When I began my production dramaturgy class last year, I learned I had to do three instances of one-page coverage throughout the year...and all three plays had to be published within my lifetime.
I'm pretty young. And at the time, most of the plays I knew were from the 1980s or earlier, or they were plays that had just premiered on Broadway. I didn't know many of the latter, anyway. I assumed I was going to be spending $15 a script, hoping that I'd open past the cover to find a copyright year past the late 1990s.
But then my professor showed my class a site that would change my life: New Play Exchange.
If you've never heard of New Play Exchange (NPX), and you're interested in reading more plays - especially more up and coming plays by diverse playwrights - then you're in for a treat. New Play Exchange, created by the National New Play Network, is pretty much what you'd think it is: a place to find, read, and share new plays. There are thousand of plays available to download in full right now - and access to all of these works starts at only $12 a year. (That's less than one typical published play, which usually will run you $15!)
Unlimited access to full scripts for a good price is great enough, but what really makes New Play Exchange fantastic is its robust search function. No matter what you have in mind, NPX will help you find it. You can search for length, age level, genre, cast size, and so on, which is all pretty typical. But NPX also allows you to search for roles by race, as well as by the identity of playwrights.
For instance, here's some searches I might do. Say I'm looking for a full-length opera by a trans or nonbinary writer. NPX guides me to REB+VoDKa+ME by Gordon Leary and CALL ME TANIA: The Unauthorized Occupation of Patty Hearst (an alternative identity musical) by Leonard Dolivio. Or maybe I'm looking for a one-act play that takes place in the Victorian Era by a female playwright. Wild, Magic Solitude by Anna Langman pops right up.
I've yet to put in a search that hasn't turned up anything yet. On one hand, that shows how creative and risk-taking the current generation of playwrights is. On the other hand, it shows that NPX is willing to take those playwrights in, giving them a clean, easy-to-use platform to spread their work further and farther.
In my last piece on Broadway bias, I urged you, our lovely readers, to find theatre outside of Manhattan, to broaden your horizons. I believe that New Play Exchange can be an important tool in that journey. NPX exists solely to get new plays read and talked about, so that these playwrights can continue to develop in their careers.
And, if you happen to a be a playwright (or librettist, or book-writer, or composer, or…) yourself, then you can join New Play Exchange to set up a profile and upload your own work as well.
I realize that this article sounds kind of like a big advertisement for New Play Exchange. There's definitely a part of me that's absolutely fine with that - this website was honestly revolutionary for how I find and read plays and I want everyone out there to join in on that joy. But I cannot overstate how necessary a forum for sharing and reading plays is in our theatrical world. Very few people can afford to drop $15 on every single script they're interested in, and they can't rely on one friend or another necessarily having a script to share. Some plays might never make it past the literary department of a given theater. But with New Play Exchange, plays get read. Period. And theatrical literacy is hard to develop if you don't have plays to read.
Here are a few plays I've found and read through New Play Exchange:
Branwell (and the other Brontes): an autobiography edited by Charlotte Bronte by Stephen Kaplan: Branwell Brontë has always been desperate