Thursday, July 28, 2016

New Jersey winners of the Kennedy Center’s 2016 VSA Playwright Discovery Program Competition

Ringwood, NJ – Elijah Gaines and Jaleel Lindsey, of the Greenfield Residential Community Home in Ringwood, New Jersey have been named winners of the Kennedy Center’s 2016 VSA Playwright Discovery Program Competition. One of eight selected from a pool of nationwide submissions, they will attend a series of workshops at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC over the Labor Day weekend.

“This is a highly competitive and prestigious award. These young men have achieved something very important.” said John Pietrowski, Writers Theatre’s Artistic Director (photo).

Gaines, a Greenfields graduate, and Lindsey, a resident, were participants in the VSA Playwright Discovery Program at the Community Home, a 20-week residency taught by Writers Theatre of New Jersey’s master teacher Dominique Cieri through a contract with VSA Washington. Their play, Learn Your ABCs, follows a teenage boy, struggling with learning disabilities, who channels his anger into a poetry slam, and wins with a rap that incorporates his disabilities.

Playwright and Newark resident Chisa Hutchinson, whose most recent work, The Wedding Gift, was positively received in its national debut at The Contemporary American Theatre Festival, served as a dramaturg for the residency, as part of her residency with the New Jersey Stage Exchange (A partnership betwenn NJPAC and the New Jersey Theatre Alliance).

Further development of the play was undertaken by actors Brandon Rubin, Aaliyah Habeeb, Sahirah and Najah Johnson—all of Newark—who assisted in workshops and a final reading presented in the Horizon Theatre at the NJ Performing Arts Center last June.

Both Cieri and Hutchinson are award-winning playwrights and participants in Writers Theatre’s Women Playwrights Program. “A program like the one at Green cannot succeed without extraordinary teaching artists leading the workshops,” said Pietrowski. “Dominique Cieri has been working with this population for over 25 years, and Chisa is an acknowledged expert in working with at-risk populations.”

For the past 29 years, WTNJ, as part of its Complete Access Initiative, has worked with Juvenile Detention Centers throughout the state to bring creative writing workshops to residents. In 2013 and again in 2016, the Writers Theatre of New Jersey received a grant from the Kennedy Center’s VSA Playwright Discovery Program Competition to teach playwriting that focuses on learning disabilities. The writing intensive is lead by an experienced teaching artist who provides guidance and builds a creative environment for residents to write stories, poems, and group plays. At the end of each program, a selection of the residents’ work is rehearsed and presented by the writers for parents, peers, and the public.

Over the past three years, two plays written in Writers Theatre’s Juvenile Detention Center programs have been selected for as finalists in the Kennedy Center’s VSA Playwright Discovery Program Competition.

Writers Theatre of New Jersey, as part of its NJ Young Playwrights Program, includes a Living with Disabilities category, for plays that incorporate characters with disabilities or disability themes. Submission in this category is not limited to youngsters with disabilities. For more information on this and the New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest, go to

For more information on any of Writers Theatre’s programs, please visit, or contact Writers Theatre at P.O. Box 1295, Madison, NJ, 07940, 973-514-1787 x20 or

About Writers Theatre of New Jersey:

Writers Theatre of New Jersey is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, professional (Actors’ Equity) theatre and a community of professional playwrights, theatre artists, and arts educators that provides opportunities for writers to develop their works in a nurturing environment and connect with new audiences. Our New Play Development Program is a multi-step process through which playwrights, theatre artists, and audiences collaborate to bring selected texts from rough draft to finished production.

Our Education Programs introduce students of all ages and backgrounds to the possibilities inherent in thinking and communicating creatively. Writers Theatre’s New Jersey Writers Project provides hands-on workshops led by professional writers-in-residence to students in schools and community centers throughout the state. We place an equal emphasis on Development and Educational activities, and encourage our community and audiences to participate fully in both.

We are honored that, every year since 2003, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts (NJSCA) has designated Writers Theatre as a Major Arts Institution. This means that the Council considers Writers Theatre to be “an anchor institution that contributes vitally to the quality of life in New Jersey.”

Funding for our activities comes from: the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Victoria Foundation, and many corporations, foundations and individuals.

Writers Theatre is a member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, the National New Play Network, and Madison Arts & Culture Alliance.

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