Read plays. Lots of them. Why? This story as told by the venerable playwright, Tom Stoppard, gives you the answer:
Years ago, there was a production of “The Tempest,” out of doors, and the play began in natural light. As it became time for Ariel to say his farewell, the evening had started to close in. And as Ariel uttered his last speech, he turned and he ran across the grass, and he got to the edge of the lake and he just kept running across the top of the water—the producer having thoughtfully provided a kind of walkway an inch beneath the water. And you could see and you could hear the plish, plash as he ran away from you across the top of the lake, until the gloom enveloped him and he disappeared from your view.
And as he did so, from the further shore, a firework rocket was ignited, and it went whoosh into the air, and high up there it burst into lots of sparks, and all the sparks went out, and he had gone.
When you look up the stage directions, it says, “Exit Ariel.” (Abridged comments of Tom Stoppard at the University of Pennsylvania, 1996)
Smart, creative, and successful young actors imagine moments just like that when they are veteran play readers. Children and teens who read plays regularly literally explode with ideas when they read new scripts. And, as a bonus, they have many wonderful monologues and scenes to explore in class and present at auditions.
Here are some of my favorite plays for young performers to read. Some are new and others classics. They are all well-written, good literature and have been successfully produced.
“The Loman Family Picnic” by Donald Margulies
“Really Really” by Paul Downs Colaizzo
“Henry’s Law” by Stacie Lents
“A Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry
“Leaves” by Lucy Caldwell
“Picnic” by William Inge
“Ascension Day” by Timothy Mason
“Our Town” by Thornton Wilder
“Speech and Debate” by Stephen Karam
“The Member of the Wedding” by Carson McCullers
“Women and Wallace” by Jonathan Marc Sherman
“The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
“John Lennon and Me” by Cherie Bennett
“Tigers Be Still” by Kim Rosenstock
“From Up Here” by Liz Flahive
I am always on the lookout for new, cutting edge material to offer my students the most interesting monologues and scenes. When I am not coaching a client or teaching a class, you will often find me reading a new play, re-reading a classic, or browsing the shelves at one of my favorite stores, The Drama Book Shop in New York City. It’s wonderful because the staff live and breathe this stuff and offer great recommendations. Ask for my friend, Stu. He’s the best!
Look out for an upcoming article on the art of reading a play for tweens and teens. I would love to hear from you about your picks for great material, so please drop me a comment below. I can’t wait to see the hidden gems you have in your library!