Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tomorrow's Reading of BUENAS SMOOCHES: PISCATAWY, NEW JERSEY Has Been Rescheduled

The reading date for Benjamin V. Marshall's play BUENAS SMOOCHES: PISCATAWAY NJ has been moved to April 17, 2014 at 7:30pm as part of the NJ Literary Artists Fellowship Showcase.

The reading will take place at

in the Chase Room
of the Madison Public Library

39 Keep Street

Madison, NJ 07940
Click here for directions

There is a suggested donation of $10.
All tickets will be available at the door
on the evening of the readings.
Want to reserve your seat now? Click here


19 - year- old Nicole, a recent transplant from the gritty inner city to the NJ suburbs, has lost her bearings. Her brother has died, her mother’s sexually confused, and her father’s financially strapped; so the reckless Nicole strings along both Wyem, a bad boy parolee from juvenile hall, and his humble cousin Sam. In this delightful 21st century Restoration comedy that riffs in hip-hop and verse, Nicole must decide if she’s the wannabe rebel, the dull, dutiful daughter or the responsible young woman who, despite all situations, can control her own life.

Benjamin Vaughan Marshall
Productions and workshops: Boom Box at HBO's new writers workshop, (CA) Henry’s Bridge Theatre for a New City (NYC), The Red Train Interact Theatre (Philadelphia) and Pride fest (Chicago), One Legged Race, Playwrights Theatre of NJ, The Balcony Goat at Luna Stage (NJ), and Carlos and LaVonne (Theodore Ward prize, Chicago) Short play festivals in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Alaska, Nebraska and Melbourne, Australia. Purchasing Power a short play was presented as part of WBEZ’s (Chicago) off the air program. A graduate of Kean University, he’s earned an MFA from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, taught English in Arabic speaking countries, conducted writing workshops for women in homeless shelters, published poetry in literary journals around the county. Currently he is an Associate Professor at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ. A member of the Dramatists Guild, the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights, the Playwrights Center in Michigan and The Ninth Floor (NYC), he has received fellowships from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and four times from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

And get a behind-the-scenes look at Ben and his play by reading our 5 Question Interview with Benjamin V. Marshall

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

5 Questions with John Pietrowski

John's play Dura Mater will have a reading on March 13, 2014 at 7:30pm as part of the NJ Literary Artists Fellowship Showcase.

The reading will take place at
in the Chase Room
of the Madison Public Library
39 Keep Street
Madison, NJ 07940
Click here for directions

There is a suggested donation of $10. All tickets will be available at the door on the evening of the readings. No advanced ticket sales. 

1. Where did you get the idea for Dura Mater?
Like many things, there is a very personal element to what I write, but, if I am working correctly, it will hopefully expand to take on larger issues. While I won’t get into the personal experience that inspired the play (suffice it to say it was not a violent act that I participated in), it did come from a single image—blood on a thick tumbler. This was me projecting into the incident that was the jumping off point; I visualized what the scene might have looked like, and, of course, I realized there would be blood on that glass if someone’s face was cut with it. That’s where I started.

2. As the Artistic Director of Playwrights Theatre, you are involved in developing new works for the stage. If you were given the opportunity to revive a “classic”, what play would that be and why?

Without a doubt, two plays, one of which is not a classic per se (well probably neither are classics, now that I think of it). The first would be Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck. The impulse behind that play (at least as I see it) was to ask: “What are all of the assumptions we make about content and structure when we write a play? How can I create something that breaks every rule as we know it? What would happen?” In some ways, the impulse is very Aristotelian, a kind of objective observation of what works and what doesn’t, but the impulse doesn’t lead to trying to capture some essential definition that would get turned into a “rule.” The impulse leads to an effort to push beyond the “rules” to see what else can happen. Buchner was also a doctor and a scientist, and I think that impulse is very scientific.
The other play would be Peter Handke’s Offending the Audience. It’s not a play, really, Handke called it a “speak-in” (Sprechstucke), but, at the time, it kind of blew the lid off the assumptions we make about the theatre. I’d also like to find a way for George Coates to come back and do some of the crazy stuff he did with George Coates Performance Works . Very scarey/sad what ultimately went down with him.

