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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Announcing the selected playwrights for the 2015 NJYPF

We finally have everything lined up where we can share the complete list of playwrights whose work has been selected for performance in the 2015 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival (listed in alphabetical order by title):

High School Division
Listen by Jack Kimber, Chatham High School
Pretty Girl by Laura Diorio, Middletown High School South
Thanksgiving Surprise by Betsy Zaubler, Newark Academy
Worn Thin by Gabrielle Poisson,Newark Academy

Junior High School Division
Doppelganger by Paige Warnock, 9th grade, Union County Academy for Performing Arts
Love Bites by Cathryn Mesce, 9th grade, Union County Academy for Performing Arts
The Angel Side by Evelyn Doskoch, Columbia Middle School

Elementary School Division
Sibling Rivalry by Artha Abeysinghe, Torey J. Sabatini ES
Stitches - Dun, Dun, Dun by Josephine Walker, Torey J. Sabatini ES
Storm in a Cup by Francesca Wan, St. Vincent Martyr School

Congratulations to those selected and to those who reached the final round of judging!

The Junior HS and Elementary plays will be read on Monday, June 1 @ 7:00 pm; the High School plays receive a staged-reading on Tuesday, June 2 @ 7:00 pm. Both presentations will be held on the Florham Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University. For details and reservations, visit the PTNJ website and select the link for the Festival date you wish to attend.

To learn more about the playwrights, please visit the NJYPF website and select the link for playwrights bios. We will also be asking the high school playwrights a series of 5 Questions, which will be posted to the blog in the days leading up to the Festival on June 1 and June 2.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mayor Proclamation for Madison Young Playwrights Month 2015

On Monday night, May 11, Jim DeVivo (PTNJ's Director of Education), and a few of the 2015 Madison Young Playwrights attended a Borough Council meeting to accept a proclamation from Mayor Robert Conley. The proclamation officially recognized April 2015 to Madison Young Playwrights Month. Upon accepting the award, the students were invited to introduce themselves and talk about their play. Jim provided the following words about the program:

"At the core of an effective education system are the arts. While it is easy to see art for its immediate entertainment value, we must not overlook the greater impact it has as an educational tool. As the Roman philosopher Horace believed: effective art be both "dulce et utile", meaning sweet and useful. Or to put it another way: entertainment and education. In recognizing these young artists tonight, we not only celebrate their achievement, but also encourage their curiousity so that they may continue to learn more about the world and about themselves, and to explore how those two interact.

"We are currently wrapping up the celebration of the 29th annual Madison Young Playwrights program with our final in-school assembly at St. Vincent Martyr School on May 27; however, three plays by Madison students will be further performed in the statewide New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival on June 1st in a production by Playwrights Theatre on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University.

"Thank you Mayor Conley and members of the Council for recognizing the creative explorations of these students. And above all, thank you to the students who have shared their imaginations with us, and the teachers, parents, and community who support them. [The students' work] cannot happen without that support. And we encourage our children to continue using their imaginations for many, many years to come."

Local press coverage of the meeting can be found on the TAPintoMadison website.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Young Playwrights Map

As part of his doctoral research, Jim DeVivo (PTNJ's Director of Education) has been compiling information for regional and national young playwrights opportunities in the United States. This past week, Jim published this information via a Google Map on his personal website. You can find it at

The New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival is just one of many opportunities open to writes ages 19 and younger. As it turns out, many of those programs are right here in the Garden State. There are also at least 10 national programs for which you may be eligible. Take a look at the map and see where you might be able to send your current play, or any future submissions. However, please note that the young playwrights season is coming to a close for many of these programs, so information for next year's programming may not yet be available. Even so, what a great way to prepare for next year!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Junior HS plays selected

This afternoon I met with our selection panel to choose the three plays from the Junior HS division that will be presented at the Festival in June. Those playwrights have received a phone call and/or email this afternoon informing them of the selection of their plays. (If any playwrights submitted via a classroom teacher, or school, an email was sent to that sponsoring teacher.)

As soon as I hear back from these three playwrights, I will send out notices to the other finalists from the Junior HS division.

Stay tuned!