Monday, December 21, 2015

Submissions due today!

This is it. No more extensions. You have until 11:59 pm tonight to send us your scripts for the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest & Festival. For details visit the website.

Happy writing!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Deadline extended thru Monday

We've decided to keep the submission deadline open a few more days. However, we must close the submission period on Monday night, December 21. Once midnight strikes the next moring, the script collector will close. Be sure to get your scripts in now and remember to complete both steps:

1) Complete the online submission form at 

2) Send your play as a Word or PDF document to

Please give a call or send an email if you have any trouble: / 973-514-1787, ext. 21.

Friday, December 18, 2015

24 hours to go!

That's right! Just 24 hours until scripts are due for the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. (Remember, this is a one-day extension due to the technical glitch that sprung up earlier in the week.)

Get your script in now!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Submission deadline extension!

As you know, we collect your scripts via an online process on our website at (choose the hotlink for Guidelines & Submissions). There are two collectors set up on the site and this afternoon we discovered that unfortunately one of those collectors was programmed to close a day earlier than it should. Our apologies to anyone who could not submit their script due to this error.

The good news is that we are extending the submission deadline by one day only! This means that you now have until Saturday, December 19 at 11:59 pm to send in your script.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

One week left!

We are now less than ONE WEEK AWAY from the submission deadlines for the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival! Please remember that submitting your script to us is a two-part process:

1) Complete the playwright information page on the website at (Use the link for Guidelines and Submissions)
2) Send your script as an email attachment (Word Doc or PDF only, please!) to

When sending your script, please label the file with YOUR NAME - TITLE of PLAY - DIVISION. Thanks!

ALSO, when you're done submitting your work to us, considering sending your play to another program in New Jersey or across the country. You can find more online using the Young Playwrights Map published by our Director of Education on his website at
Screenshot from the Young Playwrights Map

Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Call for Readers and Actors

We're looking for Readers and Actors for the 2016 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. Interested? Please fill out our survey (here) to get more information and to share your interest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One month to go!

Hey NJ Young Playwrights, there's only one month to go before your scripts are due to us on December 18th!

Happy writing!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Here's the Pitch!

When writers have an idea, or a completed script, and are looking for financial support, they sometimes need to give a presentation of that play to a producer (think Shark Tank for writers). Similarly, other writers (usually in television) meet together frequently to share plot ideas with one another. Talking about a story idea in this situation is called giving a "pitch". A pitch is a summary of the story that is usually pretty short and defined by a certain amount of time, amount of words, etc. This is typically something done when you start writing, but I've found it to be helpful to young playwrights at any time throughout the process.

Playwriting Workshop students discussing their story ideas.
If at any point in the process you find that you are stuck, or have writer's block, give this pitch exercise a try. First, summarize the general information about the play by beginning with the phrase: "This is a story about ________ " and then continue by giving some information about the character. This can simply be a noun like "girl" or "boy" or "wallaby", or you can give the name. Next, tell a little something about that person's everyday life, what they want/need to do in the play, and why the want/need to do it." For example, if we were to give a pitch about The Wizard of Oz, it might look something like this:

This is the story of a girl from Kansas who gets trapped in her house during a tornado. The tornado picks up the house and lands in the middle of a magical world called Oz. The girl wants to get back home, but is in danger because when her house fell, it fell on the Wicked Witch of the East and killed her. Now, the witch's sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, wants revenge on Dorothy for what she's done. With the help of a good witch named Glinda, Dorothy begins her journey to the Emerald City to see the Wizard who she is told will be able to send her home. Along the way, she meets three other inhabitants of Oz who also need the Wizard's help.

In that one paragraph, we get a pretty good sense of who the story is about, what she needs to do, who some of the other characters are, and what difficulties they all might face. This isn't a complete story, but it might just give you enough of an idea of what you are writing about to help you move through any writer's block, or moments where you are unsure about what you are writing. You can also use this exercise to brainstorm before writing your play, or as a check-in to see how well your story is progressing at any time during the writing process.

Happy writing!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

As Long As It Needs to Be

The most frequent questions and concerns I receive from young playwrights preparing their scripts have to do with the limits that we place on script format and page count. In fact, this was the most troubling thing to the writers in a playwriting class I just finished teaching. They were constantly checking the number of pages and double-checking to see if I thought they might have enough, or too much. I tried to ease their worries by answering the question “How long does it need to be?” with the open answer “As long as it needs to be to tell the story.”

