The Ziegfeld Club is thrilled to announce this year’s recipient of the Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award, celebrating an emerging female composer or composer/lyricist who demonstrates outstanding artistic promise. Previous winners include Masi Asare (The Family Resemblance), Anna K. Jacobs (Teeth), Shaina Taub (Twelfth Night), and Julianne Wick Davis (Southern Comfort). Joining the ranks is the astounding Rona Siddiqui.
A composer, lyricist, and music director based in New York City, Rona is also the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Award and the ASCAP Foundation/Max Dreyfus Scholarship. Her work has been performed everywhere from Joe’s Pub to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to the ImaGen New Musical Theatre Workshop at Michigan State University, and her autobiographical musical comedy, Salaam Medina: Tales of a Halfghan, will have a developmental workshop at Playwrights Horizons this November, directed by Raja Feather Kelly. She makes her Feinstein’s/54 debut with Rona’s Turn, part of the New Writers at 54! series, on January 9, 2020 — which happens to be her birthday.
We were thrilled to have the opportunity to ask this luminous talent a few questions about her work and process. Read on to get to know your new favorite musical theatre writer better!
How did you first get into writing?
I got into writing very reluctantly. I had been cut from my piano performance program in undergrad midway through and was devastated and flailing. A professor suggested composition and I said, “Why would anyone care about what I have to say?” but I was desperate to graduate with some kind of degree and so I wrote to fulfill my requirements, then wiped my hands clean of that once I graduated.
Several years later my sister was directing a production of The Vagina Monologues at her university and asked me to compose an original score for it. I was apprehensive, but she really pushed me and so I did. One of the songs I wrote opened the show. It was called “Ovary-ture” and it was my musical rendition of a female orgasm. This was a big hit! The whole score was such a success, it made me think maybe I could do this writing thing. Maybe I did have something to say.
Years later I was music directing a production of A New Brain by William Finn in San Francisco and I was struck by his beautiful heartfelt musical storytelling. I had never heard a musical that was so intimate and honest and emotional before. Right after that a friend asked me to apply to NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program with him. As I filled out that application, I realized that I wanted to be a storyteller through music just like Bill Finn. And what better place to do that than the place where he teaches! (I of course wound up dropping out of his class because he intimidated me, but that’s another story!)
What do you love about musical theatre?
I love the potential of the form to transport and inspire. It’s like a magical vehicle that you get to create and drive. How fast does it go? Does it fly or swim? Does it languish in a moment or zip you through time and space? Does it make you question your humanity? Does it make you feel things you’ve buried deep down inside? It can do all of these things and you get to control it!
How did you find out about the Ziegfeld Club? What about the club’s mission resonates with you?
I found out about the Ziegfeld Award through NYU when the Ziegfeld Club first began the program five years ago. I was struck by the inspiration of taking the legacy of a program designed to empower women in the industry (in the past, it was focused on assisting performers) and turning the focus toward supporting female writers. Seeing the need there, how we are underrepresented in the industry and our voices often unheard, and stepping up to say, “I see you and I hear you, and what you have to offer is important…” This is powerful and admirable and it has now changed my life.
How has the award aided you in pursuing your artistic goals?
Already I have been able to pick the brain of one of the brilliant mentors bestowed upon me about the inner workings of the industry! And it is fully funding the reading of my show Salaam Medina: Tales of a Halfghan. I will be able to produce new demos to promote my work this year and I can buy a new computer so that my production capabilities will no longer be limited as they are now with my ancient MacBook Air! All game changers.
Who are some of your favorite women in the arts, past and present?
There are so many women I admire in our industry. Kirsten Childs writes with such confidence and never takes any bs from anyone. I have learned so much from her about staying true to my voice. Mary-Mitchell Campbell is a constant inspiration not only through the high level of work she does as a music director and orchestrator, but also as a mentor who believes in bringing up the women entering the business behind her. And the fearlessness and curiosity of Liz Swados, her wealth of creativity astounded me when I became familiar with her work. I had the chance to talk with her in her home about potentially collaborating about a year before she passed. Her whole place was overflowing with art and books and music… like there was no boundary between the person and the art… it was inspiring. There are so many others I have had the privilege of learning from like Sybille Pearson, Deborah Brevoort, Mindi Dickstein, Polly Pen, Sarah Schlesinger, Donna DiNovelli, Rachel Sheinkin… each one of these women has unlocked some part of me as a writer. How fortunate I have been to have such a wealth of fabulous influences!
Rona Siddiqui is a composer/lyricist based in NYC. Her autobiographical musical comedy Salaam Medina: Tales of a Halfghan (directed by Raja Feather Kelly) will have a developmental workshop at Playwrights Horizons November of 2019. Her musical One Good Day (book & lyrics: Liz Suggs) was selected for the ASCAP/DreamWorks Musical Theatre Workshop with Stephen Schwartz in L.A. and named one of the Best New Musicals by the Festival of New American Musicals. It has been featured in the NAMT Songwriters Showcase and the ImaGen New Musical Theatre Workshop at Michigan State University (directed by Kate Wetherhead). Rona composed the music for an original 20-minute musical about Afghanistan, The Tin (book & lyrics: Zayre Ferrer), which was selected to be part of the Samuel French OOB Short Play Festival. She also wrote the music for Treasure in NYC (book & lyrics: Laura Kleinbaum), an immersive, multi-sensory musical for people of all developmental profiles. She has written pieces for Wicked’s 16th Anniversary commemoration, Flying Free, Broadway Inspirational Voices, 24 Hour Musicals, Prospect Theater Company, The Civilians, the NYC Gay Men’s Chorus, NYMF, 52nd St Project, and the acclaimed web series Amateur Dicks. She performed her concert Rona Siddiqui: Halfghan on a Mission at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Her work has been featured in concert venues such as Feinstein’s/54 Below, Joe’s Pub, and New York City Center. Original scores she has written regionally include Middletown, The Vagina Monologues, The Good Person of Szechuan, The Clean House, and Love Song of J Robert Oppenheimer. She is the recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Award and the ASCAP Foundation/Max Dreyfus Scholarship. She received her Masters from NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. www.ronasiddiqui.com.