This is a new series here at BroadwaySpotted for a very specific reason. There are a couple types of theatre fans. There are those who are like say…Jen Tepper (or Ellyn Marsh/Lin Manuel Miranda) and myself, who are absolutely insane dictionaries of things that go on and have gone on in the theatre world, there are those that are young and getting there, and then there are those who only know what is current or put right in front of them. Truly, I have friends who are performers WORKING in the industry, this is how they make their living, and I will say something along the lines of, “Well we HAVE to see it. If Susan Stroman is directing, it’s bound to be amazing.” And their response is, “Who?” And I want to cry in a corner forever.
Thus, this series was born. This is for THOSE fans. They love it just as much, but maybe they haven’t put the effort into learning this history (or the current, really) just yet. So I bring you a series all about the names in the industry that you SHOULD know. These are current people in the industry, the giants of our history, and just all around cool people to know about.
Of course, this is not a DEFINITIVE list by any means. That’s not what this is for. This is just to say, you should at LEAST know something about the industry you want to be a part of, and hopefully this should help. (It’ll also help when people throw names around, you’ll be able to take a quick look here and see some of their credits!)
Let’s get some playwrights up in here. Sometimes we get so caught up in composers and musical theatre book writers that we forget the straight play champions.
1. George S. Kaufman
He’s probably most well known for writing the play You Can’t Take It With You which is a favorite among high school and regional theatres everywhere (because it’s an awesome classic!). Kaufman basically collaborated with everyone who was anyone in his time, from Moss Hart to the Gershwins to the Marx brothers, he was at the top of his game. Besides being a fantastic writer, he was also a Broadway director. George Kaufman directed Guys and Dolls in 1951, for which he won the Tony Award, so he was multi-talented, lucky guy! He was one of those guys that did a lot of crossing over to Hollywood, and not just for his work with the Marx brothers–many of his plays were turned into movies. He also holds the Pulitzer Prize for drama, which doesn’t suck, either.
You Might Not Know: George was the drama editor for the New York Times all through the 20s, thus proving that you can create and critic theatre at the same time (and in my opinion–should!).
Some Past Credits Include: Merrily We Roll Along (the play), The Royal Family, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Stage Door, The Naked Genius and many more.
Current Shows: He’s an old timer, but The Royal Family was revived a few years back and it’s great!
2. William Shakespeare
Okay, listen, if you don’t know who Shakespeare is, get out of theatre. No, seriously. Just get out. He’s basically everything. I’m not even going to give you any info other than that he rocks. If you wanna know more about him, take some classes, read his plays, heck go to pretty much any theatre ever.
You Might Not Know: He was part owner of the Globe. This was a man who knew what was up.
Some Past Credits Include: Seriously?
Current Shows: Romeo and Juliet
3. Tennessee Williams
This man was a southerner through and through, and that showed in his writing. It is a widely held idea that a lot of the drama in his plays comes from his own life. He is probably one of the most famous playwrights of the last century, having written what most would consider not only some of the most notable, but likely some of the most recognizable (at least by name) plays ever. He was a part of “gay social circles” in the 1930s and beyond which leads many critics and readers/viewers of his plays to see homosexual undertones in a lot of his work. Whether he meant for that to be there or not, I cannot say, as I’ve never asked him, but it’s a fairly standard belief that is taught in school when you work on/read his plays.
You Might Not Know: He was a drug addict and alcoholic, surprisingly, later in life he was very open about this.
Some Past Credits Include: A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , The Two-Character Play, Clothes for a Summer Hotel and more.
Current Shows: The Glass Menagerie (revival)
4. August Wilson
Having lived it himself, August Wilson is best known for writing plays about the “African American Experience” in different lower-middle class areas like Pittsburgh, PA. He is another one of those uber famous writers that you just have to know. If you haven’t read Fences, I suggest you get on it, stat. August (given name Frederick) has won multiple awards of pretty much every kind a playwright can from Drama Desks to Tony Awards to the Pulitzer Prize (for the aforementioned Fences, seriously, read it). Of everyone mentioned so far on this list, we had him until most recently–he died just a few years ago in 2005. I’m not suggesting you drop out of school, but August Wilson is the perfect example of the fact that more schooling doesn’t always equal more intelligence. His plays are phenomenal and he didn’t even finish high school. So…don’t do that, just think about it.
