NJ Young Playwrights Contest

The 2018-19 Submission Form is Located at the Bottom of this Page 

Now in its 36th year, the New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival is the third-longest-running young playwrights festival in the United States. It’s a celebration of young playwrights and focuses on presenting their work in the same way we present that of the professional playwrights we work with. All winning playwrights will have their plays performed by professional actors under the direction of a professional director.

Plays are considered in three divisions and three special categories:

Main Divisions

  • Elementary (Grades 4-6)
  • Junior High (Grades 7-9)
  • High School (Grades 10-12)

Special Categories

  • Living With Disabilities Category
    • Primary Division, grades 6-7
    • Junior Division, grades 8-9
    • Senior Division, Grades 10-12
  • NJ Thespians Playwriting Contest
  • Caregiver Plays

The contest submissions open on June 1, 2018 and close on January 15, 2019 at 11:59 PM. The contest is open to all New Jersey students in grades 4-12.


The tabs below contain more specific information on each aspect of the contest. All plays must be submitted through our online form which can be found at the bottom of this page.  Please carefully read and follow the submission instructions in the Script Formatting and Submission Preparation section.

If you are submitting a group of plays for a classroom, school, etc., just follow the instructions in the Group Submissions for Teachers section. The form you’ll be taken to will allow you to submit multiple plays.

For more information on the 2018 New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival, including the selected plays, please click here.


Who Can Submit

  • Students in grades 4-12 (or the equivalent) who attend a public or non-public school, or are homeschooled, in New Jersey.
  • New Jersey residents who attend schools outside of the state may submit; however, they may not be eligible to receive a NJ Governors Award in Arts Education as per the guidelines of the Governors Awards administration.
  • Plays may be co-written by no more than five (5) authors. All authors must meet participation criteria and be within the grade range of the division being entered. The names of the authors must be included on the submission form.
    • If your play is written by more than one author, the group must designate a lead author to submit the play. That person will fill out the submission form and act as the contact person. There is a field on the submission form to enter the names of the additional authors.

Ineligible Submissions

  • Scripts submitted to previous NJ Young Playwrights Contests.
  • Film scripts, screenplays, adaptations of other authors’ work
  • Plays written by students enrolled in full-time or part-time undergraduate or graduate programs.

Writers Theatre reserves the right to disqualify a script, if in the opinion of the theatre or its representatives, the submission violates copyright, or other applicable, laws.

Plays are considered in three divisions and three special categories:

Main Divisions

  • Elementary (Grades 4-6)
  • Junior High (Grades 7-9)
  • High School (Grades 10-12)

Special Categories

  • Living With Disabilities Category*
    • Primary Division, grades 6-7
    • Junior Division, grades 8-9
    • Senior Division, Grades 10-12
  • NJ Thespians Plays**
  • Caregiver Plays***

*Living with Disabilities is a special category designed to find plays written by an author with a disability, and address themes or characters dealing with disabilities. The Special Categories section below outlines the terms and conditions of this category.

** The NJ Thespians Playwriting Contest is open only to schools with a NJ Thespian Society Troupe. The Special Categories section below outlines the terms and conditions

of this category.

*** The Caregiver category is looking for plays addressing issues relating to the provision of care to those with physical or mental illness and/or disabilities. The Special Categories section below outlines the terms and conditions of this category.


Living with Disabilities

The VSA Playwright Discovery Program


Part of the New Jersey Young Playwrights Contest, and inspired by its contract with VSA to teach playwriting to people with disabilities, we are looking for plays written by people with disabilities.  This category is intended to encourage the creation of plays that can be sent to the National VSA Playwright Discovery Program.

The three divisions in this category correspond to the national contest submission guidelines: Primary (grades 6-7), Junior (Grades 8-9) and Senior (grades 9-12).

This is not an exclusive category, students can submit to both the NJ Young Playwrights Contest and the Living With Disabilities Category.

