9 Playwrights on Theatre That Excites Them
Over the years, we’ve had the chance to speak with numerous writers about their craft. One question we love to ask playwrights is what type of theatre excites them–after years of being so closely involved in theatre, what work feels fresh and inspiring to them. Here are their answers:
Nicholas C. Pappas
I can be excited by nearly any kind of theater. I love watching stuff that is innovative, but I can also really get behind an old work that is relaunched. I particularly love theater that says something important about the world, but I think lighter fare is vital as a counterbalance. I tend to see more non-musicals, but musicals make me cry hardest. Some of my favorite playwrights are people like Simon Stephens, Sheila Callaghan, Sarah Ruhl, Tarell Alvin McCraney, and Qui Nguyen. Recently I’ve been floored by the plays Vietgone, The Nether, Harper Reagan, and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.
Favorite musicals include Passing Strange, Caroline or Change, and Once. I really admire theater with a strong point of view. By this, I mean each production element of a particular piece must be working together to create a cohesive whole. Things can’t be slapped together all willy-nilly. I always see it as a missed opportunity when costume design doesn’t support acting choices, or when those acting choices don’t support the lighting design, and that lighting design doesn’t support the script. All of these things working separately creates an uneven and confusing production. In some ways, it might be easier to talk about the kind of theater that doesn’t excite me. The most egregious thing is a lack of effort. I really have a difficult time watching people “phone it in.” It kills me.
Theatre that is urgent and bold.
Theatre that doesn’t recycle tired tropes. Theatre that feels like a shared secret. Theatre that is muscular, aggressive, that dares to reinvent structure to fit the story. I love story. I love being asked to encounter it in new and surprising ways.
Theater that opens the audience up with laughter, then affects them with humanity. Also anything with confetti cannons.
In addition to like, literally everyone who was in Youngblood with me, and whose work I not only admire but strive to live up to, I’d say one of the plays that comes to mind is Kevin Armento’s Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, which was so cool the way it made use of both modern technology/texting and also the Greek chorus. Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, obviously—I mean so much has been said about that play, I think, but I really liked just seeing a soccer field onstage. That was exciting! I’ve got to get my hands on Adam Bock’s A Life—I missed it at Playwrights, but I’m a big fan of his, and everything I’ve read about that play seems very very exciting! I know I’m missing things! This is a stressful question!
The bare stage excites me. The sense that the world is being born in front of me and will only unlock in communion with my imagination is maybe the most exciting thing in the world.
Oh and watching the moment when an actor disappears inside a character…horribly, horribly addictive.
I’m excited by theater that celebrates the country’s diversity; further still, by plays inhabited by characters of differing cultures, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations all working, however clumsily, to understand, or, better yet, love each other. I’m also excited by plays with characters with big wants, who overcome big obstacles, and find the courage to move forward despite the big risks. I’m also excited by plays that, like a poem or a song, can articulate what’s in the protagonist’s heart, with great eloquence.
William Missouri Downs
I don’t get to see a lot of theater; my nearest professional theater is a hundred and fifty miles away. Hell, to go to Walgreens I’ve got to drive over a hundred miles. I bring these two rather unrelated thoughts together because when something takes a great deal of effort you tend to appreciate it. A good play for me is one that, two hours after, driving home late at night, dodging deer and antelope, I’m still thinking about. A bad play is one where afterwards I’m thinking about what I need at Walgreens.
Honestly, anything, as long as it’s good. I’m really interested in a lot of different kinds of theater; everything from naturalism to musical theater to highly theatrical spectacle. As long as it’s doing a really good job of whatever it’s trying to do, I find it exciting.
I love plays that center around characters that are usually relegated to the supporting cast in most stories. My goal with subText was to create a romantic comedy that wasn’t just about the typical ingénues we normally see. The main character in subText is a gay high school student, and the play was written for the racially diverse actors of Muncie Southside High School. Ultimately, I like theatre that speaks to the universal moments we all share, without ignoring what makes each of us specific and unique. We all fall in love, we all get our hearts broken, and we all suffer from Autocorrect typos.