Monday, October 5, 2015

Getting Started

The school year is well underway, which means many young playwrights have begun, or will soon begin, writing a play that will be submitted to the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. One of the biggest challenges in this work is getting started, or more specifically, deciding what to write about.

I originally began writing this post on August 26 while observing a playwriting workshop taught by playwright and master teaching artist, Dominique Cieri, for a group of teachers from the Madison Public Schools. Dominique has been a teaching artist with Playwrights Theatre for many years and it was in a workshop that she taught there that I've pulled a number of ideas and techniques that I use in my own writing and teaching. In fact, you will find other exercises from Dominique in previous posts on this blog (particularly this one)!

There was one activity from the teacher workshop that I felt could be helpful to those of you beginning to write that centers around what Dominique refers to as "the Passover Question": What makes today different from any other day in the character's life? The idea here is that we write a play because of an important event that happens in a character's life. As a result, the action of the play begins with the average, everyday life of the character, which is then interrupted by an emergency that needs to be address, or an opportunity that must be taken. To get to this idea, it is helpful to look at similar "life-changing" and challenging moments from your own life. So that this doesn't become a biographical play, I suggest imagining that you are watching this event happen to another person and write about it in the present tense. Record everything that you sense (see, hear, etc.) in that moment.

Some of Dominique's other suggestions included the following:

  1. Write about a fantasy, or dream, that you have.
  2. Write five facts about yourself that you know to be true.
  3. Write five facts about the universe (these don't necessarily need to be true).
Something from this list is likely to prompt an idea for a story. We also collect a variety of writing prompts on our Pinterest page, which may be of use to you. The main thing is to find an idea that interests you and to start writing. Don't get frustrated if you can't seem to hit on something right away. The important thing is to keep thinking and to keep writing. And don't throw any ideas away - you never know when something you decided not to write about may be helpful to get you through a place where you're stuck later on in the process.

Good luck and happy writing!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Submissions now being accepted for 2016 NJ Young Playwrights Contest!

We're happy to announce that submissions are now being accepted for the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest/Festival! Submissions is a two-part process that requires you to:

  1. Complete the online NJYPF Title Page Info form.
  2. Send your play via email to
You will find the Title Page form by clicking the link above, or via the NJYPF website. Be sure to follow the links to the "Guidelines and Play Submission" page. The info form is embedded at the bottom of the page.

When sending your play to our email address, please attach your file as either an MS Word, or PDF document. Please note that we CANNOT receive shared Google Docs, or Pages files.

There is plenty more information on the Festival website, but please feel free to contact the Education office at PTNJ with any questions. We are best reached at 973-514-1787, ext. 21 or

Happy writing!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Script Swap

Today the Playwriting Workshop students swapped scripts with a partner. This was the first time in six days that the writers formally shared their scripts with another person. Before the swap, I had the playwrights create a question sheet that included the following:
  1. Who is the main character and what are they doing?
  2. What is the most interesting moment of the play?
  3. What questions do you have about the play?
I also asked the playwrights to write any specific questions that had. These could be about characters, moments, or themes about which they were uncertain, or really felt were strong. After pairs were established, students read the questions first, then the script. The readers' answers were recorded on paper for the playwright to have as s/he continued to work later, but time was also given so that the pairs could talk with each other in more detail.
Playwriting students discussing each other's plays.

This is an exercise I frequently do when the group feels they are about
75% finished with a first draft. For some, that may be too soon to talk about their work, but I find that as long as the playwrights have a clear sense how the story will end, it does them a lot of good to get some early audience intervention through this format.

Looking forward to seeing how they progress from here and to the sharing of the works-in-progress on Friday.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Woman Who Knows Everything

This morning we began our final session of the Creative Arts Academy Summer Theatre Camp, which includes a very eager and energetic group of seven young playwrights. My last playwriting session brought a number of new activities, approaches, and ideas that I look forward to trying with this new group of students. I also was pleased by the serendipity that graced our usual first day writing routine as I gave the playwrights the following prompt:

"In 20 seconds, someone is going to walk through the door and truthfully answer any question you may have. What is that question?"

Without prompt or prior planning, just a few moments later into our classroom walked Brittany Goodwin who is assisting with the acting class across the hall. Brittany had a procedural camp question for me, but her timing was perfect to actually answer some of the questions from the group.
Brittany Goodwin is the Woman Who Knows Everything
What followed was a great example of how improvising with actors can help inspire story ideas and help get playwrights past a period of writer's block. The group loved Brittany's ideas so much the first time that they requested her again a little later in the day. It was a happy circumstance that brought about some interesting initial ideas for writing. Now, I need to find a way to incorporate it into future writing classes!