Friday, May 27, 2011

Wrapping up the Festival

The 28th installment of the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival has come to a close. Finally I have some time to sit down and blog about the experience of the two performance dates. Unfortunately, my picture taking this year was a little shaky and I’m not sure what photos can actually be used. If any can be posted, we’ll put them up right away.

Monday, May 23
The day began before 9:00 am as we moved in to the University Center Little Theatre on the campus of Kean University. The crew from Kean had the stage set for us, so there was little prep work to be done in the theatre, giving plenty of time to wrap up some paperwork and to get the playwrights’ certificates in order.

At 10:00 am, we presented the six winning scripts in the Junior HS and Elementary divisions as a reading with the actors at music stands. The readings beginning with There’s Nothing to Do! by Finn Gannon, then Winter Sun by Rachel Skerker. The Easy World by Elizabeth Kilgore and Cellar Door by Ryan Kelly followed that and Mozart’s Silhouette by Joy Ho and The Wizard’s Candy by Caroline Hoerrner rounded out the morning presentation. Immediately following the performance, the playwrights and a representative from their schools were called to the stage and certificates were presented to the six winning playwrights. Two students also received an Honorable Mention for their work: Casey Murphy in the Junior HS division for her play, Time is Fleeting, and Emma Baxter in the Elementary division for her play, Race.

Following the morning performance, the Festival cast and crew took a long lunch break and returned to the Little Theatre at 1:30 to begin tech for the high school performances. First, we walked through the beginning and end of the two Honorable Mention readings to give the actors and the production staff a sense of how the Tuesday performance would begin. This was followed by a review of cues for the first pair of plays – For the Sake of America: A Story of Patriotism by Sam Gelman and Yesterday by Michelle Cherpika – and a run though of each of those scripts. These two plays were very concise in their storytelling and required very little sound or lighting effects. As the director of these plays I appreciated that this allowed us to use time typically spent figuring out the technical needs by instead using the time to explore the character relationships and plot in more detail. Once our tech was finished, the second group, who had been rehearsing in another room, moved in to the theatre. This group included the plays The Prologue to After by Jenna Postiglione and Wacky Wednesday by Justine DeSilva which required more technical elements than the previous plays given some of the “magic” (both literal and figurative) that occurs in each. While the second group held tech, my group had time to review what had just been done in tech and to go through the Honorable Mention reading.

Tuesday, May 24
The day of the high school performances began with the reading of Writer’s Iris by Molly Kirschner and Happy Days by Lacey Davies, both Honorable Mention recipients. In order to maintain a consistent flow to the performance, these readings were followed immediately by the other four plays with only brief pauses in between to reset the scenery as needed. Since the high school pairings are directed simultaneously by two separate casts and directors, the Tuesday performance was the first time I had to see and hear the other two plays since our first read through together on Saturday. It is amazing to see how different a play can be when it is brought to life in performance. Each of the playwrights also made some excellent revisions to their work throughout the rehearsal weekend and the combination of the actors’ and playwrights’ work resulted in an afternoon of well-constructed and provocative stories.

Tuesday ended early when compared to Monday’s schedule, so it seemed that we were on our way out of the Little Theatre almost as quickly as we had loaded in. But the brevity of the moment stands in stark contrast to the effect that the Festival had, and will continue to have, on everyone involved.

Certainly the playwrights and creative staff learned a lot throughout the process – many of them expressed as much to me throughout the weekend. I also heard from a number of parents, teachers, and audience members who were moved by the experiences on both days. That is a strong testament to the excellent work crafted by our Festival playwrights.

The imagination is a powerful tool and we encourage each of our playwrights to continue to use that tool to explore their world and to share it with the larger community whether through a future Festival, or in their schools, or however possible. Thank you again to the playwrights for sharing their work with us. It was a privilege to share in your vision and to produce it for the public. We wish you all the best.

Happy writing!

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Festival weekend begins

This post marks the halfway point in the NJ Young Playwrights Festival schedule. We’ve had a packed week of rehearsals and the early morning hour for this entry should indicate that the prep work will continue right up to the morning’s curtain time.