I completely understand the anxiety about these things. The majority of the submissions we receive each year come from students who are writing a play for the first time and what we request for a manuscript is different from the way a script looks when published in the books that they read and use to rehearse the school play. Luckily, script formatting comes pretty easily with a little practice. (You can find more information about the format requirements on our blog here.) While format can be managed, it is page count that causes young writers the most anxiety.

This makes sense to me, too. Young playwrights spend most of their time writing working on papers and projects for class, which often have limits and requirements. I get it: When there is a page limit, or a page minimum, you want to make sure you are saying enough, but not too much, while still writing something good. I worried about this when I was a student and, truth be told, it is something I still think about now that I’m writing my dissertation.

Screenshot from our Guidelines Page
The NJ Young Playwrights Festival asks that script submissions be “longer than 20 minutes in performance time (roughly 20 typed pages)” because that’s what we are able to manage in the production of the Festival. We choose about 9-10 plays and only have a total of three hours between the two performances to present that work. And I want all of you writers to know that while we ask for scripts that are no more than 20 minutes in length (roughly 20 pages of typed dialogue), that isn’t an exact measure of what accounts for 20 minutes on stage. Please keep in mind that if your play reaches the final round, and even if it is selected for the Festival performance, you will do a lot of rewrites and revisions to it. So, there is room to go a little over the limit, if you need to. (Please note the emphasis on little!) But please don’t go overboard. Reaching beyond 25 pages is probably too much.

But really, rather than worrying about how long or how short your play might be, try to focus on telling a good story. Make this a play that you feel confident and passionate about – a play that you are proud to share with the world and a play that you yourself would really like to see. Because in the end, that is what is most important. Tell the story first. Then edit to fit the guidelines later.

Happy writing!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Congratulations to four of our NJ Young Playwrights

A scene from Good News! by Philip Anastassiou (2013)
This month we are thrilled to congratulate four young playwrights from New Jersey who have achieved regional and national recognition for their work.

Alexa Derman (NJYPF 2014) and Philip Anastassiou (NJYPF 2013) wrote plays that were selected for production in the 2016 National Playwriting Competition at Young Playwrights, Inc. This is a repeat honor for Alexa who received this award in 2015, as well.

Emma Q. Baxter (NJYPF 2012) was selected for a fellowship in the third annual Paula Vogel Mentors Project at Philadelphia Young Playwrights for 2016. Emma had a series of plays honored in the NJ Young Playwrights Festivals since 2011, but has also been a student at Playwrights Theatre during our summer playwriting courses.

Emma Q. Baxter at work in the Playwriting Workshop (Summer 2013)
Last year, Rebecca Lewis wrote the play BLIND FAITH during an in-school residency taught by a teaching artist from Playwrights Theatre. This play was chosen as a winning script in the Junior High School Division of the national Playwright Discovery Competition run by VSA at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Becca's play will also be produced in a new festival of student-written work at her school this December.

You can read more about these four playwrights and their awards here.

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!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Focus on Process

Tomorrow morning we will host the culminating presentation for the Acting Workshop class as part of the Summer Theatre Camp at Playwrights Theatre of NJ. This event will mark the end of a two-week process in which six elementary school students created and developed two original short plays under my guidance. We've been meeting in the rehearsal/conference room at the PTNJ offices, which yesterday I transformed into a performance space. We don't often hold class and perform in the same space, but a last minute scheduling issue made it necessary. While skeptical at first, the students have enjoyed the quirkiness of the room, which I think has been an interesting challenge to which they needed to adapt. I also think this arrangement is appealing because it helps to downplay the traditional emphasis on performance and focus the students (and our audience of family and friends) on the work that has been done the previous nine sessions.
Our classroom spaced transformed for performance.

The spotlight on the development process (of scripts, of students, of imaginations...) is what is at the core of the educational work that we do at PTNJ. This is not to say that our programs don't value a product like a final presentation, but rather we see it as a part of the creative process that began on the first day of class. This idea is supported by the concept of a play as a tranche de vie ("slice of life") of the larger story of the character's lives. Part of our play development includes explorations of characters' lives before the script begins and after. Similarly, the performance itself is a slice of the actors' and audience members' lives: they come to the presentation with a certain understanding and expectation and leave with new thoughts and feelings based on what they have just experienced. It is fascinating to watch 7-10 year olds struggle with and understand this concept. I've also challenged them from the start to think of a play being a story that is communicated from one group of people to another; that all we need to do this is a story, some actors, and an audience. The rest is just extra fun. That's not something that is easy for a 7 year old to take, especially when their primary point of reference when developing a character is what props they need or the costume they will wear. We've struggled with that to the very end, but overall, I think they get it and that their work demonstrates this.

