Gratitude: Reading of “We Pray Together”

The Friends of the Cranford Library sponsors The Theater Project’s new play reading series.  My We Pray Together was the last play of the season, presented on May 16, 2015. Deb Maclean directed an all-star cast: Paul Mantell, Avery Hart, Dennis DaPrile, Joe Zedeny, Michael Aquino and Dania Ramos.

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Shout-out for “Posters for the People”

A healthy, happy, peaceful world is possible. . . we just need to get a little more creative.

This is the slogan for Social Impact Studiosformerly Design for Social Impact, a Philadelphia-based graphic arts company:

We believe good causes should get more attention than anything else. And we believe thoughtful, beautiful and meaningful communication is still the best way to engage and motivate people. Social Impact Studios is a creative hub where groups and creative activists collaborate, learn and do the work.

I first connected with Social Impact founder Ennis Carter when my son was in a high school production of Pirates of Penzance and I was working on publicity. Surfing the web for possible poster images, I found a fascinating archive of digitized posters from the Depression era– Posters for the People. This collection included posters for performing arts events supported by the Works Projects Administration– yes, that WPA. There were also posters about free speech, personal hygiene, and WWII. I emailed Ennis for help with a poster from a Cincinnati  production of Pirates, and she graciously let me have the full digital file (because I had no budget, of course).

I highly recommend the book version of Posters for the People for every progressive coffee table.

Passage Theatre Company in Trenton delivers professional productions both socially conscious and locally sourced.

I have been a subscriber to the Passage Theatre Company since 2012. It has changed my life.

At its best, theater transforms – inspires understanding of the rich diversity of the human experience, gives voice to the silent, and dignity to the dispirited. Through the creation and production of theater, we chart a passage to grace – in ourselves, in others, and throughout our community.

First, there are extremely high-quality main-stage productions about topics people [should] care about: love, identity and the internet; the Little Rock 9; crime and forgiveness. There are modern comedies and whodunnits. Coming up next is a very modern take on families by my playwrighting mentor, Ian August.


Second, Passage is all about Trenton:

Community engagement is central to Passage’s mission, and has been a key focus of Passage’s Artistic Director, June Ballinger, since she re-founded Passage in 1997. Click the links below to find out more about Passage’s Education programs for Trenton’s youth, and community devised theatre productions.

For a few years, there were acting and playwrighting classes for adults, which I hope will return.

Young playwrights in Central Jersey learn the skills of story telling

The Theater Project asked me, as a member of their playwrights workshop, to be a judge in their 2015 Young Playwrights Competition. As a “rising” playwright myself, I was at once eager, intimidated and baffled.

Act I. I was assigned to read fourteen short plays, all struggling with elements of setting, plot and conflict, character development, and THE END. They were about typical teenage concerns: divorce, abandonment, suicide, vampirism, etc. These playwrights, and their instructors, had worked very hard. How to judge the results? I crowd-sourced the question to an adult playwrights group. Most responses to my post unhelpfully substituted nurturing for judging. Unhelpful only because I thought I’d never meet these playwrights. A few responses provided formal rubrics that reminded me how hard it is to competently construct a story, no less for me than for high schoolers.

In the end I distilled all this advice into two dimensions (so Dead Poets Society!)– meaningful stakes and emotional honesty. So at least I could defend the plays I put forward as “winners,” even if I was being totally subjective!

Act II. I went to the contest awards event at the Cranford, NJ Community Center and met one of these young playwrights for a “tutoring session.” I would nurture after all! I had read the play in the judging phase, and I made notes in preparation. First, since the play was about suicide, I must ask did this author have any traumatic association of which I should be respectful? (No, thankfully.) Second, with what did the author want help? (Anything.)

So this delightful, mature high school freshman and I talked for a half hour about the challenges. How did the interaction between her characters in this two-hander advance the story? Was there an inevitable resolution to the conflict she set up? (A lot of these plays ended on cliff-hangers.) Fun for both of us!

That discussion got me rethinking a play I was getting on stage in another month. I couldn’t get my characters to a satisfactory resolution either. Because the wrong character made the first move, and it didn’t make sense. I changed that, and like the result a lot better. Lesson: Go back to the “rules” and you’re likely to revisit the “truth” in your story.

What makes a play good? Stakes and honesty. I’m pretty sure now that young stories is a more helpful category than young playwrights.