FreeFest: A Reading Festival


Our 2024 FreeFest will take place in June 2024. Information will be added here!

FreeFest is a FREE play reading festival featuring new works that embrace radical expression. The festival provides a public platform for artists to showcase their creative expression and further their writing process.

Public reading festivals have long been a part of the New Group/New Works development program. The program focuses on the nurturing and development of new plays and musicals.  A core tenant of this program is to build and facilitate lasting relationships between The New Group, artists, and audiences who connect through theater that is adventurous, stimulating, and socially relevant.  This program has become a vital incubator for emerging and established playwrights, and serves as the primary pipeline for world premieres at The New Group.  


From our 2023 Festival, June 14 – 16.
All readings took place in The Romulus Linney Theater at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036).

written by Gloria Majule
directed by Shariffa Ali
with Gbenga Akinnagbe*, Malachi Beasley, Annelise Cepero*, Amandla Jahava*, Jerrie Johnson*, Janelle McDermoth*, Fikile Mthwalo, Abigail Onwunali*, and Nomé Sidone*.


Buddies Zahra and Hawi, two brilliant Ivy League students from East Africa, experience new levels of (dis)orientation in a whirl of competitive placements and pledge parties.


featuring a post-show talkback with Abosede George.

book & lyrics by Kia Beth Kofron & Cooper Kofron
music by Mark Hollmann & Drew Gasparini
music direction by Steven Gross
directed by Marc Acito
with Shuga Cain, Rob Colletti*, Gizel Jimenez*, Colleen Grate*, Jesse Manocherian*, Brad Oscar*, Jen Perry*, Jason Tam*, and Joy Woods*.

In this satirical musical comedy, a sports-obsessed high school tackles budget cuts by converting their state-of-the-art football stadium into a pot farm.

featuring a post-show talkback with Zakiya Ansari and Sherée Gibson.

by Preston Crowder
directed by Stevie Walker-Webb
With Marchánt Davis*, Alfie Fuller*, Rebecca L. Hargrove*, PJ Johnnie*, Jacob-Sebastian Phillips*Sis*, and Keith Randolph Smith*.

After an alarming incident between their young children, two very different couples must confront their taboo secrets and guilty pleasures.

featuring a post-show talkback with Kirya Traber.


About the Artists

Gloria Majule (playwright, Culture Shock)
Gloria is a playwright from Dodoma, Tanzania presently residing in Seattle, WA. She seeks to tell stories that bring multiple black voices together from across the world, and are accessible to black audiences no matter where they are. She writes plays about Africans and the African diaspora. Gloria is an inaugural recipient of Atlantic Theater Company’s Judith Champion Launch Commission. Her plays have been developed at Great Plains Theatre Commons, A is For, Alliance Theatre, Westport Country Playhouse and Aye Defy. She has been in residency at New York Stage and Film and Stockton University. Gloria has taught Playwriting at Cornish College of the Arts, and has guest lectured at University of Washington and University Puget Sound. She graduated summa cum laude from Cornell University with a BA in Performing & Media Arts and Spanish, and holds an MFA in Playwriting from Yale School of Drama.

Shariffa Ali (director, Culture Shock)
Shariffa Ali is an international creative leader committed to advancing radical change through the power of art & activism. She works across disciplines directing and producing films, virtual reality experiences & plays. She currently serves as Director of Artistic Projects at The New Group. Originally from Kenya and raised in South Africa, Shariffa has been a New York resident since 2013 where she has worked primarily as a director, community organizer and administrator.  She is currently on faculty at Princeton University. Selected theater directing: Sweet Chariot (Public Theater) Mies Julie (Classic Stage Company), School Girls; or The African Mean Girls Play (Pittsburgh Public Theatre), The Copper Children, (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Mlima’s Tale (St Louis Rep).  Film/VR directing: Ash Land, Atomu (Official Selection at Sundance Festival 2020), Sink Sank Sunk, You Go Girl! (Official Selection at Sundance Festival 2022), O-Dogg (Oregon Shakespeare Festival). Honors: New Frontier Fellow, Sundance Institute Lab, and the Royal National Theater (UK); POV/PBS Spark Grant. Hermitage Major Theatre Award. Education: BA with honors, Theatre and Performance, University of Cape Town. South Africa.

Cooper Kofron (book & lyrics, Rocky Mountain High)
Cooper is a rising Senior at Princeton University, where he is a proud member of the Princeton Triangle Club.He performs regularly in plays and musicals. To his surprise and dismay, he has been consistently typecast as either drunk (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, GIRLS LIKE THAT), dead (SHUDDERSOME: TALES OF POE, LUCKY STIFF, EURYDICE, LES MISERABLES), or some combination thereof (OUR TOWN). His dream musical theatre role is anything with a pulse. His first two short plays, TRADITION and OVER MY DEAD BODY, were produced at Curious Theatre in Denver in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Dramatists Guild member.

