Scene Study and Classroom Reading: Plays for Colleges and Universities
A Word of Introduction: A few months back, I was talking to a theatre professor over the phone. At the time, I had been in the process of reaching out to a lot of our collegiate customers to find out more about their theatre programs and how they work. This particular professor mentioned a challenge she faced collecting scene work, saying, “We need something beyond Miller, Chekov, and Shakespeare scenes that place women and students of color at the forefront.” And then she asked me, “Do you have any kind of reference that lists this kind of work?“
And so, I began compiling one. Over the next few months, I read plays that were tagged for the college market and picked the brain of the Concord Theatricals licensing team. The result was a list intended to update your core theatre curriculum for both the plays you read for class, and the plays your students use for scene work. Special attention was given to including information about these plays that would be particularly useful for educators in the university and collegiate fields.
I hope you will find it an easy and shareable reference for you and your students. I hope you meet some new authors and new plays, and I hope they delight you!
Anderson, Christina: Blacktop Sky
Cast: 2m, 1f (with additional male voices heard)
Synopsis: Klass, a young homeless man living outside the David L. Hynn Housing Projects, goes without notice until he encounters Ida and Wynn. As Klass’ past unravels, and his relationship with Ida grows, the neighborhood must decide how to treat one so vulnerable.
Our Take: For actors 18-25. Inspired by the tragic Greek myth Leda and the Swan, a sharp observation of the cycle of police brutality.
Barron, Clare: Dance Nation
Cast: 9f, 2m
Synopsis: A group of pre-teen competitive dancers go for the gold at Nationals. Brutal, raw, funny, poignant, and unique; a brilliant encapsulation of female adolescence. Great for monologue and scene work.
Our Take: Although the play is about 13-year-olds, casting should be actresses of all different ages and ethnicities. Contains adult language, themes, and nudity.
Birch, Alice: Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again
Cast: 4-6 m or f
Synopsis: A wildly experimental, feminist play in a series of vignettes that looks to revolutionize the way we use and experience language, relationships, work, and life. With flexible casting, there are a multitude of opportunities for innovative staging, great scene work and monologues.
Our Take: Does contain violence, nudity, adult language and themes.
Burgess, Eleanor: The Niceties
Synopsis: A young black student and older white female professor engage in a conversation about the history of slavery and the American Revolution. An explosive, urgent play for the Black Lives Matter generation.
Our Take: A brilliantly constructed and timely piece. Great for scene work and in-class thematic discussion. Contains adult language and themes.
Chakrabarti, Lolita: Red Velvet
Cast: 5m, 3f
Synopsis: After England’s “greatest actor” collapses on stage playing Othello, a young, black, American actor steps into the role. But when riots break out over the abolition of slavery, the parallels between Shakespeare’s words and the voices in the streets threaten to stall this theatrical revolution. Set in 1833 and 1867 against one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, Red Velvet explores modern questions of race, privilege, and the trajectory of change through a historical lens.
Our Take: Great for ensemble building and scene work. Integrates the text of Othello into the play itself.
Coppel, Fernanda: King Liz
Cast: 3m, 3f
Synopsis: Liz Rico is at the top of her game: she is black and female and one of the top agents in the most powerful sports agency in the country. But when a rookie basketball player with tremendous potential and a troubled past shows up, how far will she be willing to go for the career of her dreams?
Our Take: Great leading role for an actress and a supporting cast of color. Excellent study in play structure. Contains adult language and themes.
Davis, Nathan Alan: Nat Turner in Jerusalem
Synopsis: On the night before his execution, the slave revolt leader Nat Turner is interviewed by the lawyer, Thomas R. Gray. What is revealed is a powerful reckoning with faith and truth that reverberates to this day.
Our Take: Fantastic dramatic scene and monologue work for two men. Contains indelible lyricism.
DeLappe, Sarah: The Wolves
Synopsis: A soccer team warming up over the course of a competitive season fights for a place on the Astroturf. This play has become a cultural phenomenon and is one of the most produced plays of 2018.
Our Take: Great ensemble building and movement work, perfect for college-age actresses. Simple set.
Diamond, Lydia R.: Stick Fly
Cast: 3m, 3f
Synopsis: A juicy family drama about a wealthy black family spending time together over a single weekend on Martha’s Vineyard. A play that carefully examines race and privilege.
Our Take: Varied scene work with both dramatic and comedic moments.
