Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reading Plays

I have read a lot of plays, and I still do. I read plays because I’m fascinated by how they work (each them its own little kingdom), and because I love stories. Another reason I read plays is because if I’m writing a play about characters or a situation that has been a play already, I want to read it. I don’t want to make the same mistakes another playwright already made. I want to make my own, different ones.

There are many people who don’t like to read plays. I remember actor friends from college who’d complain bitterly about the reading list we had to slog through. It was quite extensive, and there are certainly plays on it I have no desire to ever read again (“Secret Service”? “Fashion”? I shudder at the thought). But I always thought it was weird that my pals complained about reading plays so much. They were all readers; they read history and novels and whatever else. But plays were somehow more work to read.

I’ve had playwriting students who don’t like to read plays. Somewhere they’ve read, or someone has told them, that playwrights should not read plays written by other people. That they will somehow be unduly influenced by reading other writers, and lose their own voice. I admit I did used to go through a period if I was writing a first draft of a play, I didn’t read other writers. I don’t need to make that demarcation as clearly anymore. I’m not so afraid of another style creeping into mine anymore. But I admit I find it counter-intuitive to ignore millennia of plays that have come before us.

Plays cost money to buy- I’ll grant you that. I have been building a library of libretti for the past two years, and it hasn’t been cheap. But I do hit the good book sales, and I know about the secret weapon: Project Gutenberg (link is above). Project Gutenberg has hundreds of plays in the public domain, in many languages. It also has foreign language (including Middle English) plays in translation. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing! It has poetry and prose as well.

I have heard Edward Albee say (and I’m paraphrasing) that he doesn’t understand why people don’t like to read plays. A play is as much of a story as a novel, and it takes a fraction of the time to read. Makes perfect sense to me.


hyacinthgirl said...

The Manhattan Theatre Source in the Village has a great upstairs area where used books are sold at garage sale prices. TONS of plays and books on the history of theatre. Haven't been there in a while, but assume the bookshop's still going strong. All the proceeds go to the theatre and the selection is great. Love the posts Anne!

Bo C. Klintberg said...


Not all plays cost anything to read. My own plays published on the Philosophical Plays website are free access. And I even have two editions: one nicely typeset PDF that you can download for free, and one online edition that doesn't require any registration or subscription.

My latest play is called "Katherine's Questionable Quest for Love and Happiness" and you are MOST welcome to visit!

Best wishes!
Bo C. Klintberg
Editor/Author, Philosophical Plays