Who We Are

Cheryl_LWZ1Cheryl Katz (NJPL Founder)

Cheryl Katz has been developing and directing new plays for over 30 years. She began her career in New York City, developing and directing early works by Deb Margolin, Bryan Goluboff and Stephen Dolginoff, among others. Upon moving to New Jersey, she served as Director of Play Development at Luna Stage from 2003 to 2011, before becoming Associate Artistic Director (2011-2013), and Artistic Director (2013-2018). During her tenure at Luna, she contributed to the development of over eighty new works for the stage, most notably taking a leading role in the development of The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez, The Dangers of Electric Lighting by Ben Clawson, and Lines in the Dust by Nikkole Salter.  On the Luna MainStage, she directed the world premieres of Razorhurst, a musical by Kate Mulley and Andy Peterson, Tranquil by Andrew Rosendorf, The High Water Mark and King of the Mountains by Ben Clawson, Tar Beach by Tammy Ryan, Carnaval by Nikkole Salter, Mercy and The Firefly by Amy Hartman, The Fastest Woman Alive by Karen Sunde, the critically-acclaimed NJ professional premiere of Thrill Me by Stephen Dolginoff, and three Luna Stage productions of The Man In Room 306 by Craig Alan Edwards (1995 and 2008 in New Jersey, 2010 in New York). Cheryl is a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

kaitlin-stilwell-01Kaitlin Stilwell (NJPL Founder)

Kaitlin is so pleased to be developing plays again with Cheryl Katz. Kaitlin spent four years as dramaturg at Luna Stage, where she assisted Cheryl in the development of world premieres Old Love New Love by Laura Brienza, King of the Mountains by Ben Clawson, Indian Head by Nikkole Salter, Tranquil by Andrew Rosendorf, and Razorhurst: a new musical by Kate Mulley and Andy Peterson.

During her time at Luna, Kaitlin also created the audience engagement space The Context Room, and the new play development class PlayGym. She spearheaded the development of several suites of plays inspired by and in celebration of the city of Orange, NJ  including The 280 Project, Secret Cities, and The Orange Project: Lights Up on Education with the BA Theatre Studies program at Montclair State University where she currently teaches.

Kaitlin has worked in the literary offices of Urban Stages, The Mint Theater Company, the Hangar Theater, and McCarter Theatre, where she assisted playwrights Marina Carr, Danai Gurira, and John Guare on premieres of their new plays. As a freelance dramaturg, she has developed plays with Alabama Shakespeare Festival and the Southern Writers’ Project at Alabama Shakespeare Festival; McCarter Theatre’s Youth Ink! Festival, Teen Solo Performance Camp, and Spotlight on Playwriting series; and with many individual writers. Kaitlin has done research for the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Company in New York. Her postgraduate work in England culminated in a dissertation on the dramaturgy of climate change plays.

EDzioba HeadshotEmily Dzioba (Associate Dramaturg)

Emily (she/her/hers) is a dramaturg, arts administrator, and educator. She provides support to the Residency play selections, PlayGym, and is the Lead Mentor of the Storyteller Studio. Artistic homes have included Theater Masters; The Strides Collective; George Street Playhouse; Tectonic Theater Project and the Moment Work Institute; Keen Company; the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey; and the Writers Theatre of New Jersey. Along with new play development, she specializes in the research and development of devised and ensemble generated work. Emily’s most memorable project is serving as the dramaturg on the devised piece 4320p: IMMERSION, conceived under the mentorship of Barbara Pitts McAdams and Scott Barrow of Tectonic Theater Project, and Dr. Lisa Brenner and Chris Ceraso of Drew University. In August of 2019, Emily presented her undergraduate thesis research with this project as a Dramaturgy Debut Panelist at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) National Conference in Orlando.

Emily is a reader for She NYC Arts, the Playwrights Foundation/ Bay Area Playwright’s Festival, Kitchen Dog Theater, and Campfire Theatre Festival, and she has assisted various artists in production, including Jamie V. Richards (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Eric Parness (Resonance Ensemble), the late Rodney Gilbert (Yendor Productions), and Daniel LaPenta. Outside of The NJPL, she is the Managing Director of The Strides Collective, the Company Dramaturg and an artistic mentor for the Union Catholic Performing Arts Company, and assistant with Night Castle Management. When not doing any of these things, she also produces an interview and story-based podcast. Emily is a proud member of LMDA and ATHE, and lives in Central NJ. BA, Drew University. You can read more about her on her website, here

Bio Photo Sanjida Chowdhury (Digital Engagement Coordinator)

Sanjida Chowdhury is an actor and writer. Recently, she has received her Masters in Theatre from Montclair State University. Before that, she obtained an English degree with a concentration in Creative Writing from Rutgers University.


