In gearing up for this year’s presentation of the Billie Burke Award on November 12, we look back on last year’s winner, Julianne Wick Davis!
Winner of a Jonathan Larson Award, a GLAAD Media Award, and a Jeff Award for Outstanding New Musical, Julianne’s work runs the gauntlet from an adaptation of a Sundance-winning documentary about a trans man seeking treatment for ovarian cancer (Southern Comfort, book and lyrics by Dan Collins, Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Nomination for Outstanding Musical) to a song-cycle-turned-book-musical based on the abandoned suitcases of the Willard Asylum for the Chronically Insane (The Willard Suitcases, currently playing at the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, Virginia until December 1). With John Dietrich on book and lyrics, she wrote the music for Lautrec at the St. James, selected for this year’s NAMT Festival. She also contributed songs to Shakina Nayfack’s Manifest Pussy, currently embarking on a revival tour.
All that and more, and she still finds the time to nurture future generations of musical theatre writers at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU. Fans, friends, and students alike find her tireless generosity as inspiring as her breathtaking talent. How does she do it all? Read on!
How did you first get into writing?
I have always been writing and composing – even from a young age – but life sent me down different paths until 2005 when I attended the Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU. It became clear to me that writing musical theatre was the thing that made me the happiest and I couldn’t imagine NOT doing it. I still think about how much time I spent on things that were other people’s idea of what I should be doing with my life. Those are only fleeting moments of regret because I realize that everything that led me to where I am now is a part of the fabric of my writing and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.
What do you love about musical theatre?
Musical theatre is church. It is my religion, my work, my hobby, my entertainment, my sanctuary. And it’s not just about the storytelling; it’s the way that it brings a community of people together. It’s the way it can reach down inside of us unlike any other art form. It is MAGIC! For all those reasons, I love it so.
How did you find out about the Ziegfeld Club? What about the club’s mission resonates with you?
I knew the past recipients of the Billie Burke Award and admired all of them so much and learned more about the award from hearing about their experience. After receiving the award, I loved talking with Laurie Sanderson about the history of the organization. Laurie has resurrected the Ziegfeld Club and refocused their mission. This organization is supporting women in this business in a way no other organization is doing right now… which is pretty extraordinary.
How has the award aided you in pursuing your artistic goals?
I am incredibly grateful to the Ziegfeld Club. Before receiving the Billie Burke Award I was feeling stagnant and unseen as a writer and frustrated by how so much of a career in this business is dependent upon the actions of others. Yet, there was something that shifted after I received the award. The acknowledgement, mentorship, and financial support was a game changer for me, and really propelled me to take control of what was happening in my own career. I’ve had more interest and opportunities in the last year than I have ever had before. In fact, I focused the BBZ resources on one project, The Willard Suitcases, and this year I received the world-premiere production of the musical at the American Shakespeare Center. You know that “magic” I mentioned above? Well, I believe there is some powerful magic around this award.
Who are some of your favorite women in the arts, past and present?
Honestly, it’s difficult to single out a few because it’s a long list and I will inevitably regret that I didn’t mention everyone. But I will say this: I am fortunate to know some fierce women musical theatre writers. They have taught me so much about navigating this world through their example… their perseverance, integrity, and level of creativity. These women understand that the message behind what they are writing is as important as the quality of the work. They don’t rely on smoke and mirrors or social media personae. They are the real deal. And my list gets longer every year because I have the privilege of teaching emerging writers at the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at Tisch. Their understanding of the power of the art form really inspires me… and they are your future Billie Burke Award recipients!
Julianne Wick Davis (composer/lyricist) won the Jonathan Larson Award in 2012 and was the 2018 recipient of the Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award for Outstanding Female Musical Theater Composer. SOUTHERN COMFORT (music), with Dan Collins (book and lyrics) (NAMT 2012) received a production at The Public Theatre (NY Times Critic’s Pick, Lortel and Outer Critics Circle Nomination for Outstanding Musical), production at Barrington Stage Company, reading at Playwrights Horizons, and developmental production at CAP21, (GLAAD Media Award, TimeOut NYC and NY Times Critic’s Pick). She wrote the music for TREVOR with Dan Collins (book and lyrics) which received its world premiere at Writer’s Theatre, Chicago (Jeff Award for Outstanding New Musical). THE WILLARD SUITCASES (book, music, & lyrics) based on the forgotten suitcases of the Willard Asylum for the Chronically Insane received its world premiere at the American Shakespeare Center in Fall 2019. LAUTREC AT THE ST. JAMES (music) with John Dietrich (book and lyrics) was selected for the NAMT 2019 Conference. Julianne also wrote the music for THE PEN for Inner Voices with Dan Collins (book and lyrics) (NY Times Critic’s Pick). WHEN WE MET (music & lyrics) with Dan Collins (book) was selected for the O’Neill Musical Theater Conference, was a part of the York NEO Development Series, and received a developmental production at CAP21. Julianne was commissioned to write “At the Met” (music and lyrics) for Lonny Price’s Lincoln Center Originals, and she also wrote music and lyrics for two songs for Shakina Nayfack’s MANIFEST PUSSY. Other commissions include the “Stillness of the Office” (music) with Maggie-Kate Coleman (lyrics) for Alexandra Silber’s After Anatevka at Symphony Space and Minetta Lane, which is now available on Audible. She is a Dramatist Guild Fellow, a York Theatre’s NEO 9 Emerging Writer, and a Sundance Fellow at UCross. Julianne has an MFA from NYU’s Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program where she is now an Assistant Arts Professor.