Jennifer Uphoff Gray
The Theater Festival Revivalist
Jennifer Uphoff Gray is a woman on a mission: to make Wisconsin known for something other than the Bucks, the Packers, beer, and cheese (although all of those are certainly worthy of devotion). A lifelong theater enthusiast and native Wisconsinite, Jennifer earned her degree in Dramatic Literature & Stage History at Harvard before cutting her teeth as an associate director on Broadway. Now, as the artistic director of Madison’s Forward Theater Company, she is dedicated to elevating regional theater: encouraging new works, creating jobs for local actors, designers, and technicians, and raising awareness about Wisconsin’s theater ecosystem. The culmination of her commitment (so far) is World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide collaborative festival with nearly 50 participating theaters.
In 2018, Jennifer Uphoff Gray first conceived of the idea for a statewide theater festival while at a panel discussion about the DC-area Women’s Voices Theater Festival. From there, it took four years for World Premiere Wisconsin — a theater festival celebrating new works created in the Badger State — to have its, WELL, world premiere. That’s partially due to the pandemic, but also the festival’s epic proportions: four months, 13 cities and nearly 50 theaters, including the Forward, Milwaukee Rep and Northern Sky as well as youth theaters, academic theaters and community theaters. This year’s success sets a high bar for the next festival’s lineup.