A MorganAlexis Krysten Morgan (Dramaturgy Intern)

Alexis Krysten Morgan is a playwright, educator, and advocate who desires to use her art to create healing spaces for communities of color and individuals with exceptionalities. She has been a fellow with Company One Theatre in Boston, MA, and TC Squared Theatre Company in Cambridge, MA. Her short plays CONCRETE DREAMS, THE POLITICS OF MARRIAGE, and KNOW WHO YOU ARE were produced by TC Squared. Her play, CONCRETE DREAMS had a full staged reading with TC Squared in 2020. Other works including SHOW ME and ACTS OF JOY were presented and commissioned as part of Company One’s series. Her television pilot, BY THE WAYSIDE, made it to the 2nd round of Sundance’s 2021 Episodic Lab. Most recently, her play, FOLLOWING THE RULES was part of Boston’s Theatre Marathon’s festival. Her one-act play, REPAST, has an upcoming online reading with TC SQUARED.


PlayGym Dramaturgs


sandrine 2Sandrine Dupiton

Sandrine is a story and truth teller by nature and practice. She is a creative and coach who enjoys lending her incisive analysis and vision to support getting to the truth, and the beauty and precision of bringing the imagination to life — whether as a published poet, playwright, storytelling facilitator, spiritual life coach, retreat facilitator, educator, social entrepreneur or leader. She started her professional career as an English teacher and after a few posts as Department Chair across the tri-state area, and starting a business that served young Black and Brown girls in developing holistic leadership and social justice journalism skills, Change X: Journalism & Leadership Institute, she went on to become an arts education non profit leader working with youth in social justice, spoken word and theater. She served as an Artistic Associate at Luna Stage where she performed her one woman show, Listen: an intimate communion. The show combined storytelling, retreat facilitation, audience engagement and reflection, and teachings around nonviolent communication and soulful discernment practices – encouraging the power of listening deeply. Her work as an astrologer and spiritual coach reflect her deep interest in archetypal energies and supports her depth of insight in supporting a play’s development as a dramaturg.  

She has long served as a contributing writer for African Voices Magazine and with Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film & Lecture Series as a film festival judge and a Screenwriting Lab Coordinator. As a Poets & Writers grant recipient she cultivated her own creative and healing program for women, LET GO: an experiential poetry workshop. She most recently worked as a Teaching Artist with BAM in their Artistic Critical Response Summer Program for teen artists for the critically acclaimed What to Send Up When It Goes Down by playwright Aleshea Harris. She has developed curriculum and programs that infuse Healing Centered Engagement pedagogy and the praxis of neurobiology as a means to teach youth and adults to regulate their nervous systems (integral to healing and responding to traumas) and use the arts to support communities in doing so.

Her work is infused by her commitments to artistry, healing and a pointed and clear perspective rooted in justice and broad mindedness.

