MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award 2023-4 Winner Announced

June 2nd, 2023

Maz O’Connor

Mercury Musical Developments and Stiles + Drewe are delighted to announce the winner of the 2023/2024 MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award is Maz O’Connor with her new musical The Wife of Michael Cleary.  

The MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award was launched in 2016 by the multi award-winning musical theatre writing partnership George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (Honk!, Mary Poppins, Betty Blue Eyes, Half A Sixpence, Identical) and Mercury Musical Developments. Generously supported by Musical Theatre International (Europe), the Mentorship Award is presented biennially to a writer or writing team who have submitted the first full draft of a new musical. Stiles + Drewe, along with a panel of judges, select the winning project – the writers of which then benefit from bespoke mentorship and support over a 12-month period.  

The selection process has been lengthy, with 5 writing teams shortlisted for the award. The shortlisted applicants were Mark Anderson, Graham Lappin & Lee Freeman for Proud, Jonathan O’Neill & Isaac Savage for Stay, Neil Bastian for The Rise and Fall of Vinnie and Paul and Jack Miles & Rebecca Simmonds for In Clay.  

The Wife of Michael Cleary is a new folk musical inspired by the true story of Bridget Cleary. Bridget was a young dressmaker from Co. Tipperary, Ireland, who in 1895 was burned to death by her husband and family because they believed her to be a fairy changeling. The story was widely covered in the press in Ireland and Great Britain. It has previously served as inspiration for music and literature, but this is the first time the story has been addressed in musical theatre. The Wife of Michael Cleary explores faith, superstition and imperialism at a decisive moment in Irish history, whilst shining a light on the pressing contemporary issue of violence against women. 

As the recipient of the MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award, O’Connor will receive; 

  • A fully funded, one-week development residential retreat in France to work on the musical.  
  • Participation in two Progress Labs. In each of these, O’Connor will present a section of The Wife of Michael Cleary and receive feedback from a panel of industry professionals. 
  • Access to work shadowing opportunities – either on a Stiles + Drewe show or with alternative industry contacts. 
  • After 12 months, the above culminates in rehearsal provision for a workshop followed by a full industry showcase presentation with a professional cast, director and musical director. 

The Wife of Michael Cleary is Cumbrian musician, writer and composer Maz O’Connor’s first musical. O’Connor has been described by The Observer as ‘a highly individual singer-songwriter.’ Known for her haunting, emotive vocals and poetic lyricism, her songs are most often short stories inspired by her love of literature, folklore and mythology. Her Irish roots, she suspects, inform her love of darker tales—those of heartbreak, longing and loss. Winning a BBC Performing Arts Fund Fellowship in 2014 (once won by Adele) brought O’Connor to wider attention, and later that year she was nominated for a BBC Folk Award for her first album, ‘This Willowed Light’. She has since released 3 further albums, toured extensively, played live sessions on BBC Radio 2 and 3, and appeared at major UK festivals, including Glastonbury. Her latest, ‘Santorini’ (April 2023), has been widely praised, and her music has been called ‘an excellent thing’ by Mark Radcliffe of BBC 6 Music and BBC Radio 2.  

The Wife of Michael Cleary was selected for BEAM2023 and O’Connor presented a 25-minute excerpt to high acclaim.  

Previous winners of the MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Prize include Omar Baroud for After Elijah, Jim Barne & Kit Buchan for The Season, Ben Glasstone for Reanimator: A Zombie Musical, and Darren Clark & Rhys Jennings for The Wicker Husband. The Season played its first professional production at both Royal & Derngate, Northampton and New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. The Wicker Husband had its first professional production this year at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury while Ben Glasstone’s Reanimator is currently being developed as a film with Punk Cinema.  

George Stiles and Anthony Drewe said ‘Of the 45 entries we received this year, we had a tough job whittling the list down to our five wonderful finalists – each show so different in style and subject matter. We congratulate all of the entrants in completing a first draft of their show – which is no mean feat in itself, and we are pretty sure we will see many of them coming to fruition in the fullness of time. After much deliberation we have chosen Maz O’Connor and her musical The Wife of Michael Cleary as this year’s winner. Maz has a unique musical and lyrical voice, and her subject matter, based on the true 19th century story of Bridget Cleary, is very beguiling. We very much look forward to welcoming Maz to the retreat in France later this summer. “Are you a witch or are you a fairy, or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?” – watch this space and we’ll find out.’ 

Natalia Scorer, Executive Director of Mercury Musical Developments said “The Wife of Michael Cleary is a fascinating story drawing on Irish history and folklore, with an evocative and bewitching score. We are delighted that it has been chosen for this year’s Mentorship Award. Maz is an enormously talented writer and we look forward to supporting her with the show’s journey. Thank you to all the judges of this year’s award, to Stiles + Drewe for their commitment to championing musical theatre writers and to MTI for their ongoing support of the scheme.” 

Maz O’Connor said “ ‘I’m delighted to have been selected as the recipient of the Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award. I’m so excited to work with George and Anthony to develop my piece and can’t wait to get their input. As this is my first musical, it means a lot to have received this vote of confidence.”