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.