de-1271Darin F. Earl II

Darin F. Earl II (he/him/his & they/them/theirs) is a Garden State native, delighted to contribute to the beautiful culture that The NJ Play Lab has fostered. As a member of the Play Lab’s Acting Company, he is honored to offer incoming playwrights the encouragement and success that the Play Lab provides. With a background in theatre and journalism, he has nestled into communities, fostering environments of support and collaboration amongst artists as an actor, playwright, teaching artist, and arts administrator. Darin attended Rider University for Theatre Performance along with studies in Journalism, emerging as the only Black Theatre Performance graduate in the Class of 2016. As a First-Generation, Queer artist, Darin has made an effort to lead with love and create with care since stepping foot into the Jersey scene. He has been involved with theatre organizations such as The New Jersey Creative Arts Collaborative, New Jersey Repertory Theatre, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Luna Stage, and Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre.
As one of Newark’s Finest Ambassadors, he’s performed since his youth, attending the Newark Boys Chorus School in Newark, NJ. Since then, he’s performed on stages from Upstate New York down to the Cayman Islands and over to Croatia. In 2014, he attended St. Mary’s University of Twickenham in England, UK and in 2017, he traveled with his alma mater to perform in the International Student Dionysian Festival in Đakovo, Croatia. He has also travelled to Los Angeles, California and Charlotte, North Carolina for featured roles in filmed series. With momentum for development, production, and direction, Darin co-founded Visions Productions and North Corner Theatre, two production companies with the intent to assemble an artist collective dedicated to fostering artistic opportunities for our youth. In 2019, Darin was the Interim Director of Education for Writers Theatre of New Jersey. Presently, Darin works in digital media as a webcast production assistant for a corporate creative studio. Aside from his involvement in the artistic community, Darin is an advocate for the Queer community as a member of Beta Gamma Chi Fraternity, Inc. He also is an administrator at HPI School of Allied Health, and a registered pharmacy technician. To follow Darin’s journey, follow him on Instagram: @OfficialDarinEarl.

james-kenna-headshotJames Kenna

James Kenna (he/him/his) is a dramaturg, writer, and educator. He has called many theatre’s artistic homes such as Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Hangar Theatre, Dreamcatcher Theatre, and The 52nd Street Project. His work often explores the collision of fantasy and reality, with a specialized interest in heightened language, non-linearity, theatrical impossibilities, and humor. James is represented by UIA Talent Agency. 

Select recent credits include: Film: The Garden Will Not Crumble (Short Film, ACT Skyfest 2021). Plays: “Beowulf: Her Story” (Dragonfly Theatre Finalist, Slated for 2020 Edinburgh Fringe Festival Postponed due to COVID-19, and Featured on The Subtext Podcast). Writer for Tsquared Theatre Company’s New Works Festival, “Italian Rose: A Solo Show” (Ars Nova Grant, Developed at Fordham University). “The Key: A Solo Show” (Fordham University). 

James has also been seen on stage at The Hangar Theatre, The Edinburgh Fringe, Symphony Space, and various small spaces in New York City. During the day James works as a New York City Ironworker, erecting columns and beams for skyscrapers. James received his BA from Fordham University with awards in distinguished achievement. You can learn more about him and his work on his website here.

img_8998Lia Romeo

Lia Romeo’s play The Forest was developed at the O’Neill Playwrights Conference, and was scheduled to receive a National New Play Network rolling world premiere in the upcoming season (cancelled due to the coronavirus). This and three of her other plays have been recognized by the Kilroys List. Her plays have been produced at 59E59, Unicorn Theatre, Project Y Theatre Company, Dreamcatcher Rep, HotCity Theatre, and many other companies. She was the winner of City Theatre’s 2019 National Short Playwriting Award, and was a 2018 Individual Artist Fellowship winner in playwriting from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. Her plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing, Playscripts, Dramatists Play Service, and Smith & Kraus. She is the associate artistic director with Project Y Theatre Company, and she teaches playwriting in the M.A. program in creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University and the B.F.A. program at Molloy College. She earned her B.A. from Princeton and her M.F.A. in playwriting from Rutgers/MGSA.

PlayGym Interns

2021: Sanjida Chowdhury, Erin Gruodis-Gimbel, Abi McCoy, Alexis Morgan, Elizabeth Moyer, Emily Solomon
2020: Liesl Eppes, Abeba Isaac, Emery Meyers, Jose Rodriguez


Board of Directors

John Penn Lewis

John croppedJohn lives in Montclair, NJ with his wife and two children. John’s career includes extensive work in both the theater and the retail and hospitality industries.

His business management resume includes working for leaders in several fields, such as working on opening the New York City market for Starbucks Coffee Co., and converting a Princeton hotel property for Novotel Hotels.  Prior to that, he spent several years in management at the Lotos Club in NYC, the city’s oldest Arts and Literature club. He has also worked on training programs for major pharmaceutical companies.

As an arts administrator and producer he served as the Managing Director for Luna Stage for four seasons, and as the Executive Director for both the Park Performing Arts Center and the world-famous children’s educational theater company, The Shoestring Players. Additionally, he produced a series of updated classics at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (ScapinKing StagServant of Two Masters) as well as working as an Associate Producer on the World Premiere of Rick Sordelet’s Buried Treasure.

