During lockdown, New Jersey has lived up to its gritty reputation for being the research and development state for new plays. Professional theatres, community theatres, and newly formed writers’ groups have been working with local members and DG writers from all over the country.
Since restrictions have been slightly lifted, there have been valiant efforts to get out of the small rectangles and back onto the big ones. In August and September, Hudson County’s Speranza Theatre Company took to eight parks in Jersey City with Votes for Women, an original play by Jennie Contuzzi, about the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. In Hackettstown, Centenary Stage moved ahead in November with socially distanced live and streamed readings of its delayed Women Playwrights Series (WPS) with three new plays by DG members: Drive by DEBORAH YARCHUN (NYS); Badlands by NORA LEAHY (Chicago); and I’ll Give You Something to Cry About by PATRICIA COTTER (San Francisco). The full production of Turning by member DARRAH CLOUD (NYS), postponed from last Spring, will be presented in April 2021.
And a lot has also been going on inside those little Zoom rectangles, especially in Hudson County. In Hoboken, Mile Square Theatre presented Given Circumstance, a series of seven commissioned plays about Zoom calls. Four DG members had work presented: New York City members NANDITA SHENOY (Analyze Zoom), KEVIN R. FREE (Oh, This Is Rich), and DUSTIN CHINN (Hell Is Other People’s Zoom Weddings) and NJ member LIA ROMEO (Sitting and Talking, with Dan Lauria and Wendy Malick). Hudson Theatre Works in Weehawkin hosted a Virtual Festival of original short monologues. Of the 21 pieces presented, eleven were written by members: VALERIE STACK DODGE, JOANNE HOERSCH, LUIGI JANNUZZI, and LIA ROMEO (NJ); MICHAEL CONNOR, GINO DIIORIO, MICHAEL PUZZO, JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY, and RICHARD VETERE (NYC); JACK CANFORA (NYS), and PERRY GUZZI (OH).
In Union County, Dreamcatcher Rep of Summit presented A Certain Age by NJ member and Artistic Director, LAURA EKSTRAND, and making a quick shift from a planned stage production to audio play, presented NJ member DAVID LEE WHITE’s Ways to Be Happy. The Theater Project in Union has worked with Southern California DG Member STEVE HARPER and NJ writer Bill Mesce, Jr. to create a contrasting monologue event called Black Lives/Blue Lives, which is available both live and virtually on demand.
Community theatres in New Jersey have long been supporters of new plays and DG members. Jersey Voices, the Chatham Community Theatre’s annual one-act play festival presented six new plays online, including two by NJ members STEVEN HAYET (Date with Death) and LORETTA BOLGER WISH (Amnesty Week). In November, Dragonfly Performing Arts Center in Plainfield presented four short works by NJ writers, including Extended Play by member BENJAMIN V. MARSHALL.
Two new writers’ groups have formed with the intention of assisting women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ writers. A Stage of Their Own (ASOTO) is a group of five NJ women theatre artists committed to the development of new works by women playwrights, led by NJ DG members SUZANNE TRAUTH and ELAINE INSINNIA. Development lasts for a year, and in August they presented the first fruit of their labor, NJ member PHOEBE FARBER’s Refuge. Member PANDORA SCOOTER has become the Program Director of American Theater Group’s (East Brunswick) ATG PlayLab, a development workshop for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ writers. Nine writers have been selected for the first round, including NJ member IAN AUGUST and New York City members CALLEY N. ANDERSON, BRYSEN BOYD, EVAN EDWARDS, and JUAN RAMIREZ, JR.