Moon by Sam D. White

Synopsis: Life can be hard for a young man just starting out. Especially if you just lost your job, your girlfriend is having your baby and marrying another guy, and, on the next full moon, you're pretty sure you're going to turn into a were-coyote. Maybe the best thing to do is go out back at your mom's country-side tavern, lock a tow chain around your neck, and hope for the best... but then again, maybe not.

Additional Development:

- Produced by the Bartell Theatre in April 2016
- Staged Reading produced by The Bricks Theatre on April 21, 2014, at the Bartell Theatre in conjunction with their production of Oatesland which premiered on April 17, 2014


Oatesland by Sam D. White

Synopsis: A small 3-person, covert military intelligence team is stationed in an old, abandoned weather station in a remote Antarctic location. Their dubious mission - to spy on a nearby Russian research station. From the onset, things are out of whack. The weather is too warm, rare animals not normally seen are abundant, and a ghostly presence is haunting the station. The long hours and isolation take their toll on the soldiers. A complex set of events and deteriorating mental states send the team spiraling into a dark and inescapable conclusion.

Additional Development:

- Produced by Bartell Theatre in April 2014
- Workshop and staged reading with Forward Theater in May 2012
- Workshop and Staged Reading with The Bricks Theatre in May 2013

October, Before I was Born by Lori Matthews

Synopsis: In the early hours after an industrial explosion, three family members await word on the fate of their loved ones employed at the facility. Martha, Anne and Houston are stranded together in a rural farmhouse, without a car and with only limited information about the unfolding disaster. As Martha attempts to diffuse Anne’s rising hysteria, Houston’s misguided efforts only serve to fuel the emotional explosions building in the family kitchen.

Additional Development:

- Workshop and Staged Reading as part of the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights in Abingdon, VA in August 2011
- Workshop and Stage Reading with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in September 2011
- Full Production by The Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Virginia in October 2012
- Full Production by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, February 19-March 9, 2014

The Kid Thing by Sarah Gubbins

Synopsis: Lesbian couples Lee & Darcy and Nate & Margot are the closest of friends - that is, until a dinner party announcement brings major change. It’s all fun and games until someone mentions “the kid thing” in this new play about attraction, maternal instinct and parenthood.

Additional Development:

- Full Production by the Chicago Dramatists Guild in October 2011


Broken and Entered by Kurt McGinnis Brown

Synopsis: Vern and Wally inherit the house in the poor neighborhood they grew up in. Vern hatches a plan: throw out everything and then break into houses to fill up the house again with itemsfrom what he imagines are other people's better lives. Wally secretly plans another kind of escape with Jamila, who has moved back to this neighborhood where she too grew up. When these plans clash, this play about race, poverty, rage, and love reaches a brutal climax that reveals the consequences of trying to become a stranger to one's past.

Additional Development:

- Full Production by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in September 2012
- Staged reading at ART/New York, New York, NY, June 2010. Thom Rivera, director
- Finalist in Reverie Productions Next Generation Playwriting Contest, 2010
- Workshop and staged reading by Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in March 2010 as part of their Montgomery David Play Development Series. Susan Fete, Renaissance Theaterworks, director

The Lightning Bug by Rand Higbee

Synopsis: The year is 1939. The offices of the Magnopolis Daily News are buzzing over the rumored return of Dr. Kasady, the evil genius intent on global domination. As the reporters fight to get the scoop, little do they realize that one of their own, the unassuming Rishamie Reid, holds the key to defeating Kasady and saving the world.

Additional Development:

- Full production at Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez, Alaska, in April of 2011
- Full production at St. Mary's University in Winona, MN, Sept 2010
- Finalist in Lionheart Theatre's 2010 Make the House Roar contest

Kiritsis by David Ray Schanker

Synopsis: The play tells the true story of a small-time real estate developer who in 1977 abducted the mortgage broker who foreclosed on the property where he had hoped to build a strip mall. Anthony Kiritsis held his hostage for three days, venting his frustration on live radio and ultimately on television. The play explores the relationship between the two men - one volatile and anti-religious, the other conservative and devout - in the pressure cooker of the hostage situation.