To further emphasize the development of the work, I've lined the walls of the room with the notes, ideas, lists, pictures, and other brainstorms that helped propel the students' original concepts into the works-in-progress that will be performed tomorrow. This modified lobby display is something that the other teaching artists and I have talked about for years, but only began to put into practice about two summers ago. The impact has been great as students and parents alike have noticed and commented on just how much work has been done and as a result, how much has truly been learned. And in the end, that revelation and reflection is what the whole thing is all about.
These papers outline the first ideas and drafts for each of the group's stories.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Settings and Senses

Performance by Activate Youth Theatre (Summer 2000)
Old Church Cemetery
Cobh, County Cork, Ireland
Since experiencing site-specific performances by the Activate Youth Theatre in Cork, Ireland, I've been interested in developing a similar work here at home. While I haven't yet engaged in this work, I have tried to excite the Summer Theatre Camp students at Playwrights Theatre about the idea of using environment of the school building where we've conducted our camp, but to no avail. However, last year, the old junior school did help to inspire a group a struggling group to eventually come up with a story idea that everyone liked.

This particular group was interested in the idea of a haunted, or otherwise creepy, house, but couldn't find a compelling set of characters or actions to propel the story. It also seemed that with such a specific, sensory experience as a haunted house, that the clear establishment of a setting would be useful. So, after a few days of failed starts, I set them up with a process drama in which they explored the old school as if it were an abandoned building. We went outside into the park-like front yard and as we approached the school, I told the students that if they were caught inside, the punishment would be severe... so severe it was beyond their understanding. Their tour began as light-hearted novelty, but quickly grew into a much more tense journey as the group created stories about the sights (gates in the hallways), noises (made by the custodial staff cleaning lockers around the corner), and smells (your typical 100-year-old building) that they experienced. Toward the end of the tour, a few students asked if they could head down the hall to our classroom to begin writing while the rest of the group explored one last hallway. Their sudden disappearance surprised the remaining students and sparked a new idea about the dangers of the haunted house. They quickly ran back to classroom to join the others and within minutes had an outline for the story that would eventually become their final presentation. While not a "true"site-specific performance (performed on stage as opposed to in the environment of the site), it demonstrated to me how a location can have an impact in the writing/development process.

This past weekend I was reminded of this story while reading an interview transcript from my dissertation research. In it a former NJ Young Playwright described revising a play that took place in an art studio filled with paintings, sculptures, and the like. After a conversation with the director about the practicality of such a lavish setting during a staged reading prompted the playwright to conduct a series of script tweaks that incorporated the removed visuals into the dialogue. Upon reading this I realized that I don't typically talk about setting in a playwriting workshop like this and that it would likely be an important lesson to my students. So on Monday, we talked about the settings within each of their plays and then I brought the group outside to take a walk around our office building. I asked the students to make note of the things that they sensed all around them and choose one location that made the biggest impact on them. When we returned to the classroom, I had the playwrights take one scene of their play and rewrite it as if it took place in the location they remembered from outside. They immediately noticed how the location changed what each character did and said and then returned to their original writing to make revisions based on the settings of the play. The result has been more realistic character interactions and each day since Monday, at least one playwright has mentioned using something from outside in the writing. I'm looking forward to making that a regular component of my playwriting curriculum.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Digital Master Class for Young Playwrights

A few days ago, as the summer playwriting class was working through their story idea discussed in the previous post, I thought it might be interesting to hear from some playwrights about how they get started on a new work. So, took to Twitter and sent the following question:

I also wrote to a few writers directly and received some excellent responses, which I shared with the playwrights the very next day. The class found many of the playwrights' suggestions very helpful as they wrote that day, so I am posting them below for all our young playwrights to use. You may find these suggestions useful not only as you start writing, but throughout the revision process, too.

Tweets are shared largely as they were received. Some tweaks were made to make any Twitter-speak a bit more readable here. (Websites and Twitter handles included, when possible.) You can find the original suggestions on Twitter under #youngplaywrights.

