About Play On Words

About Us

Play On Words is a collaborative literary arts series that unites emerging and established interdisciplinary artists, fiction/theater enthusiasts, and curious community members eager to learn more about the processes of creative writing and creating performances. Since its founding in 2013, 25 Play On Words actors have performed original work by more than 70 writers, including San Jose State University Steinbeck fellows, as well as local playwrights, poets, fiction writers, memoirists, fourth graders and more.

The Play On Words Mission

Our mission is to elevate the voices of our community by providing an interactive storytelling platform and bringing original work to life. We wish to incentivize diverse artists to create new and bold work by recognizing great writers and performers.

The Play On Words “Effect”

By hearing their work performed onstage, writers at all stages of their careers can get great feedback, engage with new audiences, network with neighborhood artists and gain insight on the creative process. When they perform new work, actors gain valuable onstage experience, connect with writers who inspire them and get critical feedback on their interpretative work. Audiences are treated to unique storytelling performances that showcase local artists and reveal the raw, real, hilarious, absurd, provocative and unusual truths of humanity.

What does that look like, you ask? Check out our 2014 Highlights Reel to get a glimpse of what we do:

Our Team

Co-founder, publicity director

Julia Halprin Jackson’s work has appeared in Noyo River Review, Oracle Fine Arts Review, West Branch Wired, California Northern, Fourteen Hills, and selected anthologies. She has been awarded scholarships from the Tomales Bay Writer’s Workshops, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, and is a graduate of UC Davis’ master’s in Creative Writing program. Julia contributes to Washington Square, San Jose State University’s alumni magazine, and is at work on a novel set in Spain.

Co-founder, casting director

Melinda Marks is a playwright, actor and director who has performed in the Bay Area for over 20 years. She holds a BA from UCSC in Theater with an emphasis in dramaturgy, an MA from San Jose State in Theater Studies, and an MFA in Shakespeare Studies from Mary Baldwin College.

Digital asset manager

Ryan Alpers, our longtime cast member, social media supporter and partner in all things Play On Words, started producing our podcast in fall 2017. The Play On Words POWer Half Hour features interviews with actors, writers and artists who have participated in Play On Words events, includes snippets from shows, and offers and insider’s view into how a volunteer arts organization is run. You can subscribe, rate and review the show in iTunes or check out individual episodes on SoundCloud.


Nicole Hughes is the events manager at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, and the former director of San Jose State University’s Center for Literary Arts. She completed an MFA in fiction writing from San Jose State University, where she taught composition in the English & Comparative Literature Department. Her story “Impasto Portrait” was published in Liebamour. As an MFA student, she was awarded the 2011 Ann Lillis Creative Writing Scholarship and the 2009 and 2011 James Phelan Literary Award. Nicole was instrumental in helping launch Play On Words in 2013 and relocated to Oregon in 2015.

Get Involved

Since its founding in 2013, 24 Play On Words actors have performed original work by more than 60 writers, including San Jose State University Steinbeck fellows, as well as local playwrights, poets, fiction writers, memoirists and more. Over the years, we have been lucky to partner with San Jose’s Blackbird Tavern, Cafe Stritch, the San Jose Downtown Association, Anne and Mark’s Art Party, San Jose’s Flash Fiction Forum, Redwood City’s Dragon Theatre, San Francisco’s LitCrawl, and the San Jose Museum of Art.

Going forward, we hope to partner with local nonprofits and series to offer themed shows that benefit causes close to our heart. If you are interested in partnering with us, we’d love to hear from you.

Submission Guidelines

We accept works of fiction, nonfiction, theater and poetry on an ongoing basis. While our aesthetic tends toward the funny, unusual, thought-provoking and absurd, more than anything we want to read work that surprises us and pops off the stage. We cap submissions at 1500 words, though there is some wiggle room with works of theater.

To submit, fill out this form or email an attachment of your work to playonwordssj@gmail.comUse this opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself and how you see this piece being performed.

Want to join the conversation? Like us on Facebook, follow us on Instagram (@playonwordsanjose) and Twitter (@PlayOnWords_SJ), or send us an email at playonwordssj@gmail.com.

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