We began rehearsals on Saturday at 12:30 pm with the high school playwrights joining us at Playwrights Theatre for a first reading of the scripts. This full company reading is the only time until Tuesday that everyone in the Festival will see/hear all four plays. After the reading, we split into two performance groups, each of which will perform two of the winning high school plays. I am directing the first group, which includes the plays For the Sake of America: A Story of Patriotism by Sam Gelman and Yesterday by Michelle Cheripka. Jim Ligon, a professional actor and director and member of the Playwrights Theatre staff, is directing the second group, which includes The Prologue to After by Jenna Postiglione and Wacky Wednesday by Justine DeSilva.

At 2:30 pm, we transitioned from the high school plays to a rehearsal of the junior high and elementary scripts. Four actors from the high school casts are also cast in these plays along with two other actors specifically hired for this section. In three hours,we read through the six plays to be performed tomorrow. Since this performance will be a reading, there will not be any movement meaning that the stage directions take an important role in the audience’s understanding of the play. So an important part of the rehearsal was to figure out which directions would be read or performed. Props and blocking were kept to a minimum in an effort to maintain focus on the story. The high school plays will take a similar approach, but with staged action.

It is a great benefit to the actors and directors to have the playwright in the rehearsal room. Michelle, Sam, Jenna, and Justine also seemed to benefit and did some remarkable work on their scripts and provided us with concise revisions that the actors had a relatively easy time settling into the plays and working out characters, conflicts, and intent. Over the years, I’ve noticed that our Festival playwrights typically have great moments of inspiration the first few times that the actors speak the words that, until now have existed only on the page and in their minds. And in my group, I felt that we were able to help the playwrights smooth out any rough edges and address any lingering questions that may have remained. It was a great day today and all of us working on the Festival are looking forward to the first performance tomorrow morning.

Monday morning we’ll move the Festival over to Kean University thanks to the partnership of Premiere Stages which is in residence on campus. The reading of the junior high and elementary school plays will begin at 10:00 am in the University Center Little Theatre. Admission is free and we hope that you will join us. Rehearsals for the high school plays and a quick walk-through of the honorable mention scripts will be in the afternoon. I’ll write more then.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Playwright Profile - Michelle Cheripka

In the days leading up to the first rehearsal this Saturday, I’m posting short profiles of some of our high school playwrights. I sent the playwrights a series of questions via email, which will be included in the profile along with their response.
Today’s playwright is Michelle Cheripka, a junior at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack. Michelle’s play, Yesterday, was selected as one of four winners in the 2011 NJ Young Playwrights Festival – High School division.

How would you summarize your play in 3-4 sentences?
Evan has just fallen in love with Norah, but the relationship struggles in light of the relationship he has with his mother. In therapy, Evan must confront his dissociative identity disorder, his issues with his mother, his love for Norah, and the connection they all have to one another.

What inspired you to write your play?
I wrote my play because I wanted to show how not everything is black and white and sometimes it's okay to be in the gray area. People want there to be a clear answer to whatever they're doing or whichever situation they're in, but a lot of the time, you don't get that. I wanted to explore that gray area and put it in perspective that just because things may not be considered normal doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing.

What plays have you previously written?
Yesterday was my first play, but I've also written another play, The Detachment and I am currently working on two more.

What are your expectations for the upcoming Festival?
I'm really excited for the upcoming Festival. I can't wait to see the characters come to life and see how the actors interpret each one and makes it his own. Evan, Norah, and Dr. Brown have only been people in my head thus far, and now they finally get to be real people for everyone else. I'm also excited about getting the feedback of the audience seeing a live performance, as opposed to the feedback of people who have read the play.

What advice would you give to other writers?
I think the hardest part of being a writer is to have enough confidence in yourself and your idea. I know I've personally put away ideas before because I wasn't sure how they would be perceived and I wanted everyone to like it as much as I did. Not everyone is going to like your work and that's okay. Someone might hate it, but I think you should listen to why they hate it. You may not agree with them at all, but it's important to put your pride aside and determine if what they're saying holds any merit. Your biggest critic may actually to be your biggest editor.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Playwright Profile - Sam Gelman

Today’s playwright is Sam Gelman, a junior at The Pingry School in Martinsville. Sam’s play, For the Sake of America: A Story of Patriotism, was selected as one of four winners in the 2011 NJ Young Playwrights Festival – High School division.

