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    Posted October 20, 2014

#EquityWorks: 5 Questions with Premiere Stages


Mairin Lee and Landon G. Woodson in Premiere Stages' production of Soldier's Heart by Tammy Ryan.

Credit: Mike Peters

Coming off of its 10th anniversary season, Premiere Stages at Kean University is dedicated to fostering new plays, education and working with Equity. Here are five questions with Producing Artistic Director, John Wooten, about what the company has to offer and will continue to provide: 

Q: Why has it been important to be an Equity theatre?

A: Premiere Stages is committed to the professional development of American dramatists. To me, professional and Equity are synonymous. Being an Equity theatre is integral to almost everything we do.

Q: What can Equity members and audiences look forward to this season?

A: Premiere’s blockbuster 10th Anniversary Season began with a free staged reading of The Ansel Intimacy by Vincent Delaney. The play, recently named this year’s runner-up in the prestigious Premiere Stages Play Festival, was one of four finalists featured in Premiere’s popular Spring Reading Series in March. Premiere’s 2014 season continued with the New Jersey Premiere of Soldier’s Heart by fan favorite Tammy Ryan. Premiere partnered with the Kean Counseling Center and Safe Horizon, the largest victims’ services agency in the United States, on the production, and featured Emmy Award winner Kim Zimmer, last seen at Premiere in Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods.

This year’s Winner of the Premiere Stages Play Festival, Janice Underwater by Hillside native Tom Matthew Wolfe, provided a decidedly local flair, with a number of scenes taking place right here in Union County. The season concluded with At Liberty Hall, the 2013-2014 Liberty Live commission, to be performed in the historic 1882 Carriage House at Liberty Hall Museum. Written by New Jersey resident James Christy and directed by Kel Haney, At Liberty Hall follows two high school students who've just moved to New Jersey: Cristian Rosario, a funny but unfocused teenager from Queens by way of the Dominican Republic; and Alexander Hamilton,16, the subject of Cristian's 10th grade history project. This time-bending story finds common threads of humor, honor and awkwardness as told through the experiences of a someday-Founding Father and a kid looking for a way out of the projects. 
Premiere Stages is attractive to Equity members as we are right on the train line from Manhattan (a 30 minute trip out). Since we produce challenging new plays, primarily over the summer, we like to believe Equity members have the opportunity to audition and perform in productions that are not standard summer fare.

Q: Tell us about the Play Factory and the Play Festival.

A: Premiere Stages is distinct from any other theatre in the nation by addressing two common trends in its Play Festival that adversely affect American dramatists:

1. The first production of a play by an emerging playwright is also often the last. Producers require the world premiere or want to produce something with name appeal. There is a huge void in between. To combat this, Premiere Stages provides playwrights with a safe and focused environment in which they can develop their work and cultivate collaborations with other organizations to extend the life of the plays. Premiere invites other theatres to Play Festival productions, increasing the visibility of writers.

2. Plays linger in an ever-widening development phase. There are numerous opportunities for playwrights to have their work showcased through readings, but the time between theatres staging a reading and actually producing the play can be years. At Premiere, immediately following the March readings, two plays enter an intensive development phase. Playwrights work with the artistic director and a dramaturg to ready the play for workshop or production. The scripts, particularly those with topical and socially relevant themes, remain viable.

The Premiere Play Factory, also under the umbrella of Premiere Stages, provides playwriting residencies to school districts, senior centers and community organizations across the state, serving aspiring playwrights ages 8 to 90. With an eye toward cultivating and engaging the next generation of theatre artists, Premiere offers two summer camp programs for high school and middle school students under the umbrella of the play factory. Equity members are often engaged as teaching artists or as performers for the final presentations.

Q: What has Premiere Stages come to mean to the community and Kean University?

A: Premiere Stages has offered employment to hundreds of Equity actors and developed and mentored the work of 70 professional playwrights and over one hundred student playwrights. The program has solidified a national reputation as one of the region’s leading incubators for new play development. Premiere Stages actively advocates for Festival writers, helps playwrights reach out to other theatres to secure subsequent productions, and partners with other organizations and theatres to extend the profile and life of the works developed.

Premiere Artists provides Kean students with unprecedented access to America’s leading artists, including multiple Academy and Tony Award winners. The theatre is one of only a handful of university arts programs in the nation that offers undergraduate students the opportunity to perform alongside union actors, while simultaneously earning points toward their union cards.

Q: Now that you’re turning 10, what’s in store for the next 10 years?

A: Premiere Stages will continue to remain committed to enhancing and expanding opportunities for American dramatists and emerging artists. The company will also expand the Play Factory residency program to offer more living history residencies to seniors and will offer residencies that specifically serve students with special needs. Premiere Stages will continue to develop partnerships and collaborations that will help to spread the reach of the topical material explored through the Play Festival and ensure Kean University students continue to have unparalleled opportunities for professional development; the theatre will partner with Kean’s sister institution in China, Wenzhou-Kean to provide professional theatre exchange opportunities.

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