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Premiere Stages at Kean University Announces 2023 Premiere Play Festival Finalists

originally published: 05/24/2023

Premiere Stages at Kean University Announces 2023 Premiere Play Festival Finalists


Clockwise from Top Left: Vincent Terrell Durham, Christian Mendonça, Gloria Majule, and Scott Organ.

(UNION, NJ) -- Premiere Stages, the professional theatre company in residence at Kean University, has selected its four finalists for the 2023 Premiere Play Festival. Now in its 18th year, the Festival is an annual competition for unproduced scripts that offers developmental opportunities to playwrights with strong affiliations to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Delaware. This year’s finalists were selected from 701 submissions.

This year’s finalists are: Diversion by Scott Organ, whose work has been commissioned by The Atlantic Theater Company and developed by The Barrow Group and Page 73; The Fertile River by Vincent Terrell Durham, a Samuel French Short Play Festival winner and an O’Neill semi-finalist; Flowers for Men by Christian Mendonça, a 2018 finalist for the Goldberg Play Prize; and Uhuru by Gloria Majule, an inaugural recipient of Atlantic Theater Company's Judith Champion Launch Commission.

In Diversion, Emilia is a devoted nurse in an ICU unit, highly regarded by her boss, Bess and her peers: Amy, Mike and the new hire Mandy, who Emilia has taken under her wing.  When it’s discovered that someone on the unit is stealing medicine, the nurses are unsettled, particularly when an outsider shows up, effectively placing them all under a microscope. When the culprit is finally revealed, the nurses must fight to save themselves and the integrity of the unit.

In The Fertile River, it’s the summer of 1958 and Mrs. Sarah Woods has been visiting colored families in a small rural North Carolina community on a mission from the State. Cora Lee Burden is the latest to receive an appointment notice from Mrs. Woods. The sixty-four-year-old grandmother of a mentally challenged child has no idea what a white social worker from the government would want with her family. But being a colored woman of the south, she knows the visit is a call for caution.

In Flowers for Men, Henri, a social worker, gets funding to test out his pilot program "Flowers for Men," a five-week healing journey that asks men to nourish a flower into blossoming and to heal a relationship in their personal lives. Easier said than done. Will this group of six men make it out of this program ready to grow, or will they be hell-bent on self-destruction? A review of toxic masculinity, machismo, forgiveness, and the grace and self-love that men often fail to afford themselves and others.

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In Uhuru, Mshale, a Mount Kilimanjaro tour guide, dreams of marrying a white woman and moving to the West. Sprite sets out to decolonize what he deems “his mountain”. Henry and Frannie are white missionaries who claim to be Tanzanian. As the four journey up to the roof of Africa, the looming ghost of colonialism dictates who gets to reach the peak, and who gets left behind.

All finalists will receive professional readings, as part of Premiere’s 18th annual Play Festival Finalists Reading Series June 8-11 at Enlow Recital Hall, and will be considered for expanded development in Premiere’s mainstage season. One of the four plays will be selected for an Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) 29-Hour Reading in November 2023 and the most promising play will be awarded a full AEA production as part of Premiere's 2024 season. All finalists receive cash awards ranging from $1,000 to $3,000. Readings are offered by invitation only. To request admission to any of the readings, please call 908-737-4077 or email

This year’s submissions were evaluated through a process coordinated by Premiere Stages’ Play Festival and Education Manager Nick Gandiello, Literary Associate Emily Dzioba and Literary Assistant Jessica DeLuca, in partnership with esteemed panelists Erin M. Callahan, Gino Diiorio, William Eddy, Benjamin Marshall, Lysna Marzani, Claudia Nolan, Matthew Paul Olmos and Ernest Wiggins.