Diaz, Kristoffer: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Synopsis: The WWE as a metaphor for America. A brilliant exploration of stereotypes inside a literal wrestling ring. The New York Times named this one of the 25 Best American Plays Since Angels in America.
Our Take: Excellent play structure, great scene work, good for stage combat/movement work.
Dufault, Olivia: The Tomb of King Tot
Cast: 2m, 3f
Synopsis: A cartoonist’s punny world is thrown into a tailspin when an unthinkable tragic event strikes.
Our Take: Great scene work. Great dark comedy.
FastHorse, Larissa: The Thanksgiving Play
Cast: 2f, 2m
Synopsis: A hearty satire about a group of “woke” white teaching artists trying to create a new play about the Thanksgiving holiday. It doesn’t go well.
Our Take: Good for comedy work and biting satire.
Gardner, Gracie: Athena
Synopsis: Two teenage fencers are going for the Junior Olympics. They unite as sparing partners to make the other better, but the question remains: who will actually be better?
Our Take: Great scene and movement work for two college-age actresses.
Greenidge, Kirsten: Milk Like Sugar
Cast: 2m, 5f
Synopsis: A group of teenagers make a pregnancy pact with hilarious and devastating results.
Our Take: A raw, authentic portrait of young black women. Great dramatic scene work.
Gurira, Danai: Familiar
Cast: 3m, 5f
Synopsis: In Minnesota, a family of Zimbabwean emigrants reunite to plan a wedding for the oldest daughter of the family. But traditions clash with American customs as the family attempts to reconcile their dueling identities.
Our Take: Dynamic scene work, both comedic and dramatic. A deep, relatable family story that plays to multiple generations.
Harris, Aleshea: Is God Is
Cast: 4m, 4f
Synopsis: Meet Racine and Anaia: two identical twin sisters with severe burns from a fire in their childhood. What starts out as a simple reunion with their mother turns dark and heinous as the twins embark on a journey to take revenge against the father who left them scarred.
Our Take: Heightened language presents a welcome challenge to any theatre student. Opportunities for stage movement, set, and makeup design work as well. The play is a great example of a smooth synthesis of many different genres: classic Greek tragedy, Western, thriller, hip hop, and Afropunk.
Irwin, Elizabeth: My Manana Comes
Synopsis: In the back room of an elegant Upper East Side NY restaurant, four men of different backgrounds working in the kitchen struggle to find space for themselves in the American landscape. But when dreams clash amongst them, they are left with haunting results.
Our Take: Uses both English and Spanish. A timely piece for scene work and in-class discussion.
Jung, Hansol: No More Sad Things
Cast: 2m, 1f
Synopsis: Jessiee, 32, has just come to Hawaii to find some happiness. No sooner does she land on the island that she has chance encounter with Kahekili, a local 15-year-old, who seems more like he is 32 than she does. Through the messiness of navigating their relationship, one thing is certain: they will both be left with an experience they will never forget.
Our Take: Wonderful for accent work; a play with music that has some fun with form; leading female role; contains adult themes.
Lee, Kimber: Brownsville Song (B-Side for Tray)
Cast: 2m, 2f, 1girl(s)
Synopsis: A poignant drama about the life and death of an 18-year-old African American boy and the devastating consequences for his family and community.
Our Take: Nonlinear structure; great scene work.
Lew, Michael: Bike America
Cast: 4m, 3f
Synopsis: Follow Penny as she bikes across America to escape a claustrophobic relationship and find a new home for herself, and herself alone.
Our Take: Excellent leading role for a young, college-age female protagonist; contains adult language and themes.
Lopez, Matthew: The Whipping Man
Synopsis: As a storm rages outside, one Confederate soldier returns to his family’s Richmond home, which is in ruins. It’s the end of the Civil War. The South has lost. The wounded soldier is greeted by his former slaves, in a desperate physical state. One of the most produced plays in the U.S. from 2012-2015.
Our Take: Brilliant play structure and bold scene work; Hebrew language used; great opportunities for scenic, prop, lighting, and special effect design.
Lucas, Paul: Trans Scripts Part 1: The Women
Synopsis: A docudrama containing transcribed interviews from the lives of 7 very different trans women and the common grounds between them.
Our Take: Great for monologue work; excellent for beginning a conversation with a lot of great resources and insight for talk-backs and further discussion.
Morisseau, Dominique: Pipeline
Cast: 3m, 3f
Synopsis: An inner-city public high school teacher’s hopes for her son clash with an educational system rigged against him. A deeply compassionate and haunting investigation of the American school-to-prison pipeline.
