Skip to content


World Premiere of THE MYTILENEAN DEBATE at Forward Theater Company. Photo by Ross Zentner.


Inspired by the 2015 Women’s Voices Theatre Festival, which successfully brought together theaters in Washington, DC under one unifying initiative, Jen Uphoff Gray, Artistic Director of Madison’s Forward Theater Company, called on the leaders of Wisconsin’s top theaters to think big, be bold, and create a festival to serve not just one city but the entire state. Today, the team behind WPW consists of leadership from three of Wisconsin’s largest theaters – Forward Theater Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and Northern Sky Theater of Door County.

Leadership Team

Jennifer Uphoff Gray Image

Jennifer Uphoff Gray

(she/her/hers) is the founding artistic director of Forward Theater Company. Jen dreamed up World Premiere Wisconsin in September 2018, and has spent the last 4+ years advocating and organizing to turn the dream into a reality. In Wisconsin, she has directed for Madison Rep and Milwaukee Shakespeare. She directed the National Tour of Copenhagen, and was Associate Director on Broadway of Copenhagen, Cabaret, The Blue Room (starring Nicole Kidman) and The Life. Off-Broadway directing credits include the world premiere of Suburb at the York Theatre Company. Jen grew up in the Madison area, holds a degree in Dramatic Literature & Stage History from Harvard College, and is the proud parent (alongside husband Peter) of Jamie, Seeger and Arden.
Laura Braza Image

Laura Braza

(she/her/hers) is a director, producer, and the Associate Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. MILWAUKEE REP: Much Ado About Nothing, Beehive, Steel Magnolias, Grounded, Souvenir, Always... Patsy Cline, Songs for Nobodies (American Premiere), Two Pianos Four Hands. NEW YORK: 10 plays for The Attic Theater Company, including The Tutors, The Notebook of Trigorin (NY Premiere), Strictly Dishonorable, and Jericho (world premiere); world premieres of Friend of the Devil, If I Were You (Clurman Theatre); work at Keen Company, NYMF, FringeNYC, Atlantic Theater Company Stage II, and more. CHICAGO: We Are Out There, It Came from Outer Space (Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Jeff Nomination for Best Director). REGIONAL: It Came from Outer Space (Theater Squared); The Dispute (Hangar Theatre); Theophilus North (Dog Days Theatre with FSU/ Asolo Rep) EDUCATION: BFA from NYU/Tisch School of Drama, Drama League Directors Project Alumnus. Laura has worked extensively as a guest director and teaching artist for University of North Carolina School of the Arts and New York University Stella Adler Studio of Acting. She was artistic director of Attic Theater Company in NYC from 2009–2019 and currently is Associate Artistic Director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Proud SDC Member.
Molly Rhode Image

Molly Rhode

(she/her/hers) began acting with Northern Sky Theater in 2007 and joined their staff as Associate Artistic Director in 2014 where she focuses on the development of new musicals. She holds a degree in Theatre Studies from Southern Methodist University with a double emphasis in Playwriting and Directing. Born in Wisconsin, Molly is proud to make this state her artistic home. She has appeared on all of Milwaukee's professional stages as well as in Madison, Spring Green, and Door County. An actor, director, choreographer, and theater educator, Molly loves working with playwrights and composers to birth new works for the stage. She is honored to serve on the leadership team of World Premiere Wisconsin.
Julie Swenson Image

Julie Swenson

(she/her/hers) joined Forward Theater Company as Managing Director after 17 seasons as Producing Director for Renaissance Theaterworks in Milwaukee. Julie received a BA in theater from Illinois Wesleyan University and became a member of Actors’ Equity Association while living in New York city. Julie fell in love with the Forward family when she worked as an actor in Forward’s production of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike in the role of Masha. Outside of theater she served on the Village of Nashotah board serving as President for two terms and was the host of New Home Building Today on WTMJ-4 in Milwaukee. Julie has two grown sons, Johnny and Jarek, and is happily settled on the west side of Madison.
Deanie Vallone Image

Deanie Vallone

(she/her/hers) is a writer, producer, and dramaturg from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For the past six years she’s worked in new play development at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, dramaturging new plays by Dael Orlandersmith, Idris Goodwin, Eleanor Burgess, Lloyd Suh, Ayad Akhtar, and others. Previously, she’s worked with the Kennedy Center, Forward Theater, Asolo Rep, and Baltimore Center Stage. She received her MA from the University of Cambridge.

Festival Producer

Michael Cotey Image

Michael Cotey

(he/him/his) is a producer and director based out of Chicago, but born and raised in South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the creator and artistic producer behind ENOUGH! Plays to End Gun Violence, a nationwide playwriting initiative that calls on teens to write short plays that confront gun violence. Now in its third year, ENOUGH! has received nearly 300 plays, unfolded in over 100 communities, and has been featured on PBS NewsHour, NPR and the BBC. In addition to directing regionally, Michael has directed in Wisconsin at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Next Act, First Stage, Third Avenue PlayWorks, UW-Madison, and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. From 2009-2013 he was the Founding Artistic Director of Youngblood Theatre in Milwaukee, regularly celebrated by the theater community and the press as one of the most exciting new Milwaukee theater ventures in decades. Michael graduated from UW-Milwaukee with a BFA in Acting and from Northwestern University with an MFA in Directing. In 2014 he was named UWM’s “Graduate of the Last Decade.”