You Might Not Know: He declined to have his play Fences made into a movie, because they pitched him a white director.
Some Past Credits Include: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, The Pittsburgh Cycle and more
Current Shows: Nada.
5. Paula Vogel
It’s nice to have someone on this list who is still alive–and a female! We’re winning two categories and she’s just getting started. Paula Vogel is best known for her play How I Learned to Drive for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 as well as The Baltimore Waltz which is an AIDs related (get ready for it) comedy, for which she received much critical acclaim. She tends to write about a lot of taboo subjects such as aids, child abuse, incest and other things often not explored by writers for fear of criticism among other issues.
You Might Not Know: She currently lives in Washington D.C.
Some Past Credits Include: Desdemona A Play about a Handkerchief , Apple-Brown Betty, Meg, Civil War Christmas and more.
Current Shows: None at the moment.
You Might Not Know: He also wrote non-fiction! Aaand he was married to Marilyn Monroe.
Some Past Credits Include: A View from the Bridge, The Golden Years, After the Fall and more.
Current Shows: None.
7. Edward Albee
This is a man whose name doesn’t get thrown around a lot (though I’m not sure why) despite the fact that he wrote the extremely famous play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. As many of the others on this list, he is a Pulitzer Prize winner, but unlike most of the others, he didn’t just write about the average life of some group or cultural sect. His work tends to be a bit more out there (read The Zoo Story, seriously). He fits right in with more absurdist theatre, rather than the mainstream work that you might be used to, but don’t write him off before giving in a chance. At the very least, he’s a person you should know (duh, hence the list).
You Might Not Know: He doesn’t like to be considered a “gay writer,” but rather a writer who happens to be gay.
Some Past Credits Include: The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, The American Dream, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, The Sandbox, and more
Current Shows: None.
8. Neil Simon
He’s got a theatre named after him–and he’s still alive, this HAS to mean something, right?! Well, we can start with the fact that he has received more Tony and Oscar nominations than any other writer. A lot of his work really focuses on New York and the life people live (or lived) here. His most famous work is no doubt The Odd Couple which has been reimagined and adapted more times than I can count. He has written an almost equal number of plays and screenplays, bringing his list of works to to over seventy. Just like many of the others on this list, he, too, is a Pulitzer Prize winner, but he just happened to write mostly comedies, which is rare for this list (though I’m not sure how that happened…). His characters are familiar to us, they’re average people in situationally comedic situations. His works are well loved but generally considered underrated.
You Might Not Know: He was a mailroom clerk at Warner Brothers!
Some Past Credits Include: Lost in Yonkers, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Rumors, The Sunshine Boys and just tons more.
Current Shows: Nada.
9. Tom Stoppard
I’m throwing Tom Stoppard in here, because he wrote one of my favorite plays ever–Arcadia. Not that he doesn’t deserve to be on the list, he does! But he’s more well known for his Tony Award winning plays Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Coast of Utopia (which is actually a three-parter). Still, I love Arcadia most of all. He’s also responsible for the movie Shakespeare In Love (which you can imagine I also love). His works are generally considered “dramatic comedies.” But he’s known for making both intellectual and emotional arguments/points in his works, despite the generally comedic nature of them.
You Might Not Know: He’s a really cool dude with a big brain that left Czechoslovakia for England as a child refugee, fleeing Nazi occupation of his home country.
Some Past Credits Include: The Real Thing, The Invention of Love, Night and Day and more.
Current Shows: None right this second.
10. Nora Ephron
Last, but certainly not least, the late Nora Ephron who is really best known for her screenplays (such as When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle), but was also a great playwright. Her most recent work on Broadway was Tom Hanks’ Broadway debut (after her death) Lucky Guy, but some years ago we also got the extremely popular off-Broadway play Love Loss and What I Wore from her and her daughter Delia. She was also a frequent director of her own screenplays. This isn’t something I usually champion, but she definitely made it work. I dig her because she made romantic comedies look good. I love those.
You Might Not Know: There is a prize named after her for a female film writer with a distinctive voice. They get $25,000!
Some Past Credits Include: Imaginary Friends, Lucky Guy, Love Loss and What I Wore
Current Shows: None.
As usual, if you have someone in mind for a playwrights part 2, comment below!