Criteria (as posted on the VSA Playwright Discovery Program website):

  • “Young writers with disabilities and collaborative groups that include students with disabilities, in U.S. grades 6-12 (or equivalents) or ages 11-18 for non-U.S. students, are invited to explore the disability experience through the art of writing for performance: plays, screenplays, spoken word poetry (for single performer or a group), or music theater. Writers are encouraged to craft short works from their own experiences and observations, create fictional characters and settings, or choose to write metaphorically or abstractly about the disability experience.
  • “Young writers with disabilities are encouraged to submit a ‘ten-minute script’ of any genre. Entries may be the work of an individual student or a collaboration by a group of up to five students. The competition has three divisions: grades 6-7, grades 8-9, and grades 10-12 (or equivalents). A panel of theater professionals selects division winners.
  • “One winning piece is chosen in the Primary and Junior Divisions (grades 6-7 / ages 11-13 and 8-9 / ages 13-15 respectively). Winners will be featured in the press and on the Kennedy Center website.
  • “Selected winners in the Senior Division (grades 10-12 / ages 15-18) will receive exclusive access to participate in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to participate in staged readings and workshops alongside the nation’s premier collegiate playwrights as well as participate in the festival’s award ceremony.

If your play qualifies for this category, please check the appropriate box in the NJ Young Playwrights Application form.

Writers Theatre will facilitate entry into the National VSA Playwright Discovery Program for the maximum number of submissions allowed by VSA.


New Jersey Thespians Plays

The NJ Thespians category is for students grades 9-12 who are active members of a school-based Thespian troupe in the state of New Jersey only. Note that the grade range for this program differs slightly from the regular NJ Young Playwrights Contest and that the deadline for submission to the NJ Thespians category is DECEMBER 1, 2018.

(Students in NJ Thespian troupes can still submit scripts to the NJ Young Playwrights Contest until January 15, 2019; however, those received after December 1st CAN NOT be considered for the NJ Thespian Festival).

The NJ Thespians category has two divisions:
Grades 9-10
Grades 11-12

Scripts submitted to the NJ Thespians category will be automatically entered into the NJ Young Playwrights Contest in the appropriate category based on the grade level you indicate in this form.

Additionally, NJ Thespians scripts received by December 1st will be considered for a workshop presentation at the NJ Thespians Festival in January ONLY IF the playwright’s troupe will attend NJThesFest 2019. Please contact your troupe leader for details about your troupe’s attendance.


Caregiver Plays

In a partnership with the New Jersey Theatre Alliance Healing Voices Program, Writers Theatre has created a contest category for plays that address the caregiver experience. We are looking for plays that shed some light on the experience of caring for someone with a physical or mental illness or disability. Plays submitted in this category may be used in whole or part in the 2019 Healing Voices Onstage Program, which will be included in the NJ Theatre Alliance Stages Festival in March 2019. Readings with professional actors will be held at theatres in Madison, Netcong, and New Brunswick.

Selection Criteria

The NJYPF does not look for a certain “type” of play. While we enjoy plays with “realistic” structures, we also strongly encourage plays that challenge ideologies and storytelling structure, plays that are non-traditional and inventive. That being said, here are some questions to ask yourself about your play:

  • Theatrical World– Does your play create its own complete world? Does it stay inside the rules of that world throughout the whole play? If it doesn’t, how does that add to the effect of the play?
  • Characters – Are your characters interesting people you want to know and watch? Do your main characters (especially your central character) grow and/or change? What do we understand from that growth or change? Why is it important for us to understand? Are the characters behaving consistently within the theatrical world you created?
  • Plot/Story/Action –  How does your story tell itself? Does the action unfold in a way different from traditional story-telling structures? Does it innovate on a traditional structure? Regardless of its structure, are the tensions– the opposing forces– in the play driven by your characters’ wants or needs? Do they make you want to keep watching? Do you understand more as you watch?
  • Dialogue –  Do the characters sound the way people should in the theatrical world you have created? When you hear them speak, can you get a sense of who they might be from just their dialogue? Can you distinguish one character from another by how they speak? When you say the lines out loud, does it feel like natural speaking? Can your characters say the same– or more– with less words? Can actions replace words in some instances?
  • Subject/Theme –  What do you want the audience to understand at the end of the play? What do you want them to do after they have seen the play? Is the subject matter new? Is it trying to say something familiar in a new way? Do the characters and the story support your intentions throughout? How does the Theatrical World you have created add meaning to your intentions.

