BWW Interview: John J. Wooten of PREMIERE STAGES at Kean University
Premiere Stages is committed to serving the cultural needs of Northern and Central New Jersey through the development and production of high-quality Equity theatre premieres, professional development and educational initiatives for the local and campus communities, and the support and cultivation of emerging playwrights and theatre artists.
As a professional theatre company in residence at Kean University, Premiere Stages actively engages and enhances the specialized training programs at Kean, while embracing and serving a culturally diverse audience, underserved local youth, and a broad pool of gifted regionally-based artists. Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing John J. Wooten, the Producing Artistic Director of Premiere Stages about his career and the theatre.
Wooten has developed and directed numerous new plays at Premiere Stages including The People Before the Park, Soldier's Heart, The Beautiful Dark, The Good Counselor and Follow Me to Nellie's. New Jersey Premieres he has directed at Premiere and elsewhere include Rabbit Hole, Snakebit, and Boy Gets Girl. John also develops and directs new works for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the International Emmy Awards. His plays have been produced commercially Off-Broadway, internationally and in regional theaters across America. Published plays include: Trophies, Dramatists Play Service; Humbug, Samuel French; The Role of Della, Playscripts, Inc; and Kiss the Bride, Dramatic Publishing Company. His film Cat in the Pan premiered at the Montreal Film Festival and his new film The Role of Della (based on his play) will be screened this fall in Toronto and Fort Lauderdale. His play Hannah Senesh, the Mission Home was nominated for an American Critics Association New Play Award. Additional honors include a NJSCA Playwriting Fellowship.
What was your earliest interest in the theatre arts?
I got involved with theatre relatively late. I was an electrical engineering major in college and took acting as an elective. After that semester, I changed majors and theatre became my focus.
What have been some of your inspirations?
Early on Miller and Williams made me interested in being a writer. Also novelist Milan Kundera. The high water marks of history have inspired me to write numerous plays and screenplays that delve into historical fiction.
How has Premiere Stages exceeded your vision?
We have excellent relationships and numerous partnerships with the campus community and external organizations. The Kean University administration and Theatre Department have been exceptionally supportive and hundreds of Kean students have benefited from the programs we offer, gaining professional union credits toward their Equity cards and being featured in reviews, helping to develop their resumes and prepare them to cross the bridge into the professional arena.
Why do you feel metro area audiences have responded so well to Premiere Stages?
I think because we challenge patrons to think about their place in the world. Most of the plays we produce at Premiere explore topical issues but do so in a way which pose questions rather than provide answers. I also think the quality of playwrights and artists we feature are top notch. Our audiences have come to expect a very high quality and professional consistency. I am pleased that we are continuing to meet that challenge, and in so doing, expand our base.
Your playwriting festival is great for the arts community. Tell us a little about the evolution of the festival.
In the first year of the Festival, Premiere Stages received less than 200 submissions. Now the Festival receives over 400 submissions annually and the quality and the range of work submitted is both compelling and highly diverse. Numerous plays developed at Premiere Stages have been honored and subsequently produced and/or published. We have become one of the nation's leading developers of new work, particularly plays that address issues of social change.
We'd love to know a little about your team.
I am one of three full-time staff. Heather Kelley is our Director of Audience Services and Courtney Little is our Producing Associate. They are both extremely talented, dedicated and integral to the program's success. We are assisted by a large and diverse group of accomplished seasonal artists, theatre ambassadors (advisory board) and student interns.
What we can expect from the upcoming season?
Through a partnership with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance and NJPAC, we have commissioned NJ native Nicole Pandolfo to write Brick City, a new play about two promising but troubled students who struggle to navigate their way through a neglected section of Newark. We also just issued our call for submissions for our 2017 Festival and ended our submission window for our Liberty Live initiative. In October we are presenting the World Premiere of My Lord, What a Night, a play in real time about the night legendary singer Marian Anderson stayed at the home of Albert Einstein. Looking ahead, I am very excited about the 2018 season as we will feature three new plays as part of our season, including two new commissions by local writers.
Premiere Stages is located on the campus of Kean University at 1000 Morris Avenue, Union, NJ 07083. For more information, call them at 973.737.SHOW (7469) or visit: www.kean.edu/premierestages/. You can follow Premiere Stages on social media at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of John J. Wooten