The New Jersey Play Lab is a home for playwrights and dramaturgs of all career levels who seek collaboration, methodology, and excellence in their work. At each and every point of engagement at The New Jersey Play Lab, whether through our early career foundational programming, play development forums, dramaturgical services, or our developmental residencies, the focus is on providing the knowledge and opportunity to move forward in one’s artistic and professional journey. While some of our programming is limited to NJ-based artists, many of our programs have no regional restrictions.
The New Jersey Play Lab is dedicated to developing production-ready plays through comprehensive hands-on dramaturgy, and to mentoring emerging dramaturgs in the NJPL approach to play development.
The New Jersey Play Lab (NJPL) offers programs for playwrights and dramaturgs of all career levels to further develop their craft through the core NJPL values of collaboration, methodology, and excellence.
All NJPL programs and dramaturgical services have been carefully designed to foster an appreciation for what we deem to be best practices in playmaking, and to support the creation and production of dramaturgically sound, impactful new work in The Garden State.
Our Vision + Our Story
In most instances, new plays are developed through disconnected short workshops and readings at multiple companies and institutions over a period of years. 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 even the good reviews of new plays often include a host of caveats.
The NJPL was initially born out of a desire to address these concerns through an alternative approach of developmental residencies that would offer writers comprehensive and continual support, and ensure that their new plays are dramaturgically sound prior to receiving their first production.
While The NJPL Residency Program remains the cornerstone of our work, since our inception, our mission has grown and our programming has expanded. The more we did the work, the more work we saw there was to do; the more work we saw there was to do, the more important we believed that work to be. Over time, we have created a tiered menu of programs, workshops, and professional development opportunities for playwrights and dramaturgs of every career level to have the right access point to grow their craft, and to deepen their appreciation for the place of dramaturgy in their artistry.
As part of this process, we have committed to welcoming, mentoring, and empowering artists of all theatrical backgrounds who wish to learn our approach to dramaturgy, and have embraced a wider curatorial approach to the work we champion. Our commitment to a depth of craft and comprehensiveness is held in common across each project, but the aesthetic of each project is as varied as the NJPL dramaturgs who initiate it.
We joke that we are constantly doing dramaturgy on our organization, but questioning and articulating the intentions and impact of work is the hallmark of what we do. It would be disingenuous and hubristic for us to believe that our own work is not equally in need of this introspection and excavation. We ask ourselves a lot of questions about what we do and why we do it. We challenge each other to seek out connectivity, to think more deeply, and to embrace the incredible power of the art of dramaturgy to transform us both individually and collectively.
We use the term “comprehensive hands-on dramaturgy” to describe our approach because it implies that we are going to be active partners to playwrights in the development process and bring the fullness of our experience, intuition, and artistry to each and every collaboration. However, we can’t bring this “hands-on approach” without ensuring that we are always working 100% in service of the playwright’s intentions, not our own interests or tastes. So our process always begins with questions….lots and lots of questions. We begin all of our dramaturgical processes with deep, active listening and curiosity so we can be very clear on what the playwright is trying to do and thus confident that all we bring to the table will be in service of those intentions. This is the foundation of our approach. 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, 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 intentions around a particular play. This shared understanding facilitates a more direct, detailed, and engaged collaboration, and ensures that our contributions are always in alignment with and in support of the playwright’s intentions. In this process, we identify and ask questions— a lot of questions—until we find the answers that we all deem the strongest, most true, and most useful in service of the play. Our goal is for playwrights not only to be confident that their plays work, but for them to know WHY and HOW they work.
The founders of The New Jersey Play Lab have a combined experience of over 40 years of developing new plays for the stage, many 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 our 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.
The foundation of the mission of The New Jersey Play Lab is to develop production-ready plays through comprehensive hands-on dramaturgy. Unlike the state of being “publication ready” in which a script has arrived at a fixed state and is no longer anticipated to change, plays that are “production ready” have arrived at a state of clarity in which the playwright has a firm understanding of the play, its purpose and audience, its structural architecture, its strengths, and its intended impact, and all remaining questions are best explored and addressed with actors on their feet in a full rehearsal process.
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 many of the questions and the hiccups have been satisfactorily addressed while still in the development process.
- It means that playwrights have the clarity of purpose and execution to ensure that they enter into a first production with their vision intact.