You may also find writing tips, prompts, inspirations, and advice on the New Jersey Young Playwrights blog and the NJYPF Facebook page .

“Definitions… are valuable and essential, but they must never be made into absolutes; if they are, they become obstacles to the development of new forms, experiment and invention.” –Martin Esslin, An Anatomy of Drama

Selection and Awards

The winning plays will be featured at our annual New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival. All performances will feature professional actors and will be directed by professional playwrights. The festival will be held in June and will feature two nights of plays, one night consisting of the Elementary and Middle School play perfomances and the other consisting of the High School play performances.

Selected playwrights from the High School division also receive a New Jersey Governor’s Award in Arts Education at an event in Trenton, cosponsored by the NJ Arts Education Partnership and the New Jersey Department of Education.

Selected playwrights will be invited to participate in further revision and development of the scripts in the weeks leading up to the Festival weekend. High School playwrights will be paired up with a dramaturg, who will set further development goals and connect with the writer via phone or on-line. High school writers should plan to attend all meetings and rehearsals. Once in rehearsal, writers are seen as professionals, and will be treated as the most important collaborator in the room. Writers may consider revisions, as the final reading is script-in-hand, so actors are not burdened with memorization.

Writers are expected to attend the final performance, where each will be honored with a Certificate of Achievement. WTNJ also holds a post-reading discussion with the writers and directors.

A statewide press release will publicize all the winners and their awards.

Important Dates

  • Submissions Open     June 1, 2018
  • Submissions Close     January 15, 2019, 11:59 pm

Festival Timeline

  • January 15, 2019 — Script submission deadline (all grades)
  • Late March 2019 — Finalists contacted
  • mid-late April 2019 — Festival selections announced
  • June 2019 — NJ Young Playwrights Festival Performances
  • Summer 2019 — Readers comments distributed

We reserve the right to delay the announcement date to accommodate the volume of scripts received, the need for extra selection rounds, etc. 

Reading and Development Process

Playwrights submit their plays prior to the contest deadline.

Plays are distributed to first-round readers who critique and select scripts to advance to the next round. Depending on the number of scripts to be read, this process continues through additional rounds until roughly 10 to 15 finalist scripts remain in each division.

The playwrights whose scripts reach the Final Round of judging will be given two (2) weeks to revise their plays based, in part, on the feedback provided by the Contest readers. These revised scripts will then be judged by the Selection Panel who will make the ultimate decision about the plays that will be developed during the Festival. This revision request is an important part of the determination process, as it lets us know whether the writer will benefit from the development and rehearsal process.

Finalists will be contacted by email, therefore, it is important that we have a current email address that someone checks regularly.

All plays receive one written critique in the first round of reading. This feedback is collected and sent to every writer via the e-mail address provided at submission. If your play was submitted in a group of plays by your teacher or teaching artist, the comments may be sent to that teacher for distribution.

Script Formatting and Submission Preparation

  • Scripts must be no longer than 20 minutes in performance time (approximately 20 typed pages).
  • Scripts must be typed in Times Roman font, size 12, color black, one-inch margins, with page numbers.
  • The Writer(s) name(s) should appear on the first page of the script under the title ONLY. Name(s) should NOT appear anywhere else in the script (no names in headers or footers).
  • Plays must be submitted in one of these formats: .pdf,  .doc, .docx, or .rtf.  We prefer PDF documents, as these preserve the intended formatting and pagination.
  • Scripts must be in the style of the professional play format, as shown below.

