The New Jersey Play Lab is dedicated to developing production-ready plays through comprehensive hands-on dramaturgy.
This unique approach to play development serves both New Jersey playwrights and producers by offering an alternative to the often fractured process by which plays arrive at their first production.
The New Jersey Play Lab offers developmental residencies, play development forums, and dramaturgical services, designed to foster the creation and production of outstanding new work in The Garden State and beyond, thus strengthening the ongoing movement to establish New Jersey as a valued and vibrant hub of new play development.
Our Vision + Our Story
The New Jersey Play Lab (NJPL) is a home for NJ-based playwrights of all career levels who seek collaboration, methodology, and excellence in their work. At each and every point of engagement at The NJPL, whether through our developmental residencies, play development forums, or dramaturgical services, the focus is on providing the knowledge and opportunity to move forward in one’s artistic and professional journey.
These days, many plays are developed through short workshops and readings at multiple companies and institutions. This can lead to a play remaining “in development” for an extended period of time, and to a playwright responding to many voices and perhaps contradictory feedback. Yet, despite all of this play development, we have noticed a trend towards plays being fully produced before they are fully cooked, and that good reviews of new plays often include a host of caveats.
The NJPL was born out of a desire to address these concerns by offering an alternative approach that ensures that new plays are dramaturgically sound prior to receiving their first production.
When we first started the Lab, there were only two of us in the “room”, so we imagined an organization modeled after our image and our strengths, with a top down structure. But as we have delved into this work, brought others into our fold, and considered both the needs of the field, and the contribution we want our organization to make, we have come to re-imagine the organization thriving under a different structure. While the defining hallmarks of all of our work remains comprehensiveness and an almost religious attention to craft, we are now moving forward under a new organizational model that ensures a wider and more diverse curatorial and dramaturgical sensibility.
We are energized by the notion that we can better serve the NJ playwriting community, and the theatrical community at large with an organizational structure that allows all of our dramaturgs to exert curatorial power and embrace leadership roles, to initiate and implement programming, and to substantially contribute toward, and perhaps even lead, the definition and the impact of the organization moving forward.
When we look to the future…
- We envision an organization staffed by a team of dramaturgs, diverse in their style, their taste, their background, their race, ethnicity, social class, and gender identity.
- We imagine a structure wherein each dramaturg champions the work that speaks to them, and draws support from the collective well of knowledge and perspective of our entire dramaturgical team.
- We see an organization whose commitment to a depth of craft and comprehensiveness is held in common across each project, but whose aesthetic project by project is as varied as the people who initiate them.
- We envision an organization that attracts playwrights of all backgrounds and abilities through the diversity of our staff, the depth of our commitment to craft, and the perception of excellence in all that we do.
- We see an organization that is known to playwrights, dramaturgs, theatres, and producers across the state — and is one that that they feel is relevant to them and meets their needs.
- We envision an organization in which dramaturgs and playwrights at each level of experience have an access point at which to enter and a path along which to grow.
- We see an organization whose mission and work attracts actors who believe in the value of developing new work and who are excited to lend their talents and hone their skills within our programs.
- And finally, we envision an organization marked by a willingness to be self-critical, self-reflective, and to make amends when we err. We see an organization committed to the ongoing nature of each of these processes.
Whereas other development opportunities are designed to move a play forward as much as is possible within the time frame of a given program, through our Residencies, we are committed to continuing to work on a play until all collaborators feel it is ready for production. This approach also serves to condense the play development process without sacrificing the quality of the journey or the results.
We use the term “hands-on dramaturgy” to describe our approach because we see ourselves as a partner to playwrights, bringing all of our collective knowledge to the table in all aspects of our work.
Our process is thorough and demanding because we share a reverence for the art of playwriting, the utmost admiration for writers, and a deep appreciation and respect for audiences.
We are big on structure, arc, intention, stakes, and revisions, but all of this must stem from vision: the playwright’s vision. Our process always begins with identifying and articulating the playwright’s goals of “production-readiness” around a particular play. This shared understanding facilitates a more direct, detailed and engaged collaboration. In this process, it’s not enough to identify and ask the questions: we continue to ask the questions until we find the answer. And not just any answer the one that we all deem is the strongest, most true, and most useful in service of the play.
The founders of The New Jersey Play Lab have a combined experience of over 40 years of developing new plays for the stage, six of which have been as a collaborative team. We have worked with writers of varying degrees of experience, who write in an array of styles, under all sorts of timelines. What has allowed us to be successful in each of these collaborations is our ability to be flexible enough to adapt to the needs/style/language of the playwright while still acting from core principles of craft and a rigorous pursuit of excellence.
We recognize that there are many roads to expertise, and ours represents only one road. One of our core values in identifying and mentoring NJPL dramaturgs is the recognition that different experience is not lesser experience, and that the skills sets that support good dramaturgy are not limited to any particular education or career path.
We recognize that being “ready” is a completely subjective state. However, we believe there is a threshold from which playwrights are best prepared to make informed and confident decisions, leading up to and during a first production.
“Production-ready” means that all of the questions and all of the hiccups have been satisfactorily addressed while still in the development process.
“Production-ready” means that playwrights have the clarity of purpose and execution to ensure that they enter into a first production with their vision intact.
“Production-ready” means that the play has been developed to the point where its deliberate, thoughtful construction elevates and underpins its subject matter to create outstanding and important theatre.
We bring this commitment and belief in the value of “production readiness” to all of our work. Although it is unlikely that a play being developed in one of our classes will reach production readiness in the course of a 6-week session, playwrights working on full-lengths in our classes may submit their play for one of our Residencies, work on the same play in subsequent class sessions, and/or work one-on-one with a dramaturg through our script consultation services. The New Jersey Play Lab has been conceived and structured to offer opportunity for every writer to bring their play to this optimal stage.