Ten Playwrights Every Theater Person Should Know

If you are a high school student who has aspirations of obtaining a degree in theater or if you are an adult who finds him or herself newly and unwittingly drawn to theatrical pursuits, I urge you to get acquainted with the following ten playwrights.

Theater, like fine art and music, encapsulates a wide range of styles from the contemporary Broadway musical to Theater of the Absurd. You might not enjoy all the styles and playwrights that I am recommending to you here, but I advise you to acquaint yourselves with at least one play by each of the following theatre artists. For your reference, I have listed a few of my favorite plays by each writer but feel free to search for others and share your thoughts about this list on the ExperimentsinTheater facebook page.

Please keep in mind that there are dozens, if not hundreds of other playwrights that are worthy of every theater-lover’s attention. I’ve selected the following ten for you to start with so that you can absorb a range of styles and genres from both male and female writers over the past 100 years. If you are looking for more great plays to read, I would also check out the Pulitzer Prizes’ website in the category of drama: www.pulitzer.org/bycat/Drama.

Due to language and content, I would advise any parent or teacher to screen these plays before sharing them with with students under the age of 17. The only exceptions are the plays of Shaw and Miller — which were written at a time when language and content was typically more subtle compared to the work of contemporary playwrights.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)

  • Major Barbara
  • Saint Joan
  • Pygmalian (This was later adapted into the popular musical My Fair Lady.)

Neil Simon (1927 – )

  • The Star Spangled Girl
  • *+Lost in Yonkers
  • Little Me (a musical)

Paul Rudnick (1957 – )

  • The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told
  • I Hate Hamlet (Funny, funny, funny. I loved it so much, I did it twice. And I’d do it again if I could.)

David Mamet (1947 – )

  • *Glengarry Glen Ross
  • Oleanna
  • November

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

  • Waiting for Godot (If you like this play, I can recommend more of Beckett’s work — but he is an acquired taste. This is by far the piece that gets him the most commercial recognition. If you read nothing else by Becket, read this!)

Arthur Miller (1915-2005)

  • +The Crucible
  • *+Death of a Salesman (An American classic. I read it for the first time in the 8th grade and I love it more and more every time I see/read it.)

Marsha Norman (1947 – )

  • Getting Out
  • *‘Night Mother
  • +The Secret Garden (a musical)

Anna Deveare Smith (1950 – )

  • *Fires in the Mirror
  • House Arrest

Beth Henley (1952 – )

  • *Crimes of the Heart
  • Impossible Marriage

Paula Vogel (1951 – )

  • The Mineola Twins
  • *How I Learned to Drive

*Indicates that this is a Pulitzer Prize Winning Play
+Indicates that this is a Tony Award Winning Play

Posted in

Apr 13, 2012

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