Saturday, December 15, 2012

Luna Stage & New Plays: An Interview with Cheryl Katz

Posted on December 15, 2012 by Amanda Guzman
Luna Stage is a gorgeous theater located in West Orange, New Jersey. Founded in 1992 by Artistic Director Jane Mandel, Luna Stage was located in Montclair until 2009, when they relocated to their current home in West Orange, New Jersey. It is now an important part of the ValleyArts District.
Luna's mission is to produce thought-provoking theatre that illuminates the diverse perspectives in our society.  Although they also produce revivals of classic and contemporary plays that speak to our times, they have always placed a great emphasis on new play development and have produced the world premieres of many works by emerging playwrights. Luna is committed to partnering with artists of all disciplines, businesses, and organizations within their community that embrace the notion that the arts can be a powerful tool for revitalization and transformation.
I first encountered Luna Stage as a Dramaturgy intern under Cheryl Katz (Associate Artistic Director/ Director of Play Development) in Fall 2011 of my Junior year at Montclair State University. At Luna, Cheryl Katz has contributed to the development of over 50 new works for the stage as well as several world premieres. As a Dramaturgy intern at Luna, one of my daily responsibilities was to organize the play submissions sent in from emerging playwrights across New Jersey.
I got a chance to speak with Cheryl Katz a little more about the process of selecting from these submissions.
 AG: I understand that Luna accepts submissions from emerging American playwrights. How should playwrights submit their work? What information should they include? 
CK: We accept open submissions from all playwrights who make their home in New Jersey.  Those writers should submit a hard copy of a cover letter, a synopsis, a resume, and the first 20 pages of their play.  For playwrights who either have an agent or an MFA in playwriting, or who can provide a letter of recommendation from a professional theatre, we accept a full script submissions.  Detailed submission guidelines can be found at:
We also do readings of new plays the first Monday of every month (Oct.-May).  The playwrights are always present at these readings and each reading is followed by a talkback with the playwright. Even just attending a reading and participating in the discussion is a great way for young playwrights to get involved at Luna.

AG: What is the play selection process like? Who is the first to read the submissions and where do they go from there? 
CK: I have a group of volunteers who help me review our script submissions.  Many of these volunteers are playwrights themselves, some are actors, some retired teachers, etc..  If a script has come to me with a particular recommendation, I might review it myself first, but usually, volunteer script readers are the first to review submissions. They return the scripts to me with their recommendations.  Then, I will review each script myself. If I have an interest in the writer or the play, I will ask other members of the Luna staff to read the play. I think it's very important to have many eyes on a script and to hear different reactions when assessing whether or not a play is right for Luna. 

AG: How long does it usually take for submissions to be officially chosen for a production? 
CK: It depends on many things.  It depends on what phase of development the play is in when it comes to us, what else we are considering for a season, etc...  Sometimes, we read a play and think it's ready for production and we put in right up the next season.  But more often, the play will go through some development process at Luna, involving readings and workshops. We commissioned our first play a couple of years ago and I am interested in doing more of that.

AG: What do you look for when selecting a play? (which elements of the play, ideas, deciding factors) 
At Luna Stage, we are committed to nurturing excellence in playwriting, in all phases of development. We are interested in works by diverse voices that have clearly been written for the stage, as opposed to other mediums. We look for well-told stories, in all shapes and configurations. We are attracted to writing that has a depth and a texture in its language and characters, and/or a novel use of structure. We produce material of all genres, but look for work that transcends its immediate story to resonate with audiences on many levels.

AG: Why do you feel it is important that Luna is open to receiving and producing new work? 
Well, I think theatre, like any art form, has to be responsive, and at its best, can be an incredible catalyst for introspection and understanding. So, while I think it is important to revisit timeless works and to discover how the meaning and implication of those works changes over time, I also think it is imperative to hear new voices, living in our time, and writing for our time.

