I have a dirty secret. I'm a playwright. I write about theater. I like to watch theater. I like to talk about theater. I sometimes even have very tedious dreams about theater. But I don't read a lot of plays. And by that I mean, I never read plays.
I used to have all sorts of rationalizations about this, but the real explanations are simple. Plays are among the least exciting things to read. There are a few authors whose work leaps off the page—Oscar Wilde, Joe Orton, Tennessee Williams, Martin McDonagh—but if a playwright isn't highly verbal, his writing can sag in print. If you're not in the mood to act it out, at least in your head, even a great play can put you straight to sleep.
And it can be hard to find great plays in print. Unless you're in a bookstore that specializes in carrying them, the drama section can be depressingly understocked. I don't need to buy another copy of Chekhov's plays, or the best of Eugene O'Neill. I'd like to buy something written in the last three decades by someone besides Tony Kushner, and I would like to pay less than $10 a play to do it. That can be a tricky thing to arrange.
But none of that is an excuse! I'm a playwright, dammit. I only have time to go see so many new plays—the ones that I can't see, I should read. There are plenty of classics I'm not familiar with—famous and less famous—that I need to cram into my mind-bucket. It will make my work better. It will make me sound smarter. It will make me a happier theater-dude, which is the kind of happy dude I want to be.
Since January is the season of sweeping declarations of self-improvement, I have decided to start reading a play a week. That's not really that much, but I know myself. Trying to read a play a day would be rather overshooting the mark. If by the end of this year I've read 52 plays by people not named W.M. Akers, that's about 50 more than I read in 2012. To keep me on task—and to make sure I get something out of the plays, instead of just napping through them—I'll make a weekly feature out of it, writing about whatever I learned or failed to learn from whatever I've just read. I think that would be not-boring, and I think you might enjoy it.
But if I'm gonna do all that work to entertain you—for free, mind!—I'm going to need some help. After all, it's about time you started pulling your weight around here. You see, I have a bookshelf problem. My girlfriend and I own quite a lot of books, and every shelf in the house is full to overflowing. We're stacking them on the floor now—something I thought I had put behind me when I graduated from college. While I like the way that this gives our apartment the look of a Woody Allen movie, it means that if I announced that I was planning on buying a whole bunch of new books, she would hit me on the head with a spoon.
So, as much as is possible, I would like to read plays for free or electronically. I see that Samuel French has started offering e-books—are they any good? Although I do a lot of work for an e-book publishing company, I've always resisted buying a Kindle. This might be a reason to do so. If you know of any bookstores with a good supply of used plays, tell me and I'll go. Or—and imagine I'm whispering now—if you have an electronic copy of a play you'd like to share, email me and I'll read it.
For now, I'm going to see what they've got at my local library. That's right, baby. I've got a library card, and I'm not afraid to use it. That will get me through a few weeks, but I have a hunch it will quickly run dry. So please—post in the comments, email me, or tweet at me and tell me what to read. I've got no standards. Reading at all would be more than I'm reading now.