Read (More) Plays
If, according to Lorca, “a play is a poem standing up,” what happens when productions, in times like these, are knocked down to their knees? Return to the language! Relish the poetry. Embrace the way the playwright arranged the text on the page. Read them aloud, to yourself, or via video or phone call. Read TYA (Theatre for Young Audiences) to your children, just like you read them storybooks.
In short, read more plays!
I have heard from many very well read people that they “don’t understand how to read plays.” It’s a common sentiment about poetry, too. Though, we live in a digital era that has exploded international consumption of poetry in a way I wish would be the same for plays! Shouldn’t dialogue be the easiest thing to read in the world? After all, even in its strangest, wildest forms dialogue is patterned after speech – which most of us are lucky to have plenty of experience in mastering!
In school, we all read Shakespeare, and a smattering of Arthur Miller—we Southerners, probably Tennessee Williams. But as we theatremakers know, there is so much more! If George Saunders’s critically acclaimed experimental novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, which reads more like play than novel, was so successful, then YES, ALL PLAYS can be read and enjoyed!
Of course, there’s a fundamental power in plays in performance. That’s why we theatremakers do what we do, it’s why playwrights – even those who work across genre – can’t stop making plays, but that’s not to say that plays cannot be incredibly powerful on the page. I myself re-read Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice at least once a year, and it still makes me weep every time. I must admit that I keep the memory of the powerful 2007 Second Stage production in my head, but that doesn’t keep me from appreciating its poetry. James Baldwin’s The Blues for Mister Charlie is a play I’ve never seen, but I return to time and time again for its sheer mastery of form, which goes hand-in-hand with its heart wrenching content.
Here is a good moment to acknowledge and honor our great hybrid heroes, including Sonia Sanchez, Claudia Rankine, and Cherríe Moraga – to name but a few. So many literary masters have written plays in addition to poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, so why not consume their plays in the same way?
Moraga once wrote that art is: “the expression of the deep soul that inspires collectivism and wards off the suicide of isolation.” We cannot forgo this sense of community in the times we need it most – even if necessary social distancing separates us in the physical sense. Much like a novel’s narrator can lead us down new and exciting paths, reading a play can feel like inhabiting a roomful of friends. I’m not sure about you, but right now, a roomful of friends sounds like everything.
So, here are a few great resources for the current moment and beyond. (Please, friends: let’s add and make this list long! I welcome any and all suggestions. Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.)
- NPX: National New Play Network’s New Play Exchange (Featuring tons of new plays for all ages by living playwrights! Annual fee is $12!)
- Two-Headed Rep’s Contagious Closet Dramas on Instagram
- New York Public Library’s vast collection of e-books includes many plays (Or, try your own local library, if you don’t live in NYC.)
- Project Gutenberg (Loads of free plays in the public domain!)
- Chuck Mee’s the (re) making project (All Mee’s plays are available for free! I’d love to know about more writers who have resources like this on their own websites...)
- Girl Tales (Short podcast plays. Feminist fairy tales for kids.) Request the scripts from the creative team to read along with your children!
- 53rd Street Press’s Bookshop (Including Haruna Lee’s Suicide Forest. This is just one of the great independent presses that produces innovative play scripts.)
- You can also buy e-books of play scripts via Dramatists Play Service, Samuel French, and more! (For future presents for literary-minded folks, perhaps consider the gift of a play instead of a novel...)
Together, I believe we can start a revolution in the way plays are consumed, and I’m excited for the next generation and beyond to remember this moment as a time when plays brought them solace, as much as any other form of writing – even when theaters were temporarily closed.
Let’s start the movement today—beginning with act one, scene one!
Christina Quintana (CQ) is a 2017 Van Lier New Voices Fellow at The Lark. For more from CQ, check out the links below for some of her other writing on our blog!