Pia Wilson (@pwilson720)
 “I usually wind up with an idea for a play & let it roll around in my head for a while B4 I decide it’s worth doing”

 “Then, if the characters keep talking 2 me, I’ll write character descriptions. I usually hear/see a scene repeatedly”

Ramon Esquivel (@Bub1974)
“Start with the strongest element of idea: the character, setting, situation, or question. Fill in the rest later.”

Dania Ramos (@DaniaDania)
 “Depends on project. Usually do basic outline w post-its on foam board. Easy to switch, add, cut scenes as I go.”

“Here’s an example from a novel. For plays there are less post-its. Good luck to the playwrights!”

Storyboard from Dania Ramos

Lauren Gunderson (@LalaTellsAStory
“I envision an ending (maybe not THE ending). Once I know where the story is headed I can really start writing.”

Gabriel Jason Dean (@GabrielJasonDea)
"I ruminate for a long time before I write, figure out basics of my story, driving conflict. Need those first."

D.W. Gregory (@dwgregorywrites)

“often start with questions to myself about the characters”

“many pages of questions; then an exploratory scene to get the characters talking”

"Questions: start with basics -- who is this person, what does she want, why does she want it?”

“What’s the story in two sentences? Why am I drawn to it? What do I want to explore?”

“who else is in the story? Why must they be in the story? How do their needs conflict with the central character’s?”

“I write down as many questions as come to mind. No answers, just questions.”

“Then I visualize an event that I am sure will be in the play somewhere and I write a scene. Pure exploration.”

“I write the scene to let the characters talk to me. This stimulates more questions.”

“after I fill a lot of pages with questions I sometimes think about the events of the play. In broad strokes."

“What do I know must be in the play – things that must happen, things that may. Write these down as they occur to me.”

“Then I look at the events and start to think about the order of events. How does the sequence serve my aims?"

“when I have seven major events in a sequence I think makes sense I start to work on a detailed outline."

“Once I have a rudimentary outline I start writing scenes – and start answering questions.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

Yesterday we welcomed our first group of playwrights to Summer Theatre Camp at Playwrights Theatre. Among the many things we've done in the first two sessions was a writing exercise in which the group began a story using this painting by American painter Norman Rockwell.

April Fool's 1948 by Norman Rockwell
from The Saturday Evening Post
According to The Saturday Evening Post website, Rockwell painted a series of April Fool's Day paintings for the magazine's cover page as a reprieve from his famous Four Freedoms work. The first picture was published in 1943; another in 1945; the last in 1948, which is the one with which the class worked today. First, the class discussed what they saw in the painting and then were asked questions about the characters and the setting:

Who are these people?
What is the relationship between these people?
Who is the main character in the picture?
Where are they?
What is going on?

As you can imagine, the group developed a whole host of ideas and quickly noticed the "errors" in the painting: a series of oddities and mix-ups that Rockwell included for Post readers to find. The class was asked to consider this painting as a moment in the story of the main character (they choose the girl with the doll for this purpose) and began to develop a story idea.

The group named the girl Nancy Jane (a combination of the two more popular suggestions) and decided that she was a proper, stubborn, and taciturn (great word!) girl of about 11 years old who is living with her grandfather while Mom and Dad are on a world tour for the summer. Somehow she has discovered these oddities in her grandfather's attic and in this moment he is explaining to her how they are artifacts to a mystical world for which he serves as some kind of gatekeeper.

This is just one scenario that came up in the group discussion. With so many objects in the frame, there is a wealth of possibility as far as what the story is about and how it proceeds forward from the moment captured in the picture. We also discussed what Nancy Jane's journey might be, the obstacles she would face, and eventually how she would find her way home. They were having such a great time with this story that it was disappointing to have to stop, but time is short in our 10 day workshop and they had their own story ideas that needed attention. However, I look forward to using this picture in writing workshops yet to come!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Photos from Day 2 - Rehearsals, Tech, and Performance

Yesterday was a full day at the Festival with an early afternoon of rehearsals for the High School plays and a tech and performance of Junior HS and Elementary plays in the evening. Here are just a few pictures from the day. You can find more on our Facebook page under the album titled 2015 NJYPFestival.
Playwright Betsy Zaubler discusses a change in her script during rehearsals for THANKSGIVING SURPRISE.

One of many emotional scenes from WORN THIN by Gabrielle Poisson.

