14 Powerhouse Female Creatives Name Up-and-Coming Women in Theatre

Special Features   14 Powerhouse Female Creatives Name the Up-and-Coming Women in Theatre They Are Watching
In honor of International Women’s Day, we asked 14 experienced and award-winning directors, writers and composers to name one woman in their field that they identify as one to watch in the industry.
Top: Liesl Tommy, Sara Bareilles, Rachel Chavkin and Masi Asare<br/>Bottom: Susan Stroman, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Baayork Lee and Lisa Kron
Top: Liesl Tommy, Sara Bareilles, Rachel Chavkin and Masi Asare
Bottom: Susan Stroman, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Baayork Lee and Lisa Kron photos by Joseph Marzullo/WENN (Tommy/Chavkin), Monica Simoes (Bareilles, Lee) and Paul Kolnik (Stroman)

According to the experts, these are the women to expect great, groundbreaking work from. Keep your ears perked for their names. You can say you knew them when.


“I first got to know Rachel Chavkin when she was my student in an undergraduate course at NYU. It has been an absolute thrill to watch her career develop since then. Rachel is the founder and fearless artistic director of The TEAM, a Brooklyn-based theatre company dedicated to producing new work about the American identity. The work she has created with The TEAM is adventurous, thought-provoking and full of heart. She also has a longstanding collaboration with composer Dave Malloy, and her incredible vision for Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 transformed the A.R.T.’s theater into a Russian vodka den, resulting in an unforgettable theatrical immersive experience. Rachel knows what it means to be in the trenches of making theatre from the ground up. As an artist who has her roots in New York’s downtown theatre scene, I could not be more excited that she will be making her Broadway debut next season.”
-Diane Paulus, Tony-winning director for Pippin and the upcoming Waitress

Catherine Ricafort, Roger Bart, Baylee Littrell, Seth Rudetsky, Rachel York, Kevin Chamberlin and Olivia Phillip in <i>Disaster! </i>
Catherine Ricafort, Roger Bart, Baylee Littrell, Seth Rudetsky, Rachel York, Kevin Chamberlin and Olivia Phillip in Disaster! Jeremy Daniel

“I would like to say Joann Hunter. Even though she has established herself as choreographer (Disaster! and School of Rock), she is on her way to going to the next step as a director. Besides being female, Asian and talented, her work is innovating, colorful and most of all good story telling. Her work in Oliver! at Paper Mill Playhouse was beautifully woven into the show and now School of Rock. I will be watching to see her make her next step as a musical theatre director.”
-Baayork Lee, director of national and international tours of The King & I, Bombay Dreams, Cinderella and others, as well as the original Connie in A Chorus Line

“I would say Liesl Tommy. I'm not sure if she counts as up-and-coming since she is making her Broadway debut right now, but I recently saw Eclipsed and I was very impressed with her production. I also think it's wonderful that Liesl seems to move with ease between directing plays and musicals in venues both large and small.”
-Kathleen Marshall, Tony-winning director/choreographer

“When I think of the emerging directors whose work I’ve admired over the last year, Charlotte Brathwaite easily stands out as someone from whom I’ve come to expect great things. Smart, efficient, and inventive, Charlotte is a problem-solver, able to turn potential limitations into surprising assets. She has a generous spirit and good-humor that endears her to actors, but also a confident and firm hand that immediately garners respect from everyone involved in a project. It may sound simple but at the end of the day the work is ultimately what matters, and Charlotte is someone who puts the work first. Her clarity of vision and wealth of creativity combine to reinforce her astounding ability to develop new plays. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where the coming years take her and her tremendous talent.”
-Mimi O’Donnell, artistic director of Labyrinth Theater and director of currently-running The Way West

Liesl Tommy Joseph Marzullo/WENN

“I think the new female director to watch is Liesl Tommy, currently directing the new play Eclipsed on Broadway starring Lupita Nyong’o. Liesl takes chances and creates pieces that don’t necessarily conform to commercial ideals. She clearly not only wants to entertain an audience—she wants to inform them, too. I am always excited to see what new story she is preparing to tell.”
-Susan Stroman, Tony-winning director/choreographer and director of currently-running Dot

“I am here at the Humana Festival and happily drinking post-rehearsal bourbon with the amazing Lee Sunday Evans. I’ve been a devoted fan since last year when I saw her wildly entertaining and inventive production of A Beautiful Day in November on the Banks of the Greatest of the Great Lakes. It was bold direction, surprising and artful, and I spent the whole time watching thinking, ’How did she do that?’ I must really like her because she spells her name *wrong* and I still hang out with her.”
-Leigh Silverman, Tony-nominated director for Violet

