UNION, N.J.: Premiere Stages at Kean University has selected four playwrights to receive development opportunities during the 2023 and 2024 seasons. These include one winner and one finalist in the theatre’s annual Premiere Play Festival, and two recipients of the Liberty Live Commission.
Scott Organ’s Diversion, the winner of the 2023 Play Festival from among four finalists, follows an ICU nurse who learns that someone in her unit is stealing medicine, and will be produced in September 2024 at part of Premiere Stages mainstage season, directed by producing artistic director John J. Wooten. One of the Play Festival finalists, Vincent Terrell Durham’s The Fertile River, was recently given a staged reading, directed by Kimille Howard, at the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center. The play is set in the summer of 1958 in North Carolina, where a Black grandmother of a mentally challenged child receives an appointment notice from a white government social worker.
Organ’s plays have been commissioned by the Atlantic Theater Company and developed by theatres including the Barrow Group, the New Group, Page 73, South Coast Rep, and the Gulfshore Playhouse. His most recent play, 17 Minutes, was extended Off-Broadway at the Barrow Group and had its European premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Durham is a Black gay American playwright. He is a Samuel French Short Play Festival winner and an National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist. Durham has received several commissions and has been published by Concord Theatricals and Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
The Premiere Play Festival is an annual regional competition for unproduced scripts that offers developmental opportunities to playwrights with strong affiliations to the Union metropolitan area. Up to five new plays are developed each year as part of the festival, after which one play is selected for a full production and another is workshopped.
Another program of the theatre is the Liberty Live Commission, a biennial program for New Jersey playwrights to support the creation of new plays that explore New Jersey history. This year two playwrights have been selected for this program: Benjamin V. Marshall, whose play Still will explore the life of Underground Railroad leader and abolitionist William Still, and Melissa Toomey, whose play with music, Upstage(d), is about Asbury Park’s legendary Upstage Club. Premiere Stages will present staged readings of Still, directed by Marshall Jones III, Nov. 17-19, while Upstage(d) remains in early development, with a reading to be announced at a later date.
Marshall’s plays have been performed and developed at the HBO New Writers Workshop, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, Theatre for the New City, Luna Stage, Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, Interact Theatre in Philadelphia, the Warner’s International Playwrights, the Berrie Center, the National Playwrights Symposium at Cape May, and the Kennedy Center. Toomey has recently developed plays with The Actors Studio, Luna Stage Company, The Tank, Fresh Ground Pepper, INKubator at Art House Productions, NJ Play Lab, Theatre for the New City, and more. Her work was recently published by Smith & Kraus.
Premiere Stages is a professional theatre company in residence at Kean University. The company seeks to serve the cultural needs of northern and central New Jersey through the development and production of theatre premieres, professional development, and educational initiatives for the local and campus communities, and the support and cultivation of emerging playwrights and theatre artists.
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