The following semi-finalists were also honored in this year’s competition: Killer by Steve Apostolina, and thou shalt be healed by Benjamin Benne, M-Theory by Jami Brandli, The Reservoir by Jake Brasch, #BecklandisCancelled by Alicia Carroll, The Seekers by Jeesun Choi, backstroke boys by Xavier Clark, Hotel Limbo by Alice Cohen, The Fertile River by Vincent Terrell Durham, Mercutio Loves Romeo Loves Juliet Loves by Gina Femia, Stay Up and Keep Rolling by Maximillian Gill, Order My Steps by Kathryn Grant, Motherland by Allison Gregory, Sunny Days by Reina Hardy, Invasive Species by Tori Keenan-Zelt, Sisters by Matthew Libby, Uhuru by Gloria Majule, The High Priestess by Andrew Martini, Flowers for Men by Christian Mendonça, For the People by Carol Mullen, Pearl Dust from a Gun by Esmé Maria Ng, La Potencia by Mel Nieves, Diversion by Scott Organ, Saturday Mourning Cartoons by Iraisa Reilly, Jesus Plays Basketball on a Hot Night in Iraq by Tyler Rivenbark, Color Boy by Esperanza Rosales Balcárcel, Stockade by Andrew Rosendorf, Confirmation by Madeline Rouverol, Take My Hand and Wave Goodbye by Tammy Ryan, An Interpretation of Anna by Natalie Sacks, The Caldera by Sarah Saltwick, Labor by TyLie Shider, Who's Yehoodi? by Jerry Slaff, Breakfalls by Gina Stevensen, Brother Johnny's Homestyle BBQ by Parade Stone, Into the Side of A Hill by James Anthony Tyler, The Halal Brothers by Alaudin Ullah, The Matriarchs by Liba Vaynberg, Come to Me, Cling to You by Stephanie Kyung Sun Walters and Luminescence by Emily Welty.

In the eighteen seasons since its founding, the Premiere Play Festival has received over 7,200 submissions and developed more than eighty plays. Multiple plays produced at Premiere have been honored by the American Theatre Critics Association, selected for agency representation,  and/or been published by Concord, Dramatists Play Service, Dramatic Publishing Company, Playscripts, and Broadway Play Publishing. A number of Play Festival winners and finalists have subsequently been produced in New York, internationally  and at regional theatres across the country.

Premiere Stages offers affordable prices, air-conditioned facilities and free parking close to the theatre. Premiere Stages also provides free or discounted tickets to patrons with disabilities. All Premiere Stages facilities are fully accessible spaces, and companion seating is available for patrons with disabilities. Assistive listening devices and large print programs are available at all times; publications in alternate formats are available with advance notice. Please call 908-737-4077 for a list of sign-interpreted, audio-described or open-captioned performances. For more information, please visit Premiere Stages online at

Premiere Stages is made possible in part through funding from W. John Bauer and Nancy Boucher, The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, Carole Shaffer-Koros and Robert Koros and ExxonMobil Foundation, The Dubose and Dorothy Heyward Foundation, The Northfield Bank Foundation, The Hyde and Watson Foundation, The Union Foundation, E.J. Grassmann Trust, The New Jersey Theatre Alliance, Investors Foundation, The Union County HEART Grant and through the generous support of individual patrons and local organizations. Discover Jersey Arts is our marketing partner. Visit for more information about other arts programming happening around the Garden State.

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Premiere Stages is committed to producing topical plays and interactive programs that reflect people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds, national origins, nationalities, ancestry, religious groups, gender expression or identities, sexual orientation, political beliefs, ages, abilities and disabilities.

Created in 2004, Premiere Stages is the professional Equity theatre in residence at Kean University. Through its unique partnership with Kean, Premiere’s play development programs, educational initiatives, and professional development opportunities actively embrace the university's academic curriculum while expanding the scope, accessibility, and prestige of the professional programming on campus.

Founded in 1855, Kean University is one of the largest metropolitan institutions of higher education in the region, with a richly diverse student, faculty and staff population. Kean continues to play a key role in the training of teachers and is a hub of educational, technological and cultural enrichment serving more than 16,000 students. The University’s six colleges offer more than 50 undergraduate degrees, seven doctoral degree programs, and more than 70 options for graduate study leading to master’s degrees, professional diplomas or certifications over a full range of academic subjects. With campuses in Union, Toms River, Jefferson and Manahawkin, New Jersey, and Wenzhou, China, Kean University furthers its mission by providing an affordable and accessible world-class education.



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