Premiere Stages unveils ‘The Power of the Pen’ playwriting competition

Photo Courtesy of Christina Hoffman

UNION, NJ — It’s time for writers to get creative, turning frustrations with the unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19 into something beautiful. Premiere Stages, the professional theater company in residence at Kean University, has unveiled a new initiative for writers who are willing to think outside the box. The Premiere Senior Endeavor Awards, a new playwriting competition for New Jersey–based writers, is offering cash awards and benefits in three categories.

The project will be part of the 2020 Premiere Play Festival, which is Premiere Stages’ acclaimed new-play development program, which provides readings, workshops and full productions to regional playwrights as part of each season.

LocalSource was able to catch up with John Wooten, founder and producing artistic director of Premiere Stages, to ask about this opportunity.

“This is a new competition,” Wooten said on April 3. “We have three other competitions that we have offered playwrights for multiple years: the Premiere Play Festival, which is for professional playwrights in the region; the Liberty Live Commission, which is for New Jersey writers with a passion for history; and the Bauer Boucher Awards, which is for Kean University students and alumni.”

The accepted entries will be one-act plays between 10 and 60 pages long, inspired by or in response to the challenges of COVID-19; the content can directly relate to issues surrounding the virus or can be more abstractly related. Plays can be autobiographical or completely fictional.

Wooten wants to encourage writers to be creative and write about more than one topic, if they choose to do so.

“We want to encourage people to delve into whatever inspires them to write,” Wooten said. “They can explore one or multiple challenges that they, or people they know, are facing during the pandemic or create a fictional story about a character overcoming a challenge.”

The Premiere Senior Endeavor Award will offer unique opportunities to various kinds of seniors in these three categories:

The High School Senior Endeavor Award will provide $1,000 to a rising high school senior, who will be completing their junior year of high school in May or June of 2020. The winning student will also receive a professional reading of the play and a letter of recommendation that can be used to support fall college applications.

The College Senior Endeavor Award will provide $1,000 to a Kean University senior who is graduating in May 2020. The winning college senior will also receive a professional reading of the play and will be extended the offer of a paid six-month internship in the Premiere Stages literary office.

The NJ Senior Endeavor Award will provide $1,000 to a senior citizen who currently resides in a New Jersey residential community, which can be assisted or independent living. Premiere Stages will provide a professional reading of the play and a fully sponsored Premiere Stages Legacy Residency program for the winner’s senior neighbors, all once CDC guidelines for social distancing have been fully lifted. Legacy residencies are part of the Premiere Play Factory and provide opportunities for seniors to partner with professional playwrights to document, share and celebrate their legacies with their peers and families through a showcase of their work as performed by professional actors.

Submissions are limited to writers in the above categories who reside in New Jersey.
In the rare event of a draw in one of the three categories, Wooten mentioned that those contestants will be recognized.

“If there are two plays that we find so compelling that we cannot decide on one, we will produce readings of both,” Wooten said. “We will also acknowledge additional writers who submit with honorable mention awards.”

Premiere will accept submissions from June 1 through Aug. 1; the three winners will be selected by Sept. 1. Any submissions received before or after the submission window will not be considered. Between Oct. 9 and 11, all three winners will receive developmental readings with a professional cast, director and dramaturge on the Kean University campus.

All Premiere Senior Endeavor Awards entries will be evaluated by a panel of theater professionals, in consultation with Premiere’s artistic and literary staff.

An additional six playwrights, two in each category, will receive an honorable mention certificate and an honorarium of $100. The project will be sponsored by a sustained funding gift from longtime Premiere Stages donors W. John Bauer and Nancy Boucher.

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, Wooten is unsure how many participants will enter the competition but wants this playwriting competition to be a creative outlet for all during this tough time.

“In the current climate, with things changing so rapidly, we are finding it difficult to formulate projections that are not completely speculative,” Wooten said. “If we can make a difference in the lives of even a few writers, providing them with a creative outlet and a mechanism for addressing and sharing the challenges that they are facing, then this initiative will be far worth the investment.”

The Premiere Play Festival has received more than 5,000 submissions and developed more than 50 plays since 2005. Multiple plays produced by Premiere have been honored by the American Theatre Critics Association and have been published by Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, Dramatic Publishing Co., Playscripts and Broadway Play Publishing.

A number of festival winners and finalists have subsequently had shows produced in New York and at regional theaters across the country. Premiere Stages plans to announce additional festival events and the complete 2020 season later this month.