You may already know the plays you’d like to read, in which case this page is irrelevant. Jump ahead to Acquire a Script. This page is for those who don’t know where to start.
There are literally thousands of great plays, from the Ancient Greeks to the latest hit on Broadway—plays that have either stood the test of time or been acclaimed as great by contemporary critics and/or audiences.
Thumb Rule: Any Great Play Is Worth the Read
That said, the question remains: which one first?
For a pig in a poke, you can pick from our Catalog of Plays, with links to scripts in our on-line collection. Beginners might select from modern classics (Category: Starters) or our List of Pulitzer Prize Plays. For a strict cold read, it should be one you and your group have never seen or read (although familiar pieces can be fun); otherwise, the choice is yours.
If you’ve never read a play aloud with others—or if Time is an issue (never enough)—get your feet wet with Ten-Minute Plays. They may not be that great, but most are funny, some disturbing, and they’re over in no time.
Considerations that might affect your choice are:
One-acts (or a few 10-minute “shorts”) can be explored in an hour (over lunch). We only have a few in our collection, but an internet search for “One Act Plays on line” or “10 minute Plays” (with variations) will list hundreds.
Full-length plays consume an evening (morning, afternoon)—a couple of hours (or more) to read plus interjected time to “ad lib” (clarify, recap, share insights, opine). Now and then a full-length read will generate so much discussion that we don’t finish the play, in which case we either schedule another time and place or see how it ends on our own. The pleasure is in the journey.
Modern Plays or Classics
Modern plays are, for our purposes, copyright-protected, and include the hundreds of thousands published mostly after 1923 (others as late as 1964). Nearly all great American plays fall in this category, along with foreign works after the early realists. (See Acquire a Script for ways to obtain protected work.)
All the rest are “period” plays, the Classics, from the ancient Greeks and (lesser) Romans to medieval church plays to the Renaissance, to Marlowe, Shakespeare, Johnson; then Moliere, Corneille, Racine, Goldoni, Schiller, Goethe, Gogol, Pushkin, all the way to Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, Gorky, Yeats, O’Casey, Wilde, Shaw (the best of the greats), at the dawn of dramatic Realism.
Everyone should know the classics, but modern plays are easier to read. Most classic plays are in verse, with archaic references and language that can be confusing.
Also: all great plays before Shakespeare and many more since were written in languages other than English. Some translations capture, even transcend the essence of the original play; others can be dated, scholarly, awkward, and dry. Preview a page or two to see how it flows.
Plays come in many styles and genres, from the classics to slice-of-life realism to all its subsequent departures: naturalism, symbolism, expressionism, surrealism, futurism, Theatre of Cruelty, Theatre of the Absurd—present-day Postmodern. They can be comic (high or low), or tragic, tragi-comic, melodramatic, sentimental, farcical, historical, allegorical, satirical, political, or a mix of any or all. What suits your (and your readers) fancy?
How well do you (and your readers) read? The more you do it, the better you get; but if Shakespeare scares you, start with something more accessible.
Some plays have many characters, which calls for doubling in small groups and can lead to confusion. Others have just two or three (or one), and require frequent recasting in larger groups.
Many post-modern plays deal with issues (and use language) that may not be appropriate for all readers. Such plays in our collection are posted in Category: Mature.
Our bet is that you’ll derive so much enjoyment from your read that you’ll want to do more. Some may even make it a habit, in which case you might consider devising a cohesive program around a particular theme, whether it be a survey of world drama or a concentration on a particular genre, period, or playwright. Some groups, for example, just read Shakespeare.
Continue to Acquire a Script.