Our Take: Deeply poetic; contains adult language and themes.
Morisseau, Dominique: Blood at the Root
Cast: 3m, 3f
Synopsis: Inspired by the true story of the Jena Six, racial tensions are pushed to the breaking point after a noose is found hanging from a tree on a Louisiana school’s campus.
Our Take: Great ensemble building; perfect for college-age actors as it was commissioned for them! A play that is a great initiator of conversation for all students. Contains adult language and themes.
Morisseau, Dominique: (The Detroit Plays): Paradise Blue, Detroit 67 and Skeleton Crew
Our Take: I couldn’t recommend these more. The trio are brilliantly constructed depictions of Black life in 1940’s, 60’s, and 00’s Detroit. A wide variety of ages and roles primarily for Black actors. Contains adult language and themes.
Nguyen, Qui: Vietgone
Cast: 3m, 2f
Synopsis: Told through sharp humor, Qui Nguyen shares the story of how his parents met at an American relocation camp after the fall of Saigon in 1975.
Our Take: Rapping and music included; movement and stage combat work.
Nwandu, Antoinette: Pass Over
Synopsis: Two men on a ghetto street at night. Which is also a plantation. Which is also Egypt, a city built by slaves. This poetic, re-envisioning of Waiting for Godot captures two men’s urgent search for the promised land when a stranger enters their midst.
Our Take: Great scene work; brilliant poetic/heightened language text; haunting exploration of racial tension in American; contains adult language and themes.
O’Hara, Robert: Bootycandy
Cast: 3m, 2f
Synopsis: Robert O’Hara’s semi-autobiographical subversive comedy weaves together scenes, sermons, sketches, and daring meta-theatrics to create a kaleidoscope portrait of growing up gay and black.
Our Take: A bold comedy with nonlinear structure; great ensemble work; contains partial nudity/nudity, adult language and themes.
Park, Jiehae: Peerless
Cast: 2m, 3f
Synopsis: A modern twist on Macbeth, we follow M & L, Asian American twins who are determined to do anything to win a coveted early admission minority scholarship to “The College.”
Our Take: A dark comedy, non-stop thriller. Fast-paced with great scene work as well.
Saracho, Tanya: Fade
Cast: 1m, 1f
Synopsis: A brutal exploration of identity politics in Hollywood. Lucia, a Mexican-American writer, has been hired to fix up a television procedural. When she finds friendship and compassion in the building’s janitor, she takes a little more than just advice.
Our Take: Phenomenal two-hander scene work along the lines of Arthur Miller’s most explosive moments.
Silverman, Jen: Collective Rage: A Play in Five Betties
Synopsis: This play is about five different women named Betty and how they collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “Thea-Tah.”
Our Take: Outlandish, provocative, and deliciously absurd comedy; great scene and monologues for five different actresses; contains adult language and themes.
Solis, Octavio: Se Llama Cristina
Cast: 2m, 2f
Synopsis: A man and woman awaken from a night of drugs to find their baby missing. What follows is the couple trying to piece together their past and find a light to pull them from darkness.
Our Take: Beautiful poetic play with a simple set and concept.
Yee, Lauren: The Great Leap
Cast: 3m, 1f
Synopsis: An American basketball team heads to Beijing to participate in a “friendship” game in the post-Cultural Revolution of the 1980s.
Our Take: Excellent showcase for Asian and Asian American actors.
Zacarías, Karen: Native Gardens
Cast: 2m, 2f
Synopsis: This play follows a young Latinx couple as they move next door to an older white couple. As the two couples begin to argue over their properties, hysterical mayhem ensues as statements are misinterpreted and cultural identities clash.
Our Take: This play is incredibly funny, farcical, and tackles timely political issues in a smart and new way. Great for scene work, and the play provides meaty comedic roles for two actors of color, along with two older parts for character actors to sink their teeth into.
REDISCOVER THE GREATS:
CLASSIC TITLES WORTH ANOTHER LOOK
Fuller, Charles – Zooman and the Sign
Jones, LeRoi – The Slave
Wilson, August – How I Learned What I Learned
Kennedy, Adrienne – Electra; Diary of Lights: New York About 1955; Madame Bovary; She Talks to Beethoven; The Owl Answers; Mom, How Did You Meet The Beatles?; An Evening With Dead Essex; and Ohio State Murders
For a printable, downloadable version of this list, click here.
(photo: Daniel Velasquez)