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Meet the Writers

Meet 8 musical theatre writers in residence this summer at Rhinebeck Writers Retreat! The events take place on 4 Saturdays. They're free and open to all. You'll enjoy food, drinks, and conversation with the writers, learn more about the creation of their musical, and hear a few songs.

Email to let us know when you can join us. Once we hear from you, we'll send more info about each event.

This is an amazing chance to meet talented writers. In past years, we've held "Meet the Writers" events with Joe Iconis, Tony-nominee for BE MORE CHILL; Itamar Moses, Tony winner for THE BAND'S VISIT, and Duncan Sheik, Tony winner for SPRING AWAKENING. Musicals first presented at Meet the Writers went on to have full productions at La Jolla Playhouse (CA), Barrington Stage (MA), The Public Theater (NY), Alley Theatre (TX), and The Olney Theater Center (MD).

Zeniba Now & Jay Adana

Saturday, July 9 from 5:00pm - 7:00pm

7 Hummingbird Way, Staatsburg NY 12580


It’s 1864. The Confederate Army just won The Civil War… and something ain’t right about that. As her interracial home in Georgia is threatened with exposure, Polly Danfield is forced to choose between safety in hiding or freedom and love on the run. This folk/rap sci-fi musical explores the concept of freedom and the transcendent power of love. 

Lead Support from The Noël Coward Foundation, in honor of Geoffrey Johnson, and Underwriting Support from The John Levin & Diane Keefe Fund.

JAY ADANA (Music & Lyrics | she/her )

Jay Adana is loud and shy. THE LOOPHOLE (Public Theater Studio, music and lyrics), THE WOODSMAN (New World Stages, lyrics), FINGERPAINTINGS (Playwrights Horizons Downtown, music and lyrics), LEFAY (Musical Theater Factory, book and lyrics), THE LAST TIGER IN HAITI (Berkeley Rep/La Jolla Playhouse, contributed music and lyrics). Currently developing several musical movies. 2020 Richard Rodgers Award, 2021 Vivace Award, 2018 Jonathan Larson Award, 2019 Dramatist Guild Foundation Fellow. Work featured by PBS, The American Theater Wing, Joe’s Pub, and The Dramatist Magazine. Residencies: Public Theater #BARS residency writer under Jeanie O’Hare, SPACE on Ryder Farm. Education: #BARS workshop founded by Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, BFA SUNY Purchase.

ZENIBA NOW (Book & Music)

Zeniba Now is an award-winning creator from Los Angeles, CA. Her work aims to inspire magic and possibility in human consciousness. Z is a highly collaborative artist working in a variety of mediums with subject matters ranging from quantum liberatory sci-fi to gynecology slapstick. You can connect with her productions, performances, and releases on Tiktok, YouTube, music streaming services or by visiting her website

THE LOOPHOLE Jay Adana.jpg
Jay Adana
Zeniba Now

Lisa DeSpain & David Simpatico

Saturday July 23 from 5:00pm - 7:00pm

in partnership with the

Clinton Community Library

at the historic Clinton Town Hall

1215 Centre Road,

Rhinebeck NY  12572

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Martin, a young hobo, wanders the rails seeking happiness. One night, “The Conductor” arrives and offers Martin his heart’s desire – in exchange for his soul. Armed with the power to stop time and live forever in a moment of perfect happiness, Martin begins his search. Is happiness found in a bottle of muscatel and a dry cot in a flophouse? In a series of one-night stands? The moment Martin meets his wife or holds his newborn son? Is happiness found in wealth, status, or the arms of a mistress?


THE HELL-BOUND TRAIN is a distinctively American take on the classic Faustian myth. 

Lead Support from Rick Farrar and Jeff Zadroga.

THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN Lisa DeSpain Photo by Leslie Hassler.jpg
Lisa DeSpain
THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN David Simpatico Photo by Charles Chessler.png
David Simpatico

DAVID SIMPATICO (Playwright/Librettist)

David’s work has been presented at major theatres around the globe, including London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Williamstown Theatre Festival, and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Career highlights include: the stage adaptation of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL (Disney Theatricals); the opera, THE LIFE AND DEATH(S) OF ALAN TURING (Justine F. Chen, composer); the music drama, THE SCREAMS OF KITTY GENOVESE (Will Todd, composer; Edinburgh Fringe Festival; Jonathan Larson award); and the libretto for Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron Jay Kernis’ GARDEN OF LIGHT (NY Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, conducted by Kurt Masur). David earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the MountainView Writers at Southern New Hampshire University. David is an alumnus of the Composer Librettist Development Program at American Lyric Theater, and a graduate of Northwestern University.


LISA DESPAIN (Composer) 

Lisa DeSpain is the recipient of an OPERA America Discovery Award for Female Composers and a 2020 National Endowment for the Arts Award for THAT HELL-BOUND TRAIN (Libretto – David Simpatico.) She is the winner of the 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Commission (Opera Kansas) for STAGGERWING about the historic win of female pilots in the 1936 Bendix Trophy Air Race, NO LADIES IN THE LADY’S BOOK (Utah Opera) highlighting the hidden stories of women who built the Transcontinental Railroad, and MEN I’M NOT MARRIED TO (Cleveland Opera Theatre) based on a short story by Dorothy Parker (libretti by Rachel J. Peters). THE NIGHTINGALE (libretto – Melisa Tian, commissioned by On Site Opera) premieres in 2023 at the Winter Garden Atrium, NYC.  She is the choral arranger of Broadway hits (HAMILTON, IN THE HEIGHTS, NEXT TO NORMAL) for Alfred Music and Professor of Music at LaGuardia Community College – CUNY.