If we have to get strictly classical, it would either be All's Well That Ends Well, or A Winter's Tale. I love Shakespeare's Problem Plays/Romances. Totally implausible, totally true

3. You work with playwrights on a daily basis. What influence have these relationships had on your own writing?
I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really excellent writers who write all different ways. It is at once the best lesson a playwright could have, and the most intimidating experience one could imagine. When you see how different excellent writers really are, and how they get to their excellence through very different routes, it gives one great comfort and permission to be oneself. On the other hand, it can cause the worst kind of writer’s block. I love writing, so the only way to keep writing under these circumstances is to forget I know the writers when I’m working. If denial wasn’t so useful an emotion, it wouldn’t be so prevalent in the world. I don’t see myself in the league of a lot of people I work with, that also helps.

4. In your recommended books on poetry, you said anything by Philip Levine who is best known for writing about the working-class in Detroit. What is it about his poems that speak to you?
At the end of March, I will have a poem published in US1 Worksheets called “The Poem That Saved My Life”, which is dedicated to Philip Levine’s “The Angels of Detroit.” That poem literally saved my creative life. Here was someone who could take his working class experience and find a spirituality in it without romanticizing and without self-pity. There is a pragmatic transcendence to his work that requires an almost brutal honesty about one’s self, but the honesty isn’t intended to belittle or hurt, it’s intended to say “this is what this is, this is what you are, take that and make something, I dare you."

It would be a little presumptuous to say I came from the same background as Levine. My father and maternal grandfather ran gas stations, they worked with their hands on cars, and that could have been my destiny, to be a working class small businessman. But they didn’t want that and designed a way out for me; my guess it wasn’t through art, though. I should have been a doctor or lawyer. Levine showed me you could skip a generation and go right to being an artist.  A guy from my background shouldn’t necessarily be freaking out his father by doing a drag ballet the first time his father sees him dance. But that is what I did, and he survived that afternoon, so I guess it was alright.

You have some mad culinary skills. Would you share with us your “go to” recipe?
This will not be an example of “mad culinary skills,” but it is the “go to” recipe. It’s baked pasta, but the pasta is never boiled, technically. The basic recipe is below, but the great thing about it is you can add just about anything to it. If you are going to add vegetables like peppers, onions, etc, I would sauté or steam them before adding to insure they are soft by the end of the baking.

Preheat oven to 375-400 deg.

In a small casserole dish Soak 8 oz of Fusilli or similar pasta in 6 T of Olive Oil for 30-60 minutes (60 min. is for whole wheat).

Pour in one can of peeled plum tomatoes (28oz) including all the juice in the can. Pepper, salt, and other spices to taste. I leave the whole tomatoes on top to start, and then start poking/cutting into them with a spoon as they cook.

Put in whatever other ingredients you may want to add. If you are doing cheese, wait until the end.

Cover with foil or a lid, and put in oven. Stir often (and carefully towards the end). Cook for about 35-45 minutes until the pasta is soft.  Stirring is important because the pasta on top can burn and get crunchy

To learn more about John, visit our website

You can also find additional information on our website about the Literary Artist Fellowship program.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

5 Questions with Benjamin V Marshall

Benjamin will have a reading of his play BUENAS SMOOCHES: PISCATAWAY NJ on March 27, 2014 at 7:30pm as part of the NJ Literary Artists Fellowship Showcase.

The reading will take place in the Chase Room
of the Madison Public Library
39 Keep Street
Madison, NJ 07940
Click here for directions

There is a suggested donation of $10. All tickets will be available at the door on the evening of the readings. No advanced ticket sales.

1. Where did you get the idea for BUENAS SMOOCHES: PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY?
I was teaching a course called Introduction to Theatre and the students, who were in their first or second year of college were confused about the differing styles of comedy. The students had no common frame of reference. None. Not just from theatre world or movies but even television. I would mention  Big Bang Theory,  Chappell Show or Family Guy and maybe two students would recognize one show or three students would remember another,  but there was not one thing that all could recognize. So, I started to improvise a scenario. ”Imagine that there’s a girl of about 19.” The students’ eyes widened with recognition. “And she kind of likes this boy who’s from the wrong side of the tracks. Maybe he’s been to Jamesburg.”  They became more intrigued with the local reference.  The students were aware of the correctional home in that town and become more intrigued.  “So one day the girl knows her parents are out of the house, and she invites the boy over. Her parents come home unexpectedly and she quickly hides the boy in the closet. The parents need to go to the closet and she distracts them so that the boy hides under the bed.”  

I knew that this was the oldest scenario in the book. It’s as old as commedia dell’arte, if not older.   But the students laughed, not with polite titters to appease the professor, but guffaws.  I wondered if this old saw still had any juice. 