Mr. Lewis majored in theater at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon where he studied Acting and Directing with Jack Leigh Featheringill. Moving to NYC, he continued his studies at the H.B. Studios. While in New York, Mr. Lewis performed leading roles in several World and American Premieres in addition to working in theatres across the country. He also sang with NY City Opera for three seasons. With a lifelong interest in directing for the stage, he worked with Stephen Pickover (Metropolitan Opera) on the direction of the original revue, Where or When. Other directing credits include, A Thousand CranesThe WagerThe Little FoxesLootRobert Patrick’s Cheap Theatricks, and Hansel and Gretel

Jane Mandel

jane-mandelJane founded Luna Stage, and served as Artistic Director for over 20 years. Jane holds an MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts and has had a career in the theatre as actress, director, teacher, and producer. With her inspired guidance, Luna earned its reputation for producing excellent, intelligent and provocative theatre. Scores of new and classic plays have been shared with audiences through readings and full productions. Creating “devised theatre” is one of Jane’s passions. She created and directed In The Name of The Woman (the first show done at Luna Stage), and we don’t have enough sugar for the public (an exploration of racism), created and co-directed The American Project (an exploration of what it means to be an American), and co-created and directed Mi Casa Tu Casa (a bilingual Latino-based play with music that has been touring in New Jersey.) Other directing credits include: Reckless by Craig Lucas, Rosa Loses Her Face by Kitty Chen, Burying FionaRapture and Little Beasts by Jeanne Marshall, The Queen of Thebes and Friends and Relations by Arnold Rabin, Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen, The Other Side of Newark by Enid Rudd, Fair and Decent by Thomas Diggs, and Vita and Virginia adapted by Eileen Atkins.

As Artistic Director she oversaw the productions of Death of a SalesmanMacbethThe Whipping ManThe Dangers of Electric LightingThe Old Settler and A Moon for the Misbegotten, to name a few. She taught theatre games and improvisation/acting at NYU Tisch School of the Arts where she was a full time faculty member while also teaching at The New SchoolWhole TheatreMontclair State University, The Teaching Artist’s Collective, and Luna. She was a member of The Shaliko Theatre Company and acted in The Measures Taken, Ghosts and Woyzeck while in residence at The New York Shakespeare Festival and on tour. Jane currently directs, acts, and coaches acting.

Nikkole Salter

nikkole 2

Hailed by Variety as “thoroughly convincing”, Los Angeles-born, OBIE Award-winning actress and writer Nikkole Salter arrived onto the professional scene with her co-authorship and co-performance (with Danai Gurira) of the Pulitzer Prize nominated play, IN THE CONTINUUM (ITC). For its Off-Broadway run at Primary Stages and the Perry Street Theatre and for its US State Department and Bloomberg sponsored international tour, Ms. Salter received an OBIE Award, and the NY Outer Critics Circle’s John Gassner Award for Best New American Play, the Seldes-Kanin fellowship from the Theatre Hall of Fame, and the Global Tolerance Award from the Friends of the United Nations to name a few. Ms. Salter also received Helen Hayes and Black Theatre Alliance nominations for Best Actress for her performance. ITC, published by Samuel French, was pronounced by New York Times, Newsday and New York Magazine – as one of the best plays of 2005 and was featured in numerous esteemed media outlets including Essence Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, the Los Angeles Times and NPR’s Leonard Lopate Show. ITC has received over 20 productions across the world to date.

As an actress, Ms. Salter can be seen in Gavin O’Connors feature film “Pride & Glory” starring Ed Norton, Colin Farrell and Jon Voight, and heard as the voice of ‘LATICIA’ in Rockstar Games’ video game release, Midnight Club: Los Angeles. Ms. Salter has received an Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) award nomination for Best Actress for
her performance in TONY winner Kenny Leon’s production of STICK FLY co-produced by Arena Stage (Washington, DC) and the Huntington Theatre (Boston), starred in the role of ‘Cookie’ in the West Coast Premiere of OSCAR winner Tarell McCraney’s play HEAD OF PASSES at Berkeley Repertory Theatre (dir. Tina Landau), was featured in Harold Jackson, III’s independent film “Last Night,” (winner of the Audience Award for Best Film and the Grand Jury Prize for best Screenplay in the 2015 American Black Film Festival), starred as Lady Macbeth in TONY-nominated Liesl Tommy’s controversial production of MACBETH at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC, and in a recurring role in Forest Whitaker’s new series, Godfather of Harlem.  Ms. Salter was most recently seen originating a starring role in McArthur Genius Award, TONY nominated playwright Dominique Morisseau’s new play MUD ROW.