Kia Beth Kofron (book & lyrics, Rocky Mountain High)
Kia majored in Broadcast Journalism, but abandoned her dreams of being a professional talking head due to a traumatic makeup incident. After graduate school, and a successful career building international brands, she literally dreamt the plot of Rocky Mountain High and of writing it with her son. Dramatists Guild member.

Mark Hollmann (music, Rocky Mountain High)
Mark Hollmann won the Tony Award®, the Obie Award, and the National Broadway Theatre Award for his music and lyrics to URINETOWN THE MUSICAL, which went from the 1999 New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC) to receive 10 Tony Award® nominations and 11 Drama Desk Award nominations and win the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama League, and the Lucille Lortel Awards for best musical.  His other shows as composer/lyricist include THE STING (Paper Mill Playhouse), ZM (Village Theatre Beta Series), YEAST NATION (FringeNYC), BIGFOOT AND OTHER LOST SOULS (Perseverance Theatre), and THE GIRL, THE GROUCH, AND THE GOAT (University of Kansas Theatre and Chance Theatre).  For TV, he has written songs for the Disney Channel’s JOHNNY AND THE SPRITES.  He received his A.B. in music from the University of Chicago, where he won the Louis J. Sudler Award in the Performing and Creative Arts.  He has taught music composition for Columbia College Chicago and musical-theater songwriting for the Dramatists Guild Institute.  He is a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and the Dramatists Guild of America, and has served on the council of the Dramatists Guild as well as on the Tony Award® Nominating Committee. 

Marc Acito (director, Rocky Mountain High)
Marc Acito (he/they) makes art to push boundaries. In 2004, he published the first novel about high school theater kids, How I Paid for College (New York Times Editors Choice and winner of the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction); In 2010, he premiered Birds of a Feather, a comedy about the most banned book in the U.S. (Helen Hayes Award). At the invitation of the legendary George Takei, Acito wrote the libretto of the Broadway musical Allegiance, shining a light on forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Allegiance was subsequently produced in Tokyo and London’s West End. In 2016, Acito became the first Broadway librettist to have a new Mandarin-language musical produced in China (The Secret, featuring the music of Jay Chou), followed by Sound of the Silk Road in 2021. Other musicals include A Room with a View (Old Globe, 5th Avenue Theatre) and Chasing Rainbows (Goodspeed Musicals, Papermill Playhouse). Acito made his directing debut in 2017 with his Off-Off Broadway musical Bastard Jones at the Cell (NY Times Critic’s Pick) which he’s developing as a feature film. In 2022, he released the film musical MAD/WOMAN to prove he could make movie musicals affordably (multiple awards, including Outstanding Director, Queens World Film Festival). A culture writer and former commentator to 6 million listeners on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, Acito teaches History and Musicals at New York University. @AcitoMarc MarcAcito.NYC.

Preston Crowder (playwright, Bocking)
Born and raised in Nashville, TN, Preston Crowder (He/They) is a playwright-actor-director-songwriter with a passion for telling stories surrounding the vast experiences of being Black and Queer in the United States. Production history includes Don’t Look Black (Tennessee Playwrights Studio, 2022), Break Your Chains (Juilliard School, 2017), and Flames (University School of Nashville, 2016). Acting Credits include Is God Is (Scotch, The New School), Night Into Morning (Xavier, Short Film), Maidens (Figure 3, Tennessee Playwrights Studio), Sweat (Chris, Humanity Theater Project) and Clybourne Park (Kevin/Albert, Circle Players). Directing credits include Night Into Morning (Short Film) and Detroit ’67 (Assistant Director, Karamu House). Preston is a past fellow for the Tennessee Playwrights Studio and was named a semi-finalist for the 2022 Obsidian Theater Festival (Bocking), which presented a reading of the play through Blackboard Plays. Preston holds a MFA degree from The New School of Drama and a BFA degree from Oberlin College, where they currently serve as a visiting Professor of Theater and Africana Studies.

