Premiere Stages at Kean University announces Play Festival and commission recipients

From left are playwrights Scott Organ, Vincent Terrell Durham, Benjamin V. Marshall and Melissa Toomey, who have been selected for expanded development as part of the 2023 and 2024 seasons at Premiere Stages at Kean University.

UNION, NJ — Premiere Stages at Kean University is proud to announce four playwrights selected for expanded development as part of the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Premiere Stages has selected “Diversion,” by Scott Organ, as the winner of the 2023 Play Festival. The Premiere Play Festival is an annual competition for unproduced scripts that offers developmental opportunities to playwrights with strong affiliations to the metropolitan area. Four finalists were selected in 2023, including “Diversion.” In this highly topical new play, Emilia is a devoted nurse in an ICU unit, highly regarded by her boss, her peers and the new hire, Mandy, who Emilia has taken under her wing. When it’s discovered that someone is diverting — stealing — medicine on the unit, the nurses are unsettled, particularly when a consultant shows up, effectively placing them all under a microscope. When it’s finally revealed who the culprit is, the nurses must fight to save themselves and the integrity of the unit itself. “Diversion” will be fully produced as part of the Premiere Stages 2024 season, Sept. 5-22, in the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center. The company’s producing artistic director, John J. Wooten, will direct.

Organ’s plays have been commissioned by The Atlantic Theater Company and developed by theaters, including The Barrow Group, The New Group, Page 73, South Coast Rep and the Gulfshore Playhouse. His most recent play, “17 Minutes,” was extended in its Off-Broadway run at The Barrow Group Theater and had its European premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

A second Play Festival finalist, “The Fertile River,” by Vincent Terrell Durham, will receive a staged reading this fall at Premiere Stages, as directed by Kimille Howard, from Thursday, Nov. 9, through Saturday, Nov. 11, in the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center. As the play begins, we find ourselves in the summer of 1958. Sarah Woods has been visiting colored families in a small rural North Carolina community on a mission from the state. Cora Lee Burden is the latest to receive an appointment notice from Woods. The 64-year-old grandmother of a mentally challenged child has no idea what a white social worker from the government would want with her family. But being a colored woman of the south, she knows the visit is a call for caution.

Terrell Durham is a black, gay, American playwright. He is a Samuel French Short Play Festival winner and an O’Neill semi-finalist. Terrell Durham has received several commissions and has been published by Concord Theatricals and Theatrical Rights Worldwide.
For the first time in Premiere Stages history, two playwrights have been selected for the Liberty Live Commission, a biennial commissioning program for New Jersey playwrights to support the creation of new plays that specifically explore New Jersey history. Benjamin V. Marshall is the first recipient of the 2023/2024 Commission. Marshall’s play, “Still,” will explore the life of Underground Railroad leader and abolitionist William Still. The play takes us to 1850s New Jersey, where Peter has arrived at an abolitionist office seeking help from its director, Still, a black leader in the Underground Railroad. As the two men learn more about each other’s lives, they realize their vastly different pasts will lead them to a deeply connected future. Staged readings of “Still,” as directed by Marshall Jones III, will be on Friday, Nov. 17, through Sunday, Nov. 19, in the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center.

Marshall’s plays have been performed and developed at the HBO New Writers Workshop, WBEZ Chicago Public Radio, Theatre for the New City in NYC, 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.

The second Liberty Live commissioned playwright is Melissa Toomey, who is creating a new play, with music, about Asbury Park’s legendary The Upstage Club. In “Upstage(d),” it’s 2002 and 24-year-old Carrie Potter arrives at what was once her grandparents’ music club, The Upstage, in downtown Asbury Park. Carrie sets out to preserve the building, which has been abandoned for 35 years, in an attempt to reclaim her family’s musical history and turn it into a true rock venue, hoping to reignite Asbury Park’s fading history as a music mecca. Tensions of the past and present — of gentrification, development, riots, class/race divides in Asbury Park — overlap and echo each other, as we explore and celebrate the power of underground music and its resilient supporters. The play is still in early development; a reading of “Upstage(d)” will be announced at a later date.

Toomey has recently developed plays with The Actors Studio, Luna Stage Company, The Tank, Fresh Ground Pepper, INKubator @ Art House Productions, NJ Play Lab, Theatre for the New City and more. Her work was recently published by Smith & Kraus.

Photo Courtesy of Christina Hoffman