As a dramatist, Ms. Salter has written 8 full-length plays, been commissioned for full-length work by 6 institutions, been produced on 3 continents in 5 countries, and been published in 12 international publications.  Her work has appeared in over 20 Off-Broadway, regional and international theatres, and the Crossroads Theatre production of her play REPAIRING A NATION (directed by Marshall Jones, III) was regionally aired during the second season of the WNET program “Theatre Close-Up”on NYC’s channel THIRTEEN, WLIC, NJTV.  The National Black Theatre production of her play CARNAVAL was nominated for 7 AUDELCO awards including Best Playwright and Best Production and won for Best Ensemble Performance.  Ms. Salter is a 2014 MAP Fund Grant recipient, a Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist, USA Fellowship nominee, a two time Playwright’s of New York (PoNY) Fellowship nominee, is currently working on commissions from Woolly Mammoth, the National New Play Network/Cleveland Public Theatre, a musical with Neworks Productions, and is in development to write the television adaptation of Claude Brown’s New York Times Bestselling novel, Manchild in the Promised Land.

Amid an emerging acting/writing career, Ms. Salter’s deep sense of social responsibility led her to co-found (with NSangou Njikam) and serve as Executive Artistic Director of THE CONTINUUM PROJECT, INC., a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that creates innovative artistic programming for community empowerment and enrichment. Their first bi-annual endeavor, The Legacy Program: Residency – an arts education, youth development initiative – launched in 2009 at the William Alexander Middle School in Brooklyn, NY. The Continuum Project, Inc. received the 2010 and 2011 Brooklyn Arts Council Regrant Award (Local Arts), a grant funded by the New York Council on the Arts’
Decentralization Program, in support of the LP: Residency.  Ms. Salter as the Exec. Art. Dir. of the CP and conceiver of the Legacy Program was featured on WBAI 99.5 FM’s “Talkback with Hugh Hamilton”  in NYC and was featured on the nationally broadcast PBS series, “Finding Your Roots,” hosted by Harvard Professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  The Legacy Program was most recently in residence at the Harlem School for the Arts.

Ms. Salter is an active member of the Actors Equity Association, the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and the Actors Center; and sits on the board of the Theatre Communications Group and on the Council of the Dramatists Guild.  She received her BFA in theatre from Howard University under the instruction of Al Freeman, Jr. and Sybil Roberts; and her MFA from New York University’s Graduate Acting Program under the tutelage of Zelda Fichandler and Ron Van Lieu.

Danny Viola

Danny grew up in Bergen County, NJ, works in the Bronx at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School (Riverdale Campus), and currently resides in Newark NJ with his husband, Tyler. He attended Rider University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Art in Fine Arts with a Theatre Concentration.

Over the past decade, Mr. Viola has worn many hats in the professional theatre world as Producer, Artistic Director, Production Manager, Technical Director, Music Director, AEA Stage Manager, Assistant Stage Manager, and a Designer for Lighting, Set, Sound, and Projections. He has been fortunate enough to work with companies of all shapes and sizes from the inaugural season of the new Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA to the JerseyArts Award-Winning Luna Stage Company in West Orange, NJ; from the Tony-Award winning McCarter Theatre Center of Princeton, NJ to the ever-evolving Passage Theatre of Trenton, NJ. His select professional works include the Cherry Picking play festival, the NY premiere of Assistants The Musical (The Players Theatre), the NJ premieres of Jasper in Deadland (Warren County Technical School), Next Thing You Know, and 35mm (Infused Quirk Productions), and the World Premieres of Lines in the Dust, Razorhurst (Luna Stage Company) and Mothers & Sons (Bucks County Playhouse, out-of-town tryout).

Through his work with these companies, Mr. Viola found his passion in supporting new artists through the developmental process of their work, particularly in the worlds of nonprofit and educational theatre. As an educator and artist, his work is rooted in pedagogical practices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, asking theatre creators to ensure the accessibility of work to all and to find ways to raise the voices of those who are typically marginalized.

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