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The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

originally published: 04/17/2024

The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

(NETCONG, NJ) -- The Growing Stage: The Children's Theatre of New Jersey, located in the Historic Palace Theatre on Route 183 in Netcong, New Jersey is thrilled to present the four finalists for their New Play-Reading Festival (April 26-28). The 2024 finalists include Bug & Junior: An Unfairytale by Ann Eskridge; Her-Cules by Matthew Hanf; Her Beautiful Sound by Cris Eli Blak; and Little Things by Bonnie Gleicher & Brandon Michael Lowden.  The New Play-Reading Festival is curated by Danny Campos, The Growing Stage's veteran actor and teaching artist.

This is the 12th year that The Growing Stage has presented new works for young audiences in a staged reading setting.  The festival takes place Friday, April 26th at 7:30pm, Saturday, April 27th at 4:00pm and 7:00pm and Sunday, April 28th at 2:00pm.  

Friday, April 26th at 7:30pm | Bug & Junior: An Unfairytale by Ann Eskridge (Michigan); Directed by Natalie Kane. Bug and Junior call themselves twin blood brothers even though they don’t look alike. Junior says one day he wants to be an original because anyone named junior is just a copy. And Bug got his name because he would eat bugs on food as a dare to get enough to eat. Bug and Junior are in foster care and they’ve decided to run away in order to find riches so that they won’t be a strain to their financially strapped foster care mother. When they do, they run into three characters: a Hermit, a Witch, and the Witch’s Chimera. Loosely based on Hansel and Gretel, Bug and Junior is about siblings, sibling rivalry and sibling love.

The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

Ann E. Eskridge (shown above) is a 2021 Kresge Fellow in playwriting, a 2013 Black Metropolitan Research Consortium Fellow and a Fulbright Hays Group Project Abroad participant in Brazil.  She has written on subjects like the Underground Railroad, all-black towns in Oklahoma, New Orleans’ free people of color,  the Gullah community on the Sea Islands, and Chicago’s black Tin Pan Alley.  

Saturday, April 27th at 4:00pm | HER-Cules by Matthew Hanf (California); Directed by Jeorgi Smith. Jane’s family is struggling.  Mom is taking care of the grandpa; dad is caught up in work and her siblings are all battling their own issues.  Her grandfather is suffering from dementia and thinks he’s Zeus.  Before he has to leave for the home, he tells Jane (the only one who really talks to him anymore) that she is a hero, that she is Hercules and he gives her tasks to accomplish.  Plain Jane, never saw herself as anymore than just that. But with the help of her friend, Jessica, they realize that the tasks are each steps in bringing their family back together and realizing that she might be Jane—but she is also HERcules.

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 The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

Matt Hanf (shown above) is a nationally and internationally produced playwright who spends his day teaching English to high school students which is not too hard because most of them already speak it.  He lives in the glorious metropolis of Elk Grove, CA, a small suburb of Walmart.  His success is due to a supportive and amazing wife; inspiring children and the knowledge that the success of this particular play is due to the artistry and skill of a great director and talented actors.  Words are whispers until artists give them voice.

Saturday, April 28th at 7:00pm | Her Beautiful Sound by Cris Eli Blak (New York); Directed by Brianna Martinez. After her father, an aspiring rapper, passes away, a teenage girl moves with her mother to her grandmother's house, where she hears the stories of her ancestors and finds healing and a way to deal with her grief through spoken word poetry.

The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

Cris Eli Blak (shown above) is an emerging proud Black playwright whose work has been performed around the world. He is the inaugural winner of the Black Broadway Men Playwriting Initiative, the 2024 Charles M. Getchell New Play Award, the Atlanta Shakespeare Company's inaugural winner of the Muse of Fire BIPOC Playwriting Festival, and the recipient of the Emerging Playwrights Fellowship from The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. He is currently an artist-in-residence with Abingdon Theatre Company and has had his work published by Smith & Kraus, Inc., YOUTHPlays, Applause Books, New World Theatre, Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble, and in the Black Theatre Review.

Sunday, April 28th at 2:00pm | Little Things by Bonnie Gleicher & Brandon Michael Lowden (New York); Directed by Jessica Stanzek. Little Things is an original musical about a group of misfit fifth-graders who find out recess is getting canceled and fight to get it back! As the students and newcomer Eleanor band together against the power-hungry Principal, they confront their own hopes, fears, and inner strength.

The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

Bonnie Gleicher (shown above) is a songwriter, orchestrator, and playwright whose music is heard off-Broadway, on TV, and on YouTube. Her theatre career began as a kid performing on Broadway in Jane Eyre and Annie, and has come full circle, writing musicals and pop for audiences of all ages. Her songs have been sung by Taylor Louderman, Liz Callaway, Bonnie Milligan, Lilli and Chuck Cooper and more. In addition to Little Things, she is the creator of the upcoming musical OY BAND, the writer of Gavroche, and the composer/lyricist of off-Broadway's Addy & Uno. Little Things is dedicated to the newest "Eleanor" in her life - her two-year-old niece Eleanor.

The Growing Stage presents the 2024 New Play-Reading Festival

Brandon Michael Lowden (shown above) is a bookwriter, composer, and lyricist. Raised in Pittsburgh, he now lives in NYC where he works a second job in public transit technology and spends his free time birding. His degrees in electrical engineering and musical theater writing serve equally well in both careers. Web:; social: @BookMusicLyrics. BML says: “Thanks for checking out my art. I made it for you!”

Be A Part Of The Festival! The Growing Stage’s New Play-Reading Festival is open to all and it’s “Pay What You Can” for admission. Following each reading, there will be a post-reading talkback with the director and performers. For more information about the festival, visit

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The Growing Stage-The Children’s Theatre of New Jersey is a non-profit professional performing arts center dedicated to theatre for young audiences. Through their programming they provide opportunity for all to learn and grow through participation in the arts.



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