A fun scene from DOPPELGANGER by Paige Warnock (Junior HS Division winner). Here Adelaide (Rosemary Glennon, left) thinks that Mary Beth (Kelley McAndrews, right) is her reflection in a mirror. In the script, they are both wearing wedding dresses and preparing to marry the same man!

The Junior HS and Elementary playwrights with the cast at the end of last night's performance.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Photos from Day 1 - Rehearsals

Yesterday we spent the day reading through all ten plays for the Festival with many of the playwrights present. It was an active day that didn't leave time for many pictures, but here are a few to give a small glimpse into the work that is being done this week:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Back in the Saddle

My desk yesterday as I made final preparations for NJYPF

Preparations are just about done and this Sunday we begin rehearsals for the 32nd annual New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. This is a program I have run for Playwrights Theatre since I started working there in 2002. For the past two months, I've communicated with the high school playwrights via email and phone, and finally had a chance to meet them in person at the NJ Governor's Awards for Arts Education on Wednesday. These four students have done a remarkable job not just crafting engaging stories, but also a pair of significant revisions using feedback from our contest readers and the festival dramaturgs. The first rewrite was a great way to assess the commitment to the process and willingness of the finalists to make changes to their work. The goal of the second rewrite under the guidance of a dramaturg, is to help jump start the playwrights into the rehearsal process.

The high school playwrights have always been directly involved in rehearsals, but this is only the second year implementing a pre-Festival routine (last year introduced the dramaturgs; this year, the finalist rewrites). A year prior, I noticed that only a handful of playwrights were actively participating in the program. There are a variety of reasons for this, of course, but it seemed that much of it had to do with the playwrights being thrown into rehearsals without any significant orientation. Seeing professionals work on your script can be exciting, but it can also be very intimidating. Hopefully we've alleviated some of that this year. I can't wait to begin working on the scripts tomorrow. What I can wait for is my new role in this year's program.

I've been directing portions of the Festival for many years, but this is the first time that I will perform in them. Festival scripts are often populated by youth, or young adult, characters; however, this year we were surprised that of the 13 total characters in the four high school plays, only five characters were young people. The majority of the actors that I typically hire for young playwrights presentations are in their early to mid-20s, so the challenge became finding the actors needed for the adult characters. We did well, but fell short to the point where a colleague and I will need to step into two roles. That's all well for my colleague who is a professional actor. For me, on the other hand, it is not a typical role. I've performed onstage before, but I haven't since the New Plays for Young Audiences Series in 2007. So, this should be interesting, to say the least!

This post was originally published on our Director of Education's personal website.

Friday, May 29, 2015

5 Questions with Laura Diorio

"5 Questions with a Playwright" concludes with Laura Diorio from Middletown High School South. We asked Laura to answer five questions about her play or about herself and here are her answers:
Laura Diorio
Middletown High School South

1. What inspired you to write Pretty Girl?

Pretty Girl was written with a generation in mind. I had never written a play before, so when I took this on, I knew I wanted it to mean something. The writing process was significantly influenced by different people. I questioned my friends about their beliefs on social beauty standards and experiences they've had. Some lines in the play are even direct quotes! My inspiration for this play was intended for both friends and strangers. My goal was to showcase the reality that young girls experience all of the time, presented in an honest and relatable setting. I wanted to be a voice for those who are too afraid to express how they feel. I wanted them to know that they are not alone, and everyone goes through what the sisters in the play experience. If I could have at least one person in the audience listen to my play and think, "Hey, she sounds just like me" or, "Wow, I've definitely felt like that before," or "Oh my god, she's absolutely right," then I have done what I set out to do.

2. You were also nominated for a Basie Award for Supporting Actress for a play at your school. Please tell us a little about that play and your role.

Kismine Washington was created by F. Scott Fitzgerald in one of his classic short stories "The Diamond as Big as The Ritz." My drama teacher, Mr. Kozak, took on this hundred year old story and adapted it into a full length drama, which we then performed as our fall play this year. I had the extraordinary privilege of playing Kismine alongside some of the most talented people and friends I will ever know. The experience I gained from this show is unparalleled to anything I have ever done. Taking on a show with characters that have never come to life and a story that has never reached a stage is a rare opportunity that I will forever cherish. To top it all off, I was recently nominated for Best Supporting Actress in the Basie Awards, hosted by Count Basie Theatre which honors excellence in high school theatre. The Diamond as Big as The Ritz won Best Overall Drama and Mr. Kozak won Best Director. To be recognized for such a beautiful role is an honor within itself, and I thank Mr. Kozak and my fellow cast members for bringing the world of Kismine and her unique family to life.