Additional Development:

- Workshop and staged reading of “Kiritsis” by Forward Theater Company in May 2010
- Forward dedicated their Monologue Festival in February 2011 to David and featured the premiere of a monologue written by him.


Choke Cherry Corners by Ludmilla Bollow

Synopsis: Tavern & Dance Hall Victims of the Great Depression, a Wisconsin family is forced to live in a closed down tavern and dance hall, once the scene of immigrant celebrations. Auntie Iris, the colorful and gaudy traveling relative arrives for her annual visit on the evening of Celia's twelfth birthday. A night of celebration and family intrigues follows. By morning, all these intertwined lives have been frayed and shredded. A bittersweet portrayal of a Midwest family surviving Depression hard times.

The Front Steps by Marcia Jablonski

Synopsis: The Front Steps chronicles the transformation of a Chicago neighborhood from the mid-1970’s through the start of the new century. An unexpected community of characters is formed as the residents watch their surroundings change from a refuge for immigrants, to a haven for artists and eventually a magnet for real estate speculators. The play also explores the definition of “family.”

Additional Development:

- Staged Reading by Merit Theatre & Film group at Thirteenth Street Repertory Theatre in New York City in March 2013
- Recipient of the first New Work Development Grant, a cooperative effort of the Wisconsin State Arts Board, Edenfred and Overture Center for the Arts
- Full Production at The Alley Stage in Mineral Point, WI, July/August 2010
- Selected by the Madison Repertory Theatre for their 2009 New Play Festival. Unfortunately, the Madison Rep folded prior to this event happening

A Thousand Words by Gwendolyn Rice

Synopsis: When a box of photos and personal papers belonging to Ernest Hemingway is discovered in the back room of a bar in Havana, Cuba, lots of people lay claim to them, including a powerful museum and a woman who says she is the long-lost granddaughter of the photographer. The nature of art, authenticity, marketing, and the power of pictures versus words are explored in this story that alternates between the 1930s and the present day.

Additional Development:

- Co-production by Forward Theater Company (Madison performances Jan/Feb 2012) and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (Feb/March 2012)
- Staged reading with Milwaukee Chamber Theatre in March 2009


The Queen of Janesville by Greg Lawless

Synopsis: After a series of disappointing Irish girls, Adam Haviland hires the daughter of an ex-slave to keep his house, which, after a string of lousy investments, he stands to lose. But a far greater threat is the escalating rivalry between his identical twin sons, who stake out opposite sides of the impending Civil War. Caught in the middle is Nettie, who manages business and survival in this dramatic satire about love, money, bigotry and war.

Recovering the Real Me by Kurt McGinnis Brown

Synopsis: It’s a great time to be an alcoholic. Medical science has created a pill that eliminate one’s craving for a drink. You’re cured! And yet. And yet. Boo Champagne, retired from professional baseball at age 30, steps out of a treatment center loaded with pills that eliminate his cravings. He’s a new person, and he intends to say goodbye to his destructive way of life. Yet real people were involved in that life, and Boo becomes entangled in dramas that endanger his recovery. In this play about addiction and identity, Boo finds that killing his former life might involve killing somebody else.

Additional Development:

- Abingdon Theatre Company, New York, NY, January 2009. Tom Rowan, director
- Abingdon Theatre Company, New York, NY, March 2008. Julie Hamberg, director
- Chicago Dramatists, Chicago, IL, October 2007. Richard Shavzin, director
- Madison Repertory Theatre, Madison, WI, October 2007. Trevin Gay, director
- Last Frontier Theatre Conference, Valdez, AK, June 2007. Kurt McGinnis Brown, director

Normal Human Beings by Bruce Murphy

Synopsis: Normal Human Beings is a comic drama set at the time of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Three old friends, a married couple and their male friend, all in their 40s, see their relationship change when the friend introduces his new “swinger” girlfriend, a former student who happens to resemble the couple’s daughter. The question of what are the boundaries of acceptable sexual behavior drives the action.