How would you summarize your play in 3-4 sentences?
For the Sake of America: A Story of Patriotism is about an average man named Isaac who has been framed by the government for a crime he did not commit. He is given a choice: to plead guilty to the charges he is accused of and receives a deal from the government which will allow him to start his life all over again in a new town with government provided money, or too plead not guilty and risk being found guilty and condemned to jail. With the odds stacked against him, Isaac soon discovers that no matter what he does in the eyes of the jury he'll be found guilty, so he has to make a choice, between his principles and his freedom.

What inspired you to write your play?
The 2008 presidential election filled me with general loathing for self-proclaimed "servants of the people." I became convinced whatever politicians were doing could only be for their own good. I remember reading an op-ed about the failing war on drugs and wondering how the government could convince people that the war on drugs was not a failure. I came up with the idea of a staged drug bust, and the play came from there.

What plays have you previously written?
I have previously written one play (also about corrupt politicians, conveniently,) a murder mystery/drama set in Puritan New England called New Jerusalem. I also wrote an homage to Shakespeare in the form of a short prequel to Macbeth written in Shakespeare's iambic pentameter style. I start to write many plays, but in reality, I have many unfinished short plays in my collection just waiting to be finished.

What are you expectations for the upcoming Festival?
I'm very excited to see the upcoming festival, but I'm also feeling a little strange. It’s weird to imagine people speaking lines I wrote and acting them out. I'm very excited to see what will come out of the reading-after all, it’s one thing to read a play and quite another to see it.

What advice would you give to other writers?
Every time you have an idea, write it down! Keep a journal and jot down ideas as they come to you. Never decide not to write something down because it’s too silly-keep going with it until you decide not to. Also, once you commit to a project and decide you like it, keep working on it! I have too many unfinished plays that remained unfinished because my steam just died down. Keep the energy up!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Playwright Profile - Justine DeSilva

In the days leading up to the first rehearsal this Saturday, I’m posting short profiles of some of our high school playwrights. I sent the playwrights a series of questions via email, which will be included in the profile along with their response.

We begin with Justine DeSilva, an 11th grader at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack. Justine was selected as a winner in last year’s Festival for her play Why You. This year, her play, Wacky Wednesday was selected as one of four winners in the high school division.

How would you summarize your play in 3-4 sentences?
A teen couple struggling to understand the drastically different mentalities and social pressures of their two genders encounter an eccentric school nurse with the perfect remedy; a good old fashioned body switch.

What inspired you to write your play?
I am a firm believer in the 'art mirroring life' mentality; each piece I write has some sort of connection to my own experiences, questions, or curiosities. I feel that the most effective way for me to find truth in my writing is to expand on genuine emotions either felt or observed in my own life. Although the events of Wacky Wednesday are obviously fictional, they were inspired by my own frustrations and miscommunications with guy friends and boyfriends.

What plays have you previously written?
Last year I was very privileged to win the NJ Young Playwrights Festival/Governor's Award for the first play I'd ever written, Why You. The fact that I've been awarded the honor again for my second play is absolutely staggering and an incredible motivation to continue exploring the world of playwriting!

What advice would you give to other writers?
My tiny nugget of wisdom for the writers? Don't forget why you started writing in the first place. Remember the first time you felt words pounding against the pads of your fingers until you finally gave in and released them onto a palpable surface. Because that need and desire comes from a source of honesty that fuels not only a word's escape, but also its resonance in the humanity of others. It's a beauty that can't be forced but can be forgotten. Long story short? Write to fulfill an obligation to the soul, not the mind.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two plays added to the May 24 performance

We're happy to announce that we will be presenting the two plays that received Honorable Mention in the High School division of the Festival. These plays are:
  • Writer's Iris by Molly Kirschner, 11th grade, Bergen County Academies
  • Happy Days by Lacey Davies, 11th grade, Bergen County Academies
The plays will be performed as readings at the beginning of the performance with the four winning scripts presented immediately after.

Have you made your reservations yet?

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Two weeks to go!

Last night we celebrated the work of our high school playwrights at the New Jersey Governor's Awards in Art Education at the State Museum in Trenton. Our four playwrights, along with students from all artistic disciplines, were honored with a medallion and a proclamation from Governor Christie marking their achievement. Congratulations again!

With two weeks left to go we're making some final arrangements for the production. Now that the cast and directors are in place, we turn our attention to some of the technical needs and marketing tools. I've also heard from our marketing director that news organizations have been calling for information about our playwrights, so keep an eye on your local papers (in print and online).