AG: What can we keep an eye out for coming up at Luna Stage? 
In February, we'll be producing the world premiere of a new play entitled Carnaval by Obie-Award winning playwright Nikkole Salter.  The play is about three young African-American men who take a trip to Rio De Janeiro for a taste of the good life: sun, fun and, of course, women paid to serve. But what starts out as a joyride takes an unexpected turn and the three sex tourists find themselves in a situation that will change their friendships and their lives forever. This play was read in Luna's New Moon Reading series in June of 2011.  For tickets and more information, go to

Amanda Guzman is currently appearing in the Off-Off-Broadway production of Grimm Women. Her film debut Concussion will be playing the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Miss Guzman is also a featured actress in the upcoming Page to Stage documentary produced by the Princeton Public Library.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Local talent makes for an intimate evening at Hat City Kitchen

Posted on December 7, 2012 by Ally Blumenfeld

Father and Son duo Bobby & Cam Cole
Photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
In a room lit by candles and stage lights, filled with tables and chairs pivoted toward a stage and the sounds of a bar muffled by guitar chords, musicians and patrons alike sit among guitar cases and pints of beer to watch an eager and diverse group of artists do what they love.  It's a far cry from the $100  seats in the nosebleed section of a packed and painfully loud arena.  The lyrics of popular artists today are also a far cry from the meaningful, socially aware, highly personal, and relatable words of the musicians at the All-Acoustic Open Mic at Orange's Hat City Kitchen.

Every other Tuesday, Hat City Kitchen hosts their All-Acoustic Open Mic.  I have to admit: I walked into the restaurant with just the slightest tinge of hesitancy.  I had never attended an open mic before, and my only reference points were formed by the popular characterizations: screechy voices, out-of-tune guitars, and bad 80s covers.  I was not expecting the songs to be so personal, the artists to be so passionate, nor the night to feel so intimate.  It was quite magical to watch ordinary people become transcendent with just a guitar and stage lights.  Set lists included songs both new and old: a feeling of nostalgia swept in as the audience was treated to Joni Mitchell and David Crosby, and the sense of community in the room was strengthened by the original words and stories-through-song of musicians such as KO and Rostafa.

Host Michael Reitman with sigh-up sheet
Photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
Hat City Kitchen has been holding open mics for the past three years, but it wasn't until late 2011 when  blues musician and host Michael Reitman came on board that there was a night just for acoustic aficionados.  I had the chance to chat with him about halfway through the night, when I learned about the history of and mechanics behind HCK's All-Acoustic.  About 30 minutes after a 7pm sign-up, Reitman himself takes the stage to get early audiences ready for a long night of guitars and harmonicas – the last act typically closing down around 11 or 11:30pm.  Each act is allowed three songs or fifteen minutes, “just like every other open mic in the world,” according to Reitman.

Yet this open mic was anything but run-of-the-mill.  Whether it was the talent, the atmosphere, the venue, or perhaps all three combined, there was definitely something special about HCK's All-Acoustic.  In the audience were community members, family, friends, and strangers alike, yet the common thread was clear: we were all there to support real music and true music-makers.  The intimacy of the space made it feel like I was in someone's living room, watching a relative perform just for me.  For lyrics that give this community a voice, and for a sense of community unparalleled by most other music venues, Hat City Kitchen's open-mics are a must for any music lover.

After a stirring cover of Mumford & Sons' Little Lion Man in which some profanity was thoughtfully edited out, the singer quipped, “This is a family joint!”

Family joint indeed.

All-Acoustic Open Mic: every other Tuesday at Hat City Kitchen, 459 Valley Street, Orange, NJ.  Check out to find upcoming open-mics and other events happening every week.

Musician KO
Photo credit Ally Blumenfeld
Ally Blumenfeld is a working writer, dramaturg, and photographer based in Montclair, NJ. Two of her original one-act plays have been produced Off-Off-Broadway. She is currently the Gallery Coordinator for the ValleyArts Firehouse Gallery. Follow her on Twitter at @allyblume.