3. You mention in your bio that you’ve written and directed before. What role do you prefer to take in a production (actor, director, writer) and what do you like more about that role than the others?

At Middletown High School South, our theatre program gives students the opportunity to thrive in multiple aspects of the art, and challenges them to take on new experiences. I have gotten the chance to be an actor, a director, and a playwright in the three years I have been at South. I have performed in six shows at South thus far, and have been a writer and director for our One Page Play Festival in the fall and our Ten Page Play Festival in the spring, which are both student-produced. I have loved every second of writing and directing, but my heart lies with acting. Since I was young, I have possessed a strong passion for performance. It has made me increasingly self aware and also provoked me to gain a sense of empathy for others. Performing is an exercise of the mind, body, and heart, and that unique experience is incomparable and irreplaceable.

4. What has been your most memorable theatre experience to date?

I do not have one specific experience in theatre that matters more to me than another. My most memorable theatre experiences are the ones that happen behind closed curtains at South with my favorite people in the world. For me, it is not about the end product. It is about the adventurous process that my cast mates and I take to get there. Theatre is a path that has brought me to some of the greatest people I know, those who have impacted my life for the better. Because of these people, I embrace who I am, and I encourage others to do the same. Every cast is a family, and rehearsals are our quality time together. Sometimes we want to rip each other's hair out, other times we're laughing so hard while foolishly dancing to the YMCA before the start of every show. Because of theatre, the greatest success of all is working with a group to be real under imaginary circumstances. Accomplishing that is the most memorable experience of all.

5. If you could have any super-human power, what would it be, and why?

This was the hardest question of all. After two hours of pondering my options (I wish I was kidding), I have decided that my superpower would be the ability to enter any realm of literature. How cool would it be to jump into the story you're reading? But then... How would I get out? This is why this question took two hours to answer.

The 2015 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival will take place on June 1st (Junior HS & Elementary plays) and June 2nd (High School plays) on the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. You can use these links to make reservations for the June 1 or June 2 performances, or call the PTNJ Education office at 973-514-1787, ext. 21. The Festival is free; however, seating is extremely limited.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

5 Questions with Jack Kimber

The 2015 installment of "5 Questions with a Playwright" continues with Jack Kimber from Chatham High School. We asked Jack to answer five questions about his play or about himself and here are his answers:

1. What inspired you to write Listen?
Jack Kimber
Chatham High School

The thing that most inspired me to write Listen was the setting. It may sound a bit out of the ordinary, but as a kid, I have very vivid memories of the nursing home my grandmother resided in Michigan. Every time I visited , everything was always the same; same wall paper, same smell, same furniture and most of all the same people. This enabled me to secure the plot and focus more so on the characters. The hardest part about writing it was putting myself into the characters, but once I figured out the character's voices and all around persona, it was quite simple for me to write the rest. I do not necessarily have any real connection toward the characters but after writing Listen I felt much more of an attachment to the type of personality that both of the characters held. It was important to me to show how a relationship can develop and deepen even between two very unlikely people. In addition, I hope it shows how we have something to learn from everyone.

2. In your bio you mention that you write in other forms including screenwriting and short fiction. In what genre do you most frequently write and what do you like about it?

I really enjoy screenwriting because it allows a lot of freedoms, including the development of characters and the setting.   I have always been a very big enthusiast of the movies and many television shows so as ideas come to me about a certain plot or character, I immediately think about what it would be like in a movie and/or television show.  The thing that mostly lures me to screenwriting is the creative independence that I have when creating a story.

3. You also mention that you are an avid snowboarder, skateboarder, and wakeboarder. How did you start and which of these do you prefer most?

Yes, I guess you could call me somewhat of a “board sport” enthusiast. Snowboarding was the first thing I ever tried when I was four years old and I just loved it so much that I wanted/needed something to take its place in the seasons where there wasn’t any snow. That’s where skateboarding came in. I saw that many of the pro snowboarders were also skateboarding as well.  I just figured why not give it a shot. And, ever since  I have been skateboarding too.  When I was seven years old my family got our first boat and my older brother was the first one who introduced me to wakeboarding. Due to my experiences snowboarding and skating, wakeboarding came quite easy to me and I immediately fell in love with it. I definitely cannot pin-point which one I prefer most considering that it kind of works out that I get to snowboard in the winter, wakeboard in the spring and summer and skateboard all year round. All of these activities have allowed me to experience new things, meet new people and go to some really cool places.