Jasmine Joshua & Heather Ragusa

Event Cancelled due to Weather


Sam O’Malley of Butte, Montana is happily engaged and running the family pizza parlor when a carefully guarded family secret is unearthed. Not only does Sam have an estranged aunt no one has ever mentioned, but it turns out she's lesbian punk rock icon Vikki Vektor! While online stalking, er, research, Sam stumbles across the term "nonbinary" and digs deeper into a world that is simultaneously completely unknown and innately familiar. Is thirty-three "too old" to learn something new about yourself?

Lead Support from Steve and Paula Reynolds.

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Jasmine Joshua
HERE AND THEIR Heather Ragusa.jpeg
Heather Ragusa

JASMINE JOSHUA (Book, additional Music & Lyrics | they/them)

Jasmine Joshua is a writer, producer, actor, and director.  Jasmine’s solo show BREAD CRUMBS premiered at ACT’s Solo Fest and was included in Ars Nova’s ANTFest in 2021. Their nonbinary musical HERE AND THEIR is currently being workshopped at the Seattle Rep. Jasmine graduated magna cum laude from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Jewish Studies. They also studied with the Larry Moss Studio and the Groundlings. Directing: Intiman; Reboot Theatre; Cafe Nordo; assistant director at 5th Ave; associate director at Village. On stage: SPT, Book-it, SMT. Jasmine is the Artistic Director of Reboot Theatre Company.

HEATHER RAGUSA (Music & Lyrics | she/her)

Heather Ragusa has worked as songwriter and recording artist for over a decade, including fronting Heather Rae and Tumbleweed and opening multiple times for punk legend Exene Cervenka. Heather’s freshman album “Slow Down Woman” inspired the queer country musical LET’S BE SILVER, another collaboration with writing partner Jasmine Joshua. Heather has roots in both musical theater and commercial music production, and has collaborated and performed with members of Social Distortion, Steppenwolf, The Abiders, The Pullmen, The Side Show Preachers, Whiskey Chimp, and more. Also, not to name drop, but she once rode on the back of Nick St. Nicholas’s motorcycle, stole beer from Hoobastank’s green room, and squatted in Glenn Danzig’s trailer. Heather raises chickens and children in Eagle Rock with her husband, Jon-Paul.

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Joel Perez & Benjamin Velez

Saturday, August 27 from 4:00pm-6:00pm

Oblong Books

6422 Montgomery Street, Ste. 6,

Rhinebeck NY 12572


Norma is the on-air voice of consolation and hope for a country whose people are broken by war's violence with her radio show, Lost City Radio. In the aftermath of the decade-long bloody civil conflict, Norma’s own life is about to forever change—thanks to the arrival of a young orphan, Victor, who brings with him from the jungle a cryptic clue to the fate of Norma's vanished husband, Rey. Together, they embark on a journey that weaves  in and out of their memories to piece together a puzzle of two psyches ripped apart by war.

Lead Support from Liz Armstrong.

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Joel Perez & Benjamin Velez


Joel Perez is an award-winning actor and writer living in NYC. His theater work includes FUN HOME (Broadway), Kiss My Aztec! (La Jolla Playhouse) and SWEET CHARITY (New Group; Lortel Award). Screen work includes TICK, TICK… BOOM! (Netflix), Jesus Christ Superstar Live! (NBC), PERSON OF INTEREST (CBS) and ODD MOM OUT (Bravo). His writing includes The Black Beans Project (The Huntington Theatre), PLAYING WITH MYSELF (Ars Nova), The Church of the Holy Glory (Ars Nova ANTFest). His short film, “Beautiful, FL” is a selection of Disney Launchpad and will premiere on Disney+ in 2023. He received a WarnerMedia 150 Artist Grant for his comedy pilot “You’re Tired, You’re Poor”. He is the winner of the 2021 Miranda Family Voces Latinx National Playwriting Competition for his play “From the Fountain”. He is a 2019 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellow in Playwriting from NYFA. Follow him at @misterjoelperez and visit

BENJAMIN VELEZ (Music & Lyrics)

Benjamin Velez is a composer/lyricist and Columbia graduate (114th Varsity Show), born and raised in Miami, FL. Proud member of the Advanced BMI workshop (2012 Harrington Award), his work has been at MTF, Ars Nova, NAMT, NEO, the Civilians, 4@15, and Joe's Pub. He was a Sundance Artist at the UCROSS Foundation, and his musical AFTERLAND, was developed at the Yale Institute for Music Theater and the York Theater. He developed STARBLASTERS at Dixon Place and at Manhattan School of Music in 2021. His musical BORDERLINE, won the 2018 Weston Playhouse New Musical Award, and opened the 2019 O’Neill Musical Theater Conference. He was a 2018-2019 Dramatist Guild Foundation Fellow, the 2019 Fred Ebb Award Winner, a 2020 Thom Thomas Award winner, and a 2020 Jonathan Larson Grant recipient. His musical KISS MY AZTEC, written with John Leguizamo, Tony Taccone, and David Kamp, had a reading at the Public Theater (2018), before premiering at Berkeley Rep (2019), followed by a run at the La Jolla Playhouse (2019) and Hartford Stage (2022). More information at

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