As you read the example, note the following:

  • The title and author (see example) on the first page only. They should appear nowhere else in the script.
  • A character listing (see example). Note that character names are all capitals.
  • A Time and Place listing (see example)
  • Font should be set at Times New Roman 12pt.
  • Page margins should be set at 1″.
  • Dialogue begins at the left margin.
  • Character names should be centered and written in all capital letters.
  • All stage directions indented by two tab lengths and placed in parenthesis.
  • Pagination should be in the upper right hand corner and should begin on page 2; the first page does not have a page number.

by Bernadette Bizer

JEN, 10-year-old, in fourth grade
LORRAINE, Jen’s best friend. Wears big round glasses with purple frames and thick lenses.
MRS. KERBUNKLE, Jen’s mother. Pushy, like a drill sergeant.

Present, early fall

Inside a Mini-Van

(MRS. KERBUNKLE sits in driver’s seat listening to a tape with earphones on. JEN, wearing a pink bow in her hair that looks out of place on her and carrying a backpack, gets into the car and sits in the back seat.)



Sorry I’m late, Mom.

(looks at her stop watch)


Jennifer Lou Ellen Mississippi Kerbunkle! You should have been here five and 1/2 seconds ago.


Sorry Mom.


Sorry, my foot. But time is a-wasting! Let’s get started with our checklist, shall we?


         (JEN unzips backpack and looks into it)

Sure Mom.


         (pulls clipboard and pencil from under the seat)

OK! Pencil case, box of sharpened multi-colored pencils?


Check, check!

(This excerpt © 2003 Bernadette Bizer, used with permission)

Contest Disclaimers

Writers Theatre reserves the right to not award a winning play and/or reduce the number of winning plays in any category. Festival programming is subject to available funds, and Writers Theatre reserves the right to cancel the Festival should those funds not be available. The Governors Awards are issued by an independent agency, and Writers Theatre cannot guarantee whether that agency will issue awards in any given year.

The Festival is typically performed for an audience comprised of students, teachers, and parents. While we encourage writers to explore their creativity, we are all aware that not all plays are for all audiences. WTNJ reserves the right not to present a play selected by the panel, if, in WTNJ’s sole judgment, the play would be inappropriate to the audience attending the reading. We also reserve the right to refer a play to a school administrator, parent, or other responsible adult in the event that WTNJ feels a particular play is in need of such attention.

Review The Guidelines

If you have not familiarized yourself with the information sections above, please take a look at them before you submit your play.


Check the NJ Young Playwright Festival Facebook Page

Also, take a quick look at the NJYPF Blog or NJYPF Facebook Page for any submission news.  And don’t forget to like us on Facebook. You can access both through the menu bar on the right.


Check Formatting and Proofread Your Play

Remember to proofread your play and check your formatting in the Submission Guidelines section.


Name Your Play File

Name the play file as per our instructions, below. This is important, as we receive hundreds of submissions.

For example, if you are submitting in the Junior HS Division, your name is Kim Smith, and the name of your play is My Awesome Life,  your file should be named:

JS Smith My Awesome Life.doc  or JS Smith My Awesome Life.pdf

Remember, we prefer .pdf files, but will take scripts submitted as .doc. .docx, or .rtf as well.


Gather Additional Information

In addition to information about yourself and your play, we will ask for the following:

  • Parent’s phone numbers and e-mail address
  • Full names of the co-authors, if any
  • Your school address and name of principal.

Please have these available, as it will speed up your application process.

Classroom Teachers and Teaching Artists: If you are entering a group of plays, please use the submission form found here, which will allow you to enter all the plays simultaneously in one form. You will also be able to enter all the files in a single upload. If you prefer to submit a group of plays from a class by paper, please contact Jim DeVivo, our Director of Education  jdevivo@wtnj.org  or 973-514-1787 x14


If you have a problem or a question, contact Director of Education, Jim DeVivo at 973.514.1787 x14 or jdevivo@wtnj.org


Student Play Submission Form

Additional Opportunities for Student Writers and Performers