4. What is your most memorable theatre experience to date?

This winter I attended the show The Invisible Hand in New York and one of my favorite actors Justin Kirk had the lead role. Basically the plot of the play, was about a New York investment banker who gets kidnapped by what looks to be Middle Eastern terrorists. The investment banker (Justin Kirk) develops a relationship with the guard who is tending to him and you get to see an insight to the struggles that the guard has, as their relationship turns from captor/guard to  unlikely friends. The Guard struggles trusting his newly found friend and still remaining loyal to his commander.  The thing that I mostly liked about going to this play was the theatre and location. I hadn’t ever been to an off-Broadway show before and it was very interesting to be in such a small yet comfortable theatre and seeing such an amazing show.  It really showed me all the opportunities and insights in which are possible in the playwriting world.

5. If you could have three wishes granted, what would they be?

  1. To  go back in time and see the Grateful Dead play in Europe 72’.
  2. Play guitar with Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix and Mike Rempel all in the same room.
  3. Discover the truth about the disappearance of Amerlia Earhart.
The 2015 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival will take place on June 1st (Junior HS & Elementary plays) and June 2nd (High School plays) on the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. You can use these links to make reservations for the June 1 or June 2 performances, or call the PTNJ Education office at 973-514-1787, ext. 21. The Festival is free; however, seating is extremely limited.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Questions with Gabrielle Poisson

The 2015 installment of "5 Questions with a Playwright" continues with Gabrielle Poisson from Newark Academy in Livingston. We asked Gabi to answer five questions about her play or about herself and here are her answers:
Gabrielle Poisson
Newark Academy, Livingston

1.  What inspired you to write Worn Thin?

At the end of my freshman year of high school I took a two-week play-writing intensive with the goal of writing a one-act play.  On the second or third day of the course, my teachers told us to write about a parent-child relationship.  I knew right away that I wanted to look at a single parent and an only child because I thought those dynamics between two people who relied solely on one another, would be very compelling. Worn Thin’s first draft focused on Melanie and her elementary school son, Jared, as she struggled financially and Jared struggled socially at school.  As the play progressed I wanted to raise the stakes so I went back and rewrote it with Jared a few years older, but on the autism-spectrum as well as suffering from post-traumatic stress.  I thought it would be so devastating for Melanie to not only have to raise a child alone, but for that child to be handicapped and for her to have no resources to protect and nurture him.

2. You’ve won awards for your fiction writing, as well. Please tell us a little more about some of the other things you’ve written.

Ever since I was very young, I’ve always been in love with writing, and I’ve always used it as a way to express my feelings or tell stories through poetry or short fiction.  After taking the playwriting intensive last year, however, I found that while I love all forms of writing, I prefer writing plays because I like to get to know a  character through the way they talk.  This year I took a course in creative writing, in which I wrote several short stories, one about a teenage girl with a wandering soul who befriends a young boy conning people out of their money in a lemonade stand, and another about a young man visiting a graveyard and encountering Death itself.  I think my favorite piece this year, however, was my second play, entitled The Blue Dress, which tells the story of Pamena, a fifteen year old girl and the suffocating relationship with her alcoholic mother, Morgana.

3. In your bio you mention that you also perform in musicals. What do you like most about being a performer and a writer? If you had to pick one as your favorite what would that be?

It’s so hard deciding between performing and writing because they go hand in hand to complete the creative process.  I’ve been singing and acting since I could walk, and it has always been a dream of mine to somehow make a career in performing.  Writing, on the other hand is amazing because it is a way of taking an idea or an image in your head and transforming it into art that people can really relate to.

4. What has been your most memorable theatre experience to date?

This year I played Little Sally in my school musical, Urinetown, which was just such an incredible experience.  Initially after being cast, I was hesitant to be really excited because Little Sally is a mostly acting role and when she does sing, it is with a nasally character voice.  As a singer I wanted a part to showcase my voice.  Those feelings of hesitation really quickly went away, however, as I fell in love with this part.  Little Sally is this extremely witty quasi-narrator of the show and I’d never felt more creative freedom with a role before.  Unfortunately, the week of the show, I got a really bad cold and was terrified as I found I was losing my voice.  In the end, I was able to participate in the show, not in full health, but the experience taught me that I really can persevere if I power through.  I have never had more fun or more of a positive response than I received in this role.  It really was a once in a lifetime experience.

