Before movies, writers relied upon the simple props and abilities of stage actors to relay stories. Despite the gigantic shadow of the film industry, the stage has not diminished and playwrights are still important element in entertainment and literature.
Introducing a high school curriculum of plays and modern playwrights that live beyond Broadway exposes students to a world of stories and writers they cannot find in books or on the big screen. Every high school syllabus should include the following five playwrights and their works as part of the school’s standard curriculum.
Neil Simon: Although his career began as a comedy writer for television in the 1950s, Simon quickly took his craft to the stage in 1961 with “The Odd Couple” which was adapted for movies and television. Among Simon’s other significant works are “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “The Goodbye Girl,” and “Lost in Yonkers” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. Simon’s take on coming of age stories that relay attributes of the writer’s own life are witty and full of irony and they are a must read for anyone who wants to learn how to write about their own experiences.
Sam Shepard: Accolades for Sam Shepard range from a Best Supporting Actor Award for his rendition of Chuck Yeager in the movie “The Right Stuff” to the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Buried Child” in 1979. Shepard has parlayed his career as a writer and creator into every aspect of entertainment, but is critically acclaimed for his work as a playwright. Shepard uses his experience and success as a modern playwright to help the careers of young hopefuls by instructing classes in theater workshops across the country, and he has also served as a University professor.
Neil LaBute: His name may not well known, but Neil Labute began making a name for himself as a playwright who pushes the envelope. His work is gritty and engages religious as well as political topics. His play “Reasons to Be Pretty” was nominated for several Tony Awards in 2009.
David Mamet. Mamet has successfully navigated through the entertainment industry as a playwright as well as writing for movies and books. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 for “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Two other Mamet works, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago” and “American Buffalo” were also well received.
August Wilson. His work among modern playwrights is noted by the numerous awards he received between 1985 and his death in 2005. His plays portrayed the lives of African Americans throughout the 20th century. He is best known for what has been dubbed “The Pittsburgh Cycle,” a group of 10 plays individually taking place in each decade of the 20th century. Of those works he won the Pulitzer Prize twice for “Fences” in 1985 and “The Piano Lesson” in 1990.
While there are many other modern playwrights who should be studied in a high school curriculum dealing with stage and screen writing, these five writers made a special mark on an important industry, and should be included in every modern playwright high school syllabus so their works can be read and studied by future generations.