Monday, June 29, 2009

Reflection by Samantha Berstler

The following is a reflection about the writing and Festival process written by Samantha Berstler. Her play, Requiem, was produced during the NJ Young Playwrights Festival 2009.

I am addicted to theatre - which is interesting, since I'm no actor. Instead, I like to slip into the very sinews of a performance. I like to mold, to craft. To be brief, I write plays.

I wrote my first script at age ten for a Playwrights Theatre class. It was terrible. This attempt was followed by several subsequent scripts, which were also terrible but were admittedly less terrible than the first. But I had good teachers and encouraging friends, so I never quit.

Last November, nearly seven years after penning my first stage direction, I tried to tell a story one more time. This story became Requiem, and Requiem became a winner of the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival of 2009, and I learned that my words would breathe on a stage.

And I was terrified.

Here's the thing about Requiem: the play tells the story of a writer in a totalitarian prison and utilizes such devices as, say, torture and guns. My director and cast, I was convinced, would think I was an absolute psycho.

So as I listened to the first read-through and clutched my binder like a life-buoy, I wanted to crawl under the table. A heavy silence hung over the room after the last line, and then my director began to speak. I cringed, waiting for the question, "What on earth were you thinking when you wrote this garbage?" But a minute passed. Then another. And I realized that they - my director and cast - respected the story. This was a powerful validation of my work as a writer.

Indeed, it was inspiring to see four accomplished adults dissecting, probing the dialogue I had written. Several times, I paused to wonder, "Wait, really? Seriously? They're talking this way about my, a seventeen-year-old's, work?"

But ultimately this wasn't an exercise in flattering a writer's ego. The experience truly helped me learn more about my script. After only one read-through, I was able to hear a myriad of new things: rhythm that didn't work and rhythm that did, lines that needed to be cut or added, plot points that remained unclear. Sometimes someone asked me a question, and I realized I couldn't answer because I had never thought about that aspect of the story before. After the performance, I began rewriting the script based on information I had gleaned from this process.

Before the lights rose for the actual performance, I was trembling again. I cannot tell you what my audience thought as the play progressed. But I do remember hearing sharp gasps during the violence. I do remember my friends wiping dewy eyes. And I do remember the tremendous, painful stillness that swelled throughout the room after the Poet asked the audience to look at him.

By the end of the play, I realized I was no longer frightened. The Man spoke the final line. I closed my eyes and listened to the soft silence between his last word and the applause. It was a beautiful feeling.

Note: Samantha is currently working on a revision of Requiem.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Former NJYPFestival winner to have new play produced

Mary Hamilton, a winner of the NJ Young Playwrights Festival in 2000 and 2001, will have her new play, We Three, produced at the PlayPenn 2009 conference in Philadelphia on Sunday, July 26th.

Mary's award winning plays in the NJ Young Playwrights Festival include The Original in 2000 and Grandfather's House and A Room, both in 2001. According to the biography listed at the PlayPenn website, Mary "received a BA in English from Rutgers University, and is currently a recipient of the Iowa Arts Fellowship, completing her final year in the University of Iowa's Playwrights Workshop."

Congratulations, Mary!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Original work by PTNJ Teen Troupe this weekend

Since 2004, Playwrights Theatre has hosted a pair of performance troupes as part of the Creative Arts Academy offerings. I began the Youth Troupe ensemble (grades 6-8) in 2004 by directing a group of 13 students in the creation of an original devised piece. The Troupe program grew the following year with the addition of Teen Troupe (grades 9-12) under the direction of Alysia Souder. The philosophy of both ensembles is to engage students in a play development process that places creative direction into the hands of the group. The Troupes are in part a training program to build theatre skills and to provide a unique forum for exploring thoughts and opinions, and expressing them creatively through a structured art form. This weekend, the Teen Troupe ensemble is pleased to present the world premiere of their play, Anywhen.

Anywhen is a science-fiction work that examines a society where the individual has become obsolete and in order to promote an efficient and conflict-free society, its members function as if they had "one mind." The ease of operating as a collective comes with some drawbacks as creativity, passion and emotion are no longer necessary. All members of this world are conditioned to function for the benefit of the whole and those that display even small behaviors to the contrary are reformed, however there is one that is so different, that all of societies boundaries only fuel his desire to be himself. Anywhen is his journey.

Anywhen will have two performances; Saturday, June 13 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, June 14 at 3 pm at Playwrights Theatre, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ. No reservation is required but space is limited. Admission is $8.00 Adults, $5.00 students.

We hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Bergen County Playwrights

Here is a link to an article at the Paramus Post about the 17th annual Young Playwrights Festival of Bergen County conducted by Bergen Community College. One of the winners in this contest is Kate Moore Heaney from Bergen County Academies for her play Upstage. Her play was also a finalist in the NJ Young Playwrights Festival 2009. This means that her play reached the final round of judging in our competition.

Congratulations to Kate and to all of the Bergen County playwrights!