Ruth Zamoyta, 2020 NJPL Resident
In 2019, my play “The Incels” was chosen for a residency at The New Jersey Play Lab and the residency was extended one more year when COVID hit. I am enormously grateful for the time and resources the team shared, helping me rip open this play and re-shape it into a powerful stage piece which has had two readings off-Broadway and was nominated for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. I primarily worked with Cheryl Katz, whose keen insight, professionalism, and talent for getting me to pry open my eyes and see different possibilities were indispensable. Cheryl believes in my ability to write for the stage, and there is no greater feeling than having your artistic output validated by a seasoned theatre professional. Cheryl was backed by a dream team of dramaturgs who spent time reading through multiple drafts of the play, listening to readings, and sharing their feedback: Kaitlin Stilwell, Emily Dzioba, Sanjida Chowdhury, Jimmy Kenna, and Georgette Hamlett—thanks to all of you for sharing your time, talent and shrewd observations. NJ Play Lab produced readings of “The Incels” online and in-person, sourcing professional actors, directors, tech directors and other creatives who allowed us to “see the play on its feet,” explore the intricate technical requirements, and get feedback from the people embodying my characters. A big thanks to Danny Viola, Zachary Cohn, Joey Palazzo, Patrick Andrew Jones, David Neal, and Kire Tosevski, who participated in the readings. Your acting, direction and tech help were unparalleled and the insights that emerged from these readings led to important changes in the script. Again, I am exceedingly grateful for NJ Play Lab’s investment in my work. It is a remarkable organization and I look forward to seeing all the amazing plays that emerge from the residency program.
Michael John McGoldrick, 2020 NJPL Resident
After having finished my residency with them [July 2021], I want to share that I’ve just had the most gratifying writing experience of my life to date. Artistic Director Cheryl Katz was absolutely instrumental in helping me transform my play “Allies” into something far greater than I could have achieved on my own. She was always a wise counselor, consistently posing tough questions that forced me to clarify what I wanted to say. Like an experienced doctor, she was deft in diagnosing weaknesses in the script and suggesting potential remedies. She was also extremely patient, never forcing our process to adhere to an arbitrary deadline. Our work took as long as it needed to take, something that (to my knowledge) no other development opportunity offers to writers. Just as importantly, she was a persistent advocate for my vision of the piece, always working within the parameters of the world I had established and never imposing anything that felt false or incongruous. Our work together made me feel safe enough to take risks and push myself beyond what I thought I could do. Without question, the play benefited tremendously, as did I – I feel myself to have grown tremendously as a writer due to her guidance.
Bruce Sisler, NJ Playwright
Playwriting has become a great passion of mine. Telling a story & developing characters is both inspirational & cathartic for me. Over the last year, I have been blessed to become part of the NJ Play Lab Family. Utilizing their dramaturgs on script consults & the PlayGym Forum for both full-lengths & scenes, they helped me turn my passion into production-ready plays. The NJ Play Lab is filled with the most supportive, knowledgeable, & creative people that I have ever met, & I have grown exponentially as a writer & a person because of my new family.
Nikkole Salter, Obie award-winning playwright (In The Continuum, Carnaval, Lines in the Dust)
Cheryl Katz is hands down one the smartest and most conscientious dramaturgs I have ever had the good fortune of working with. Her inquisitive rigor, her non-hyperbolic clear communication approach, and the care she takes with the logic, integrity and clarity of the work is the reason I was able to so thoroughly develop my work. Plus, Cheryl’s dedication to serving the playwright’s vision – not her own – makes her an incredibly generous collaborator. Cheryl is an asset to any storytelling team….
Paula Alekson, Artistic Engagement Manager, McCarter Theatre
Every summer, I seek out Kaitlin Stilwell to come to inspire my Solo Performance Workshop students as our “Special Guest Developmental Dramaturg.” Her visits fall on the day when these writers, usually new to the form, have already decided what they are going to write about, but might not have yet put pen to paper. Kaitlin is skilled and knowledgeable and has a truly extraordinary disposition as a person and a dramaturg. She has a nurturing warmth that excites confidence and belief in the truth and impact of one’s own creative ideas. She has a wisdom that delights in questions and questioning, and she seems to always ask the most useful question, as in “of service,” to the playwright in the moment—a question that further opens imagination than seeks to limit it. (And I suspect she always has ten questions she could have asked. How does she always know the right one to ask?) And she exhibits uncanny adaptability to understand and appreciate the idiosyncratic instincts of each individual artist. I suspect that this is because she listens so intently. Dramaturgical discussions with Kaitlin are akin to a great therapy session merged with a much needed heart-to-heart talk with one’s best friend—I see my students leave their one-on-one sessions with clarity, energy, courage, and a love for and belief in their dramatic ideas and impulses. She’s an inspiring guru to them and to me.
Kate Mulley, writer, producer, dramaturg
Cheryl is an absolutely invaluable collaborator. She’s thoughtful, rigorous, and completely invested when developing new work. A smart, quick-thinking director who thinks dramaturgically, she uses her brain and her heart while ushering plays into production.
