Play-Making in New Jersey at The Stages Festival
(West Orange, NJ) New Jersey Theatre Alliance (“The Alliance”) and its partners and funders are pleased to present 20 readings of new plays, mostly by New Jersey playwrights, as part of the 20th anniversary Stages Festival (“Stages”), the statewide festival of theatre throughout March, offering over 80 free and affordable theatre events. All readings are free of charge and will take place at theatres, arts centers, libraries, and other community venues throughout the state. Audiences are invited to hear new dramatic works read on stage by professional actors, give feedback to the playwrights, and mingle with the artists afterwards.
Montclair playwright Phoebe Farber said she feels “thrilled, nervous, excited, and intimidated” about having her plays read before a public audience. Still, she noted, the reading process helps enormously: “As you open up the ideas to an audience, you learn from their reactions: is it funny? Is it paced well? Are they moved? Interested? These reactions help to guide the continued revisions to the play.”
Farber’s play The Messenger will be featured in the “New Plays New Jersey” series run by Writers Theatre of New Jersey on March 18 at Jersey City Theater Company. The series, which runs through March 22, also features readings of Rocket Sex Magic by David Lee White, Olomouc by Yasmine Beverly Rana, Tragedy by Oded Gross, Ghost Story by Lia Romeo, Paterson Falls by Rosemary McLaughlin, Run-On Sentence by Stacie Lent, and Diagonal Trilogy by Vita Patrick Morales.
The 13th Annual Spring Reading Series takes place at Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union March 9 – 12 and features the four winners of a worldwide contest that attracted about 400 submissions: Foster Mom by Chris Cragin-Day, Cam Baby by Jessica Moss, 1980 (Or Why I’m Voting for John Anderson) by Patricia Cotter, and Seder by Sarah Gancher.
Artistic Director John Wooten noted: “The heart of Premiere Stages is new play development. The readings launch an extended season of workshops, productions, and commissions of original work. Most of our readings sell out because audiences are afforded the unique opportunity to come see and discuss four plays in the first phase of development and return just a few short months later to see two of the four further explored, culminating with a fully realized production.”
Wooten said that New Jersey ranks very high in the field of new play development: “Being so close to New York allows playwrights to take a train and be at Premiere in about a half hour. There is also a large population of playwrights right here in the state. Both of the playwrights Premiere has commissioned for the next two-year cycle, Nicole Pandolfo and Martin Casella, are New Jersey dramatists.”
In fact, Nicole Pandolfo will be appearing March 16 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (“NJPAC”) in Newark, where audience members will hear a sampling of three plays that were commissioned by NJPAC as part of the Stage Exchange program, which it runs in partnership with the Alliance. Pandolfo’s Brick City is about two students from Malcom X Shabazz High School in Newark, one an artist with a disability and the other a star athlete, who find themselves together in an extended study hall during a pivotal time in their lives. A segment of Pia Wilson’s commissioned play, Return to Real (about a woman who learns her forefather was a Confederate soldier) will also be read that night, as well as a segment from Joel Stone’s The Calling (about Charles Cullen, the New Jersey nurse convicted of murdering 40 terminally ill patients).
On March 17, Skyline Theatre Company of Fair Lawn will present the world premiere of Unbelievable by John DeVore, the story of Beatrice “Jackie” Mitchell, the seventeen-year-old girl who is said to have pitched against the New York Yankees and struck out Babe Ruth. “Skyline has been developing new works since 2009 thanks to The Stages Festival,” said Artistic Director Sam Scalamoni. “Without the Alliance’s support through Stages, Skyline would not be able to fulfill this part of our mission. The development of a musical is a very different process than that of a play due to the number of moving parts. You have more collaborators (book, music, lyrics, choreographers, music directors, orchestrators, etc.) working the storytelling. It is a larger and more complex endeavor as well as more expensive.”
Young playwrights are not ignored, with “New Works New Voices,” a showcase for the dramatists at Rahway High School, and “REVOLUTION!,” featuring plays by the 5th and 6th graders of West Cape May Elementary School on March 15. “Since we don't have a playwriting class at school, to do something outside of the curriculum is a great opportunity,” said Rahway student playwright Mackenzie M. Her colleague Alisha G. remarked, “This is a great opportunity to funnel my ideas into something other than nothing. And it is exciting that my words will be performed by expert professional actors.”
The Alliance is also piloting a “Diner Theatre” program involving pop-up plays in a local diner. Ten-minute plays by David Lee White, Barry M. Putt Jr., Pandora Scooter, and Nicole Pandolfo will “pop-up” spontaneously in an undisclosed diner in New Jersey on March 21. If the event is a success, the Alliance will bring it to local diners throughout the state.
Also on March 21, Bickford Theatre at Morris Museum in Morristown will host a reading of A Year in the Trenches by James Rana: a play about a New Jersey man who joined the Engineer Corps in WWI. The play was commissioned by New Jersey Historical Commission and New Jersey State Council on the Arts in commemoration of the centennial of U.S. involvement in The Great War.
Playwrights with disabilities will see their plays come to life on stage at two events: “Plays by People” at Matheny Medical & Educational Center in Peapack on March 25 and at “Equal Access” at Luna Stage Company in West Orange on March 31.
The readings listed here are only a sampling of the 80+ events that are part of The Stages Festival. For a complete schedule and to register for events, visit stagesfestival.org. In keeping with its commitment to making theatre accessible, the Alliance strives to make most Stages events accessible to people with disabilities.
Founded in 1981, New Jersey Theatre Alliance was the first statewide service organization for professional, not-for-profit theatre companies in the United States, and is now a leader in developing model programs that foster collaboration, cooperation, and audience development. The Stages Festival is made possible in part by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Bank of America; The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey; The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation; and PSEG Foundation. Additional support is provided by individuals, corporations, and foundations such as The Smart Family Foundation, The F.M. Kirby Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Prudential Foundation, and The Fund for the New Jersey Blind.
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