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Lolly Willowes Project


Lolly Willowes Project seeks to further the conversation around female empowerment through dramatizing Sylvia Townsend Warner's seminal feminist fairy tale "Lolly Willowes" and to bring together community members around a non-traditional, non-patriarchal view of spirituality.


In 2012, after years of re-reading Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novel Lolly Willowes, composer Michael Alec Rose embraced the idea of setting the tale to music. The catalyst was his discovery of a book of literary criticism, Veering, by the superb English scholar and novelist Nicholas Royle. After reading Royle’s chapter on Lolly Willowes, Michael approached Royle about the project. Royle kindly gave Michael the email address of Tanya Stobbs, the executor of Warner’s estate. Ms. Stobbs then introduced Michael to Andy Hine of the Permissions Department at Little, Brown publishing house (London). Ms. Hine has enthusiastically supported this production of Lolly Willowes, ensuring our dramatic rights to the novel against the more recent bid by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to adapt the novel for television.

The project could now begin in earnest: four years of work, drafting the libretto, composing the story into a staged drama, at last coming to musical fruition during Michael’s academic leave in the summer and fall of 2017, when the completed libretto became 85 minutes of intensely lyrical music for voices and string quartet. Art historian Lee Hallman, currently one of two Assistant Producers, provided indispensable encouragement to Michael during the years of Lolly’s coming- into-being. Premiering the piece became a reality when violinist Matt Lammers and soprano Chelsea Helm sought an opportunity to create performances together where the audience could be fully engaged, rather than simply spectators. After a period of seeking a venue to form a concert series in Houston, Matt described their ambition to Michael, a mentor from his alma mater Vanderbilt University, in March 2017. They soon realized their innovative goals aligned. Lolly had found a family in Houston, and it found a home soon after: the MATCH-Midtown Arts and Theater Center Houston. 

The Lolly Willowes Project is the result of this years-long development process, one which has spanned the Atlantic. The show will premiere in April under the direction of Dash Waterbury, whose work seeks to celebrate and explore the lives of women and the men who support them.

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