Jessica Baskerville, playwright
As an educator and dramaturg, Kaitlin Stilwell approaches each new play, student, and theatre-goer with great care and sincerity. More than anything, she seeks understanding: for the playwright, for the work itself, and for the communities she services. She is a cultural translator, whose work is only enhanced by her compassion.
Keith Hamilton Cobb, actor and playwright
As a playwright fairly new to the field, my process has proven arduous but often equally endless. What has offered that process any degree of efficiency at all has been the dramaturgical presence of Cheryl Katz. Her keen facility with the mechanics of drama combined with a gentle spirit and an expansive empathy offered me a working relationship that was essential to the refinement of an extremely complex piece of theatre. As the writer, I was at once at ease with Cheryl’s understanding of me, and her understanding of the intent in what I had written, thus placing innate trust at the foundation of our collaboration. Her work is skill-centric. She is kind. And she believes, as we all should, in creating “the best play.”
Phoebe Farber, playwright
Kaitlin has worked with me as a dramaturg on several playwriting projects. She was instrumental in helping me think through the characters, action, and drama of a piece. Her wealth of experience and her gentle but incisive style helped me to focus on the essential elements of my play, and answer the big question: why is this story important to tell right now? Kaitlin has a deep understanding of theater and the skill of a master teacher—this combination makes her a gifted dramaturg.
Heather Benton, actress, director, movement coach, Assistant Professor, Theatre and Dance, Montclair State University
Cheryl Katz deeply understands the developmental process of bringing a new play to life. It’s in her bones. She has an incredible ability to excavate theatrical text with precision and intellectual rigor, to enter into the world of a new play with curiosity and inquiry and to guide actors through a rich collaborative process with the playwright that reveals the play’s potential and theatrical vision. In the development of new work, she serves the play first, guiding the actors to discover the humanity of the characters and unearth the structure, style and the rhythm of the play in concert with the playwright. As a director/ dramaturg she creates a positive, authentic environment where the work is about rigorously serving the unique needs of each new play with fearlessness, generosity and heart.
Cheryl is also a shrewd dramaturg, and an insightful and compelling director. She works with laser-like precision, crafting each moment with specificity and a simultaneous eye on the arc of the whole piece. As inspiring as she is demanding, Cheryl intimately understands the actor’s process and knows how to engage an actor’s authenticity and bravery.
Amanda Sage Comerford, playwright
In working with Kaitlin, you can quickly tell that she is passionate about great storytelling and the development of new work. Her gift is getting inside your play to best help you navigate your story and push it to the next level. She is thoughtful and intelligent in the questions that she asks her writers – letting their minds organically travel to places they may have not considered. She steers you towards asking yourself questions you didn’t know you needed to ask. And she helps you get out of your own way and clarify not only what your piece is trying to say, but who you are as an artist. The readings and critiques that she has run over the past few years have put together a strong creative family of actors and writers that feel inspired, open, and safe to experiment. In these readings, you can tell that her mind and imagination are constantly moving – putting together maps and webs of information and details and themes that as writers we don’t always recognize. The most difficult and ambitious script that I have ever written would have never been completed or as focused if I didn’t have Kaitlin helping me along the way. She is readily available and dedicated to her artists and I am a better writer for having worked with her. Every playwright should be so fortunate as to have a dramaturg as intellectually and emotionally creative and intuitive as Kaitlin Stilwell.
Reginald L. Douglas, director
I worked with Cheryl on the world premiere of Nikkole Salter’s Lines in the Dust in 2014. Serving as both producer and dramaturg, Cheryl led with kindness, support, and generosity of both time and insight. Her understanding of structure and arc were invaluable as we navigated the world of this new play and her notes were always specific and delivered with warmth and sensitivity. I would work with Cheryl again in a heartbeat because I know that she makes rooms stronger, creative teams smarter, and the work altogether better.
Erica Nagel, Director of Creative Development and Strategy, McCarter Theatre Center
Kaitlin is an exceptional dramaturg whose driving purpose is to help writers hone and achieve their artistic visions. She has an innate gift for story and structure coupled with a kind heart and gentle manner that makes writers feel that they and their plays are safe and cared for. I’ve seen Kaitlin work with brand new writers still in high school, emerging writers on the brink of crystallizing their voice, and seasoned writers at the top of their field. In every case Kaitlin’s warm, thoughtful, diligent, and joyful dramaturgical process has brought the work to the next level. Whether you are a first time playwright right or an established professional, you will find Kaitlin to be a generous and wise artistic collaborator whose partnership is a gift to your process.
Rik Walter, actor
Cheryl Katz is as close as one can get to a perfect theater director. The thought and care she takes to develop, rehearse and present a piece of theater is unmatched in my 30-year acting career. No point of process, design or story-telling is missed by her keen dramaturgical sensibility and aesthetic. And, all the while, her approach is steeped in a deep respect for the collaborative process. If I was a playwright developing a new play, I would absolutely want Cheryl’s hand at the helm.