5. If you were going on an adventure, who would you take as your travel partner and why?​

If I were going on an adventure, I would bring my big brother, Lyle because he is my favorite person in the world.  Ever since the moment I was born, he has been the person that will laugh at my jokes, support me, and stand by my side through the good times and bad.  We’ve been on many adventures together and there’s no one I could imagine that I’d rather see the world with.


The 2015 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival will take place on June 1st (Junior HS & Elementary plays) and June 2nd (High School plays) on the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. You can use these links to make reservations for the June 1 or June 2 performances, or call the PTNJ Education office at 973-514-1787, ext. 21. The Festival is free; however, seating is extremely limited.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

5 Questions with Betsy Zaubler

We begin our 2015 series of "5 Questions with a Playwright" focusing on the four playwrights whose plays have been selected in the High School Division of the NJ Young Playwrights Festival. First up, is Betsy Zaubler from Newark Academy in Livingston. We asked Betsy to answer five questions about her play or about herself and here are her answers:

Betsy Zaubler
Newark Academy, Livingston
1. What inspired you to write Thanksgiving Surprise?

I was inspired to write Thanksgiving Surprise because of the stories about teenagers who come out to their families and are not accepted.  Often, it seems as if the coming out is harder on the family than the person actually coming out.  While these stories are a sad reality, they are not they only reality.  What I wanted to show with Thanksgiving Surprise is that coming out (whether it's as gay, lesbian, transgender etc.) is not always a negative family experience, that there are accepting and embracing families.  I wanted to explore the emotional experience of a teenager coming out in that situation, because even with an accepting family, coming out can be a complex and difficult process.

2. Congratulations on your selection as the Poetry Out Loud winner from you school this year. What poems did you perform as part of the POL competition and why did you choose them? 

For my school competition, I performed "John Lennon" by Mary Jo Salter.  I chose this poem because I love music and it explored how even though people can feel so connected to an artist through their music, they really know nothing about them.  For the regional competition, I performed "Solitude" by Ella Wheeler Wilcox and "The Universe as Primal Scream," by Tracy K. Smith.  I chose "Solitude" because it allowed me to use my acting skills more than the other poems, and I chose "The Universe as Primal Scream" because I liked how it contrasted biblical and scientific theories.

3. When did you start studying Spanish and what do you most look forward to doing in Spain?

I started studying Spanish in 6th grade.  This summer, I'm really excited to live with a host family and be fully immersed in Spanish culture.  I'm also excited to visit Barcelona, which everyone tells me is an amazing city.

4. What has been your most memorable theatre experience to date?

My most memorable theater experience has been directing a children's play at Studio Players, a community theater in Montclair.  It was interesting to see a completely different side of theater and I learned a lot about acting by working with my cast and noticing things that you don't always notice as an actor.  

5.  If you had the opportunity to sit down and have dinner with anyone (living or dead), who would it be and what would be your most burning question?​ 

I would love to have dinner with Billie Joe Armstrong, who is the lead singer and the principal songwriter in Green Day.  I would ask him, specifically with regard to the album American Idiot, how he wrote songs that connected so powerfully to so many people, and how he articulated, with such impact, how people were feeling about America at that time.  


The 2015 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival will take place on June 1st (Junior HS & Elementary plays) and June 2nd (High School plays) on the Florham campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. You can use these links to make reservations for the June 1 or June 2 performances, or call the PTNJ Education office at 973-514-1787, ext. 21. The Festival is free; however, seating is extremely limited.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Tickets available

If you are interested in attending the 2015 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival, it is important that you make a reservation for the reading that you wish to attend. While the Festival is free; seating is extremely limited. We are currently working to ensure that all playwrights' families and schools have seats, but also welcome the public to attend each performance.

To make a reservation, you can use the following links for the Elementary & Junior HS readings on June 1 or the High School readings on June 2. You can also call the PTNJ Education office directly at 973-514-1787, ext. 21.

We will provide updates on the Festival and its participants in the days leading up to our first rehearsal on May 31 and throughout the rehearsal and performance process. You can also follow along on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtags #NJYPF2015 and #youngplaywrights.