I thought I would sketch out a few scenes to see if this situation of the young would lead to anything.  Other things began percolating on the mind’s back burner. I’ve noticed over the years a number of students who were raised in urban areas such as the Bronx and Jersey City then moved to the leafier suburbs of Edison or East Brunswick.  Some of them were still wild- eyed with culture shock.  You can almost hear them wondering, “Where did all these trees come from? What do you mean there’s no subway or path train?”  “ How did I get here?”  I used the situations of relocating from an urban area to the suburbs and the hesitation to learn about one’s new surroundings. The recent economic crisis, the parents’ imminent divorce, and the loss of a grown child all became part of this story.

What was just a temporal explanation of one farcical situation formed into a viable story.  The scenes unfolded the way they would in Restoration comedy.  The dialogue poured out in rhyme, without antique words or diction but with the polyglot vocabulary that comes from living in the New York metro area. The smatterings of Spanish, Yiddish, and definitely Black English Vernacular infused themselves into this lovely, funny verse. 

An actor friend who later read the first draft described the play as a mix of Moliere and Dr. Seuss.  That’s a description that is accurate and that pleases me no end. 

2. You’ve been in short play festivals from Atlanta to Australia.  What do you love best about these festivals?
Short play festivals provide a great deal of energy and creative fuel.  They are a way of hearing new work and new voices. They are ways for me to investigate themes and ideas. So I gain a great deal of inspiration for the shorter works. It’s like trying out appetizers and hors d’ouevres instead of experimenting with main courses.

3. You have taught English in Arabic speaking counties. Has your experience inspired any of your plays? If not, what was the greatest lesson you learned by doing this? 
The Middle East experience inspired me to write a great deal.  First, there were few distractions, so I read a great deal and travelled a great deal.   I wrote several plays where the traveling to and from foreign countries remained in the background.  Eventually, I wrote one play where those experiences became the main story. The play’s called The Balcony Goat. Twice it was a finalist for the O’Neill Conference, and it has received a few readings.  It’s not a comforting play politically and that makes theatre people nervous, especially since it requires   a large cast.   It is set before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the terrorist attack of September 11.   It has nothing to do overtly with politics or those military encounters. It is about being a stranger in a strange land. Most of the people I knew were expatriates of the United States, Great Britain and other European countries.  The social barriers that insulate people in the United States are stripped off in a foreign county.  The irony is that an educated African American man could feel more at ease in the restrictive societies of Kuwait and Libya than in America.     What was the greatest lesson?  Don’t believe the hype. Pay attention to details. Keep the passport updated. Terrorists’ attacks can be as random, frightening and disorienting as a car - jacking in Newark, NJ.  

4. You are an Associate Professor at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ. What do you hope your students will take away from your class?
Since I teach courses in addition to playwriting, I have a wider variety of literary genres from which to choose. Also, since the students I encounter pursue a wide variety of majors, not always in the arts or humanities, I have a great many challenges.  I always hope for the same thing. I hope they find at least one piece of literature (poem, play, scene, line, or essay) that they will take to heart. I don’t always succeed with that. But I’ve got a pretty good batting average. It’s gratifying to see someone who doesn’t care a fig for poetry to become intrigued by contemporary poetry or play.

5. If you were offered a backstage pass to meet any band/singer/musician you wanted, who would that be and what would be the burning question you’d want to ask them?
This is the question I am most reluctant to answer.  Before the concert or after, the musicians are dealing with so many performance details that they’re not likely to give any real thought to an ardent fan’s search for musical or eternal truth.  I’d feel as if I would be in their way.  I mean, instead of marijuana, am I going to swap hits of Metamucil with Mick Jagger? Or trade hair style tips with Stevie Wonder?  And quickie groupie nookie?  I think those days are gone.

I love so many different kinds of music that choosing one style in order to answer the question, stymies me.  But music is really quite important to me. Family members and old friends know me as a pianist. I’ve played since I was a child.  Since I’m trafficking in meter, image and rhyme with writing BUENAS SMOOCHES . . ., I needed instrumental music to re - charge my batteries.  When I was writing, I played Mendelssohn’s music for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” repeatedly. I mean over and over again, as if the music propelled me into some trance. Sometimes, I’d let the CD advance to Mendelssohn’s Octet in E Flat.  I would intersperse it with Ella Fitzgerald’s “How High the Moon” as a kind of chaser.   Her scat singing would be that slap upside the head whenever I got too precious or pretentious.  It was always a way of bringing me back to earth.

To learn more about Benjamin, visit our website 

You can also find additional information on our website about the Literary Artist Fellowship program.