Stevie Walker-Webb (director, Bocking)
Stevie Walker-Webb is an Obie award winning, Tony nominated director, Playwright, and Cultural Worker who believes in the transformational power of art. He is Founder of HUNDREDSofTHOUSANDS an arts and advocacy organization that makes visual the suffering and inhumane treatment of incarcerated mentally ill people. He is a recipient of the Princess Grace Award for Theatre, The Lily Award in honor of Lorraine Hansberry awarded by the Dramatists Guild of America, and a 2050 Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop. He’s a visiting artist and lecturer at Harvard University and is the the Founding Artistic Director of the Jubilee Theatre in Waco, Texas. Stevie has created art and Theatre in Madagascar, South Africa, Mexico, Mississippi, and across America. He’s worked as the Outreach Coordinator for Theatre of the Oppressed-NYC. His work has been produced on and off Broadway including The Public Theatre, The New Group, American Civil Liberties Union, National Black Theatre, and Zara Aina. For more information about Stevie visit


About the Post-Show Panelists

Abosede George (panelist for Culture Shock) is the Tow Associate Professor of History at Barnard College and Columbia University in New York where she teaches courses on African migrations, urban history, childhood and youth, and WGS in African History. A native of Lagos, Nigeria, and a self-identified life-long migrant, she has also lived in Zaire, Mali, the U.S. and The Netherlands, and she has traveled as an African woman through five of the seven continents. Her articles have appeared in the American Historical Review, the Journal of Social History, Meridians, and the Washington Post among other publications. Her prize-winning book, Making Modern Girls: A History of Girlhood, Labor, and Social Development was published in 2014 by Ohio University Press. She is currently working on a history of free Black migration from various parts of the African diaspora to Lagos, West Africa across the nineteenth century. Follow The Ekopolitan Project on FB, IG, or Twitter to learn more.

Zakiyah Ansari (panelist for Rocky Mountain High) is the Advocacy Director of the New York State Alliance for Quality Education (AQE), the leading statewide organization that has been fighting for educational justice in New York State. Zakiyah is the mother of 8 children and grandparent of 4. Zakiyah has dedicated more than 20 years of her life to the fight for educational justice and ending the oppression of Black and brown people. Zakiyah was named one of City and State magazines “25 Most Influential in Brooklyn” and “Education Power 100”. Zakiyah volunteers her time with NY Justice League and Resistance Revival Chorus. Zakiyah is a 2020 Atlantic Fellow for Racial Equity

Sherée Gibson (panelist for Rocky Mountain High), CMP, an education advocate with experience working with youth and in education policy – followed her father’s example by getting actively involved in her child’s schools from Day 1 of nursery school. Sheree took his legacy to the next level by stepping up to leadership roles in her child’s school, in her community districts, on the city level and statewide – advocating for the parent voice in education. Presently representing Queens’ families as the Queens Borough President’s appointee to NYC Public Schools’ Panel for Educational Policy (PEP). With a view of parents as assets, a strong belief in parents’ ability to impact their children’s education and schools, Sheree works to empower parents and build their capacity through her various leadership roles. Through her own consulting company, Sheree manages strategy, marketing and event design for a variety of clients. Her years of professional experience currently informs her service as a Title I Parent Leader through roles as Chair of the Louis Armstrong Middle School’s Title I Parent Advisory Council (PAC); Steering Committee Member of NYCDOE Citywide Title I PAC (CTI-PAC) and as a NYC Parent representative of the NYSED Title I Committee of Practitioners (Title I COPS). Sheree’s parent leadership experience includes Founding President of the PS 360Q Parent-Teacher Association, serving for 5 years; President of the District 29Q Presidents’ Council for 4 years; and Member and 2018-2019 Co-Chair of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council (CPAC). Sheree is proud to represent parents on citywide topic driven committees such as the Chancellor’s Regulation A-655 Workgroup (tasked with editing the regulation that governs School and District Leadership Teams) presently; and the DOE Comprehensive Education Plan (CEP) Workgroup since 2019. Previously served, but continues to advocate, on the Fair Student Funding Taskforce; and the Citywide and Community Education Councils (CCEC) Elections Taskforce. Outside of education, Sheree’s other passions to participate in include politics, racial justice, writing, women’s rights, and anything to do with movies. Sheree is a certified meeting professional (CMP); an active member and leader in event and marketing associations; and a graduate from the State University of New York at Albany where she earned a BA in English. Sheree and her daughter are proud residents of her beloved borough Queens.

Kirya Traber (panelist for Bocking) is a writer, performer, and cultural organizer. She was New York Stage and Film’s 2020 Founders Award recipient, and Lincoln Center’s Community Artist in Residence from 2015-2020. Her work with Ping Chong + Company, Undesirable Elements: Generation NYZ, was a NYTimes Critics Pick in 2018. She received a NY Emmy Nomination in 2018 for her work on First Person PBS. Her debut novel will be published by Dutton Books. She’s received a Robert Redford’s Sundance Foundation award for Activism in the Arts, a California Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, and an Astraea Lesbian Writers Fund award for Poetry.

Event photos by Natalie Powers.

*Actors and Stage Managers so designated are members of Actors’ Equity Association.

Support for FreeFest is provided by the National Endowment For the Arts

Generous support for The New Group is provided by The Shubert Foundation and The Howard Gilman Foundation. The New Group’s productions are supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. The New Group’s productions are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.