“A theatre-maker I follow avidly is Clove Galilee. Working with her partner Jenny Rogers at the company Trick Saddle, Clove has been making astonishing work for years so she’s only an up-and-comer in the sense that her genius is not yet widely known. Their show Wickets turned Irene Fornes’ Fefu And Her Friends into an immersive 1970s transatlantic plane trip/theatrical acid trip. It ran for only 16 performances, and I’ve been begging producers to remount this extraordinary show ever since—not least because I’m dying to see it again. Clove’s most recent show Imagining the Imaginary Invalid, at LaMama this past January, is still exploding in my brain and heart. A simultaneous exploration of Moliere’s play, a memorial to the profound artistry of Clove’s mother, Ruth Maleczech, and love song to the theatre itself, it featured a ravishing, soul-piercing performance by Mary Louise Burke. More Clove Galilee, please!!”
-Lisa Kron, Tony-winning writer/lyricist of Fun Home

Zoe Sarnak
Zoe Sarnak

“The most serious up-and-coming composer/lyricist I know is Zoe Sarnak. She has an extraordinary gift for finding material, and her skills are uniquely suited for the theatre. She writes from character and also seems to be able to play anything she picks up, thus being able to compose from character, as well. She has a terrific group of actors and directors eager to work with her, which will ensure that her work will get done. She is articulate, funny and a great pleasure to hang out with. She is determined, and seems not to have any choice but to write for the theatre, which is the best sign of all.”
-Marsha Norman, Tony-nominated writer for The Color Purple, Tony-winning librettist of The Secret Garden and Pulizter Prize-winning author of ’night, Mother

“I am particularly watching the writing of Dipika Guha: an incredible, nuanced playwright, someone who is smart, political, theatrical and deeply, fiercely emotional. She has been in the Women's Project lab, and is now being produced across the country (her new work is right now running at Crowded Fire in San Francisco) I worked with her at both Brown and Yale School of Drama, and the range of her work is extraordinary.”
-Paula Vogel, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize-winning playwright of How I Learned to Drive

“Erin McKeown is an accomplished rock composer and lyricist, whose complex and specific lyrics filter through her clarity of melodic line and rebellious use of rhythm. I think lyrics are often the unsung heart and soul of musicals, and McKeown combines a poet’s instinct for metaphor with a storyteller’s instinct for forward momentum. She makes the great human emotions surprising and immediate. I’m honored to be collaborating on her first musical—it’s called Miss You Like Hell and opens at La Jolla Playhouse this fall. She’s already sharing gems and inklings about her next works, so it seems the theatre bug has bitten. She’s a mature artist with the child-like energy of someone new and fearless—a wonderful combination.”
-Quiara Alegría Hudes, Tony-nominated writer for In The Heights

“I’d love to lend my support for Shaina Taub, who sings like no one else and writes music in a way that feels stylish, fun, sexy and important. I often say the people who are the most interesting to watch are the ones who don’t exactly fit into the boxes the industry has built for them. So they make new boxes. Shaina kicked those boxes out of the way before anyone around her even knew they were there. Others who have my attention right now are Masi Asare and Anna K. Jacobs. Exciting women writing really bold and interesting music and making the world pay attention to them.”
-Georgia Stitt, composer of The Water, Big Red Sun and currently in development Snow Child, Tempest Rock and The Danger Year

“I couldn’t pick just one, so let me give a shout out to some excellent up-and-coming women composers and lyricists, all of whom are well worth watching. Masi Asare is an emerging writer with a unique point of view, a fascinating background and a strong personal story to tell in music. (And oh yes, she writes lyrics and book, too!) Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler are on the cusp of something big, with their effortless melodies and masterful craft. I’m really excited to see what Sara Bareilles does in her upcoming Broadway debut. Julia Meinwald, who wrote Pregnancy Pact, is wildly talented, a quirky contemporary voice with a whole lot to say. Deborah Abramson’s glistening and sensitive compositions are perfection—I always long to hear more. Amanda Yesnowitz is a clever-yet-classic new voice. Kait Kerrigan’s lyrics are startling, funny and moving. And Rebekah Greer Melocik’s work is passionate and direct. GO GIRLS!”
-Lynn Ahrens, Tony-winning lyricist of Ragtime and lyricist of upcoming Anastasia at Hartford Stage

“I don't know Sara Bareilles personally, but I have been listening to some of her music which I like enormously for her emotional honesty and melodic sensibility. The Secret Garden was the first musical to have an all-female team in 1991. Of all the members of the theatrical creative team, female composers have had the hardest time breaking the barrier. I am excited to see Waitress and looking forward to meeting Sara.”
-Lucy Simon, Tony-nominated composer of The Secret Garden

“How do I pick from all the talented ladies that I know and love? They are all fantastic writers, but today I’ll go with Julianne Wick Davis. Her work is some of the most alluring, complex and melodic music I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know and work on recently. She captures the emotion of the moment in her accompaniment and complements it with beautiful melodies and stunning harmonies. She sets lyrics so naturally and when her music becomes more complex rhythmically or changes time signatures, it does so with ease and makes absolute sense. It’s a joy to listen to and play. Her musical Southern Comfort (written with Dan Collins) is being produced at the Public this season and I have no doubt they will make an incredibly strong mark with its score. I look forward to seeing Southern Comfort, and I’m really looking forward to Julianne’s music reaching a wider audience. They’re going to love her!”
-Barbara Anselmi, composer of It Shoulda Been You