- It 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 of “production readiness” to all of our work. Although it is unlikely that a play being developed in one of our PlayGym Forums will reach production readiness in the course of a 4-week session, the methodology through which we approach our work is the same in all of our programs, and thus by utilizing the full scope of our programmatic offerings, each writer with whom we engage has the opportunity and the resources to bring their play to this optimal stage.
The Core Values of an NJPL Dramaturg.
An NJPL Dramaturg…
- utilizes a core template of questions and priorities in order to gain a deep understanding of both the play and the writer’s intentions
- grounds their work in craft and has an awareness/flexibility in understanding its many expressions
- works for the good of the play and to cement the writer’s ability to identify and own their vision
- frames feedback in a constructive, actionable manner
- ensures that all feedback, whether investigative or at times prescriptive, is always in alignment with the playwright’s stated intentions with the play.
- believes simultaneously that the playwright is the sole owner, expert, and architect of their play, AND that a dramaturg can provide objectivity and expertise in illuminating current states, paths forward, and modes of craft. We believe these truths are complementary and that the strongest work is born of their coexistence.
Foundations: An Introduction to the Building Blocks of Play Structure, the Language of Dramaturgy, and the NJPL Approach to Play Development
This is a four-week, ten-hour workshop designed for playwrights who are new to the craft of playwriting, or for those who have had some formal training but wish to deepen their understanding of the language of dramaturgy. This workshop is also recommended for emerging dramaturgs, actors, and directors interested in sharpening their tools around the specific process of bringing new work to the stage.
The Foundations Workshop is offered virtually and is open to artists residing outside of New Jersey.
The Storyteller Studio is a collaborative space for young playwrights and dramaturgs under the age of 30 to hone their craft through peer and professional support, and to develop the skills and working habits necessary for success as they transition into professional careers.
This program is intended for those who have recently graduated from university programs or those who have established their initial interests in these art forms through alternative avenues. Participants must consider New Jersey a literal or artistic home.
PlayGym is a unique forum for playwrights to hear their work read and to receive feedback from professionals in a supportive environment. It is a hybrid between a playwriting class and a writers’ group, and intended to be used as a Gym in which writers return again and again to workshop and Play with their new scripts while developing and strengthening their understanding of craft and structure.
Playwrights who are brand new to the craft of playwriting are encouraged to take our Foundations Workshop prior to registering for PlayGym. Beyond that, PlayGym is recommended for playwrights of all career levels, is offered virtually, and is open to playwrights residing outside of New Jersey.
These are one-on-one collaborations with a member of our dramaturgy team. Outside of our Residency program, our script consultations offer playwrights the most concentrated and focused dramaturgical support on their plays. We offer a menu of options. This service is recommended for playwrights of all career levels. Script Consultations can be done in-person or virtually and are open to playwrights residing outside of New Jersey.
NJPL Developmental Residencies are the cornerstone of our work. Whereas most 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 serves to condense the overall development process in the lifespan of a given play without sacrificing the quality of the journey or the results. This program is limited to playwrights who consider NJ a literal or artistic home, and is recommended for playwrights who have had some experience in the play development process.
The NJPL is committed to fostering the creation and production of outstanding new work in The Garden State and to strengthening the ongoing movement to establish New Jersey as a valued and vibrant hub of new play development. We are a proud member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and hold our fellow member theatres in high regard. We actively seek out partnerships and collaborations to provide play development support for organizations looking to bring new work to NJ stages.
The mission of The NJPL is two fold: to develop plays and to mentor dramaturgs. Our goal is to cultivate a collective of dramaturgs who share an understanding of our methodology while still nurturing and celebrating each artist’s individuality. We offer ongoing opportunities for mentorship. While we have partnerships with theatre departments at a number of universities, it is one of our core beliefs that this is only one path toward the craft of dramaturgy, and we welcome artists who have traveled on alternative paths.
The New Jersey Play Lab Acting Company is an ensemble of outstanding professional and non-professional NJ-based actors who are dedicated to and well-versed in the NJPL’s approach to new play development. They are an integral and valued component of the work of The NJPL, lending their talents and insights to the developmental readings that take place in all of our programming.
Membership in The NJPL Acting Company is by invitation only, but we often work with actors outside of our company for our developmental readings, and are always looking to be introduced to the work of more actors interested in new play development. If you are an actor who enjoys working on new plays, please submit your materials to us.