As an actor or actress there are certain plays that you should familiarize yourself. These works will help you develop enduring skills that resonate with the classically trained. You will also likely come across them at some point in your career. So it is a good idea to be prepared and ahead of the game. It seems that many thespians forget that reading a list of plays will also help with their skill range, imagination, and what makes a play beyond just the acting. Reading plays will also help you learn different writing styles and learn how to properly convey pieces based on the period they were written. This will make you a more versatile actor overall.
Preparedness is a big reason to read a lot of different plays. Having a varied list of plays under your belt can help you be more comfortable with any monologue or part you are offered to audition for. It will make understanding and memorizing your lines much easier. In turn, this will give you a leg up on your competition. You will be busy fine tuning and polishing your role while others are busy struggling to find motivation. This article is a short list of plays to take the time to read through in order to become a more prepared and flexible actor.
This Is a List of Plays That Will Benefit You as an Actor
1. A Street Car Named Desire
First on this list of plays is an American drama written by Tennessee Williams. This script can lay claim to many awards including Oscars, Tony Awards, and a Pulitzer for drama. It is considered to be a legendary piece that even helped launch Marlon Brando into fame.
This lay goes through the life of a young pair in New Orleans who takes in a rebellious family member. It peaks with conflict between Stanley who is very hot-blooded and unstable and Blanche who is a scheming seductress. Always pertinent, A Streetcar Named Desire brings timeless issues to the forefront. It also keeps Williams in a rank of playwright elite. It should definitely make your own list of plays to read.
2. The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece should make every actor’s list of plays to read. It is considered by many to be the greatest comedic acting piece ever written. This is a difficult one for a lot of actors to successfully perform. However, if you can nail it, you will impress everyone. You will have to really be able to deliver the material with pinpoint timing, insinuation, and playfully cunning dialogue.
No other script envelops physicality with long lasting social messages quite like this Wilde piece does. There are a variety of roles to fit most actors regardless of age or sex. All of the roles are amusing, challenging, well developed, and will impress at any audition.
3. The Cherry Orchard
Next up on our list of plays is Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. There are many of Checkov’s plays such as Three Sisters or Uncle Vanya that could occupy a slot on this list. However, The Cherry Orchard holds a special place in theater because of its longevity and history. Originally written to be a comedy, it is more often interpreted as being a tragedy. These opposing forces meet to create a delicate balance between humor and sadness.
To top it off, The Cherry Orchard brings social issues to the table. It also includes philosophical monologues and nuanced parts that can be a great challenge for actors of any age. You will likely come across this one at some point in time. So why not be prepared and go ahead and choose one of the many characters available to both male and female actors?
Come on, you didn’t think you would make it through a list of plays without seeing a work by the most celebrated playwright, William Shakespeare. The difficult part, which would be much argued, would be to figure out exactly which of his works should be considered essential reading for an actor. Many would argue that another piece should be here such as Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet and they would have significant support.
This list of plays chose Macbeth as its choice because of the play’s quick pace and intrigue. People view it as one of the greatest tragedies ever written and includes plenty of fodder for actors to utilize. Not to mention, scoring a part as one of the power players, Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, in this piece would be a dream and accomplishment any actor would relish. Another positive point to this play is that compared to other of Shakespeare’s works, Macbeth is quite short. Thus, it does not take ages to get to the point of the plot. In order to successfully portray a role in this play, an actor will have to learn to be versatile, vibrant, and be able to shift objectives on a dime.
5. Waiting for Godot
This Samuel Beckett play is likely to be on many actors’ list of plays to read. The play is a response to the horrors that ensued in light of World War II. It takes a real look at the tragedies and meaning of life itself. Also, it looks at the lengths people will go to survive.
It seems that no matter how many times you read this one, it will always supply new insight into being human and gives the reader optimism. A great tool to have under your belt as an actor, waiting for Godot has parts for both male or female that will wow your casting directors.
6. A Doll’s House
No list of plays actors should read would be complete without one from this Norwegian master. Henrik Ibsen presents this three act play to reveal the marriage norms of that time. However, it remains relevant to a more modern crowd.
Though you would like to keep it in its 19th century box, it reveals its relevance to marriage and money even today. It shows how messy the inner workings of relationships really are and how hard it is to be completely honest with your partner no matter how much you love them. Add this one to your list of plays to read and perfect a part within it; you will not regret it.
7. American Buffalo
When you need a little more shock value, David Mamet may be one to turn to. This play has scenes that are sometimes brusque and vulgar. Thus, you will want to pick and choose when and where to use this selection in an audition. However, when used successfully, you will have a very strong and powerful performance at your disposal that may even give you a sense of empowerment that will easily convey to your audience.
In this play, three men who work in a junk shop plan a heist. They are looking to nab a very expensive coin collection. Of course, the heist does not go as planned and this play quickly turns into a drama full of testosterone filled anger where characters try to manipulate and intimidate one another. What do you get? Of course it is powerful, but there is humor and ultimately tragedy. A more modern piece, American Buffalo should definitely make your list of plays to read.
8. The Clean House
A more modern play written by a very creative Sarah Ruhl is definitely one to read. Filled with a grab bag of ideas, this play brings compassion, comedy, an inspirational joke, a gratifying purpose, a soul mate, and even a reasonable death to your disposal. This play has been so well accepted that it was a finalist for a Pulitzer in 2005.
If you want to be able to portray the complex intimacies of women through a character who reflects on her marriage with both contentment and dissatisfaction, be sure to add this to your list of plays. It really transmits the message that even though we never will fully understand the jokes life plays on us, it is probably the best advice to take it in stride and have a few good laughs.
End of List
There are so many plays out there. As an actor how can you possibly choose which to make required reading? Try to keep a variety of plays under your belt. Find ones that inspire you. Do not just stick to a single genre or time period. The more extensive your experiences with plays are, the more versatile of an actor you will be. This makes you more valuable to any director. The more you can connect with a part, character, or play, the more that emotion and bond will shine through during an audition or performance. Be sure to read the classics. Just because they are old does not mean they are no longer pertinent. However, do not forget our modern gems either.
What plays do you suggest as necessary reads for actors? Which have you noticed are always enjoyable to casting directors? Please leave any plays you think should make the list below.