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Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Kennedy Center Honors Local NJ Student Playwrights

The Kennedy Center has just announced the winners in its annual VSA Playwright Discovery Competition and four of the twelve winners are students involved in Writers Theatre’s New Jersey Writers Project programs. Alessandra Sommers and Colin McKenna, the winners of the Junior Division (grades 8-9), are students at the Union Academy for Performing Arts in Elizabeth and The Craig School in Mountain Lakes, respectively. Elijah Gaines and Jaleel Lindsay, winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12), were students at the Green Residential Community Home in Ringwood. McKenna, Gaines, and Lindsay were all mentored by Writers Theatre teaching artist, Dominique Cieri, while Sommers was mentored by another Writers Theatre teaching artist, Carolyn Hunt. Ms. Hunt’s work at Union Academy for the Performing Arts is part of a long-time collaboration between WTNJ and the school, providing a playwriting class to ninth-graders taught by a professional playwright.

Students from all over the country submitted plays to the Kennedy Center’s annual competition, which boasts among its prizes the performance of the Senior Division winners’ plays at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and a gift of $500 to the students’ schools, to be put towards arts programming. Gains and Lindsay traveled with a small contingent of Green Residential Community Home residents to The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to see workshops of their play presented by professional actors. “We are very impressed with the work of these four young writers. All of their plays are moving portrayals of the experiences of living with disabilities,” said John Pietrowski, Writers Theatre’s Artistic Director. “Elijah and Jaleel’s work is particularly potent, taking all of the acronyms of their diagnoses and putting them into a Hip Hop context.”

A short scene from “Learn your ABCs,” the winning play by Elijah Gaines and Jaleel Lindsay, can be viewed on YouTube here:

Writers Theatre of New Jersey’s work with the students at Green Residential Community Home and the Craig School is provided in 2016 under a VSA program contract with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, allowing Writers Theatre to embed teaching artists in the schools and communities. In 2016, Writers Theatre worked with over 30,000 students, reaching almost a quarter of New Jersey public schools through its various educational programs. For more information on Writers Theatre’s educational programming, please visit the WTNJ educational overview page, found here:

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:

Writers Theatre 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 opportunitie 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 F.M. Kirby Foundation, Inc., Dramatist Guild Fund, Horizon Foundation of New Jersey, The Shubert 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 the Madison Arts & Culture Alliance.

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