David Winitsky, artistic director of the Jewish Plays Project (JPP), wants to clarify something: “This is not ‘Old Jews Telling Jokes,’” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I love that kind of comedy and Jewish humor runs through the festival’s plays. But we’re not looking for the next Neil Simon. We’re looking for the next Tony Kushner.” JPP’s second annual festival of new works is scheduled to run June 10 to 30 at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan.
Landing a gig in the festival is no easy feat. Among 340 submissions from 26 states and eight countries 11 have been tapped for staged readings in either “Series A,” featuring six works deemed production ready, or “Series B,” presenting newer plays out for a first spin. The contest winner, “Estelle Singerman” by David Rush, will wrap up the festival on June 29 and 30 with a full workshop production. Industry insiders are invited in the hope that some of these works will move on to the next level.
Tapping plays that embody the most compelling theater experience is the festival’s primary criterion. But within those parameters, the scripts must reflect Jewish experience in some way, not least how “Jewish identity informs us as global citizens,” Winitsky noted. “We’re interested in how the Jewish belief system affects ethical decisions. We look for plays that deal with personal identity and what it means to be Jewish in a modern world.”
The plays, written by writers aged 25 to 40, are initially vetted by a panel of 45 artists and then chosen via audience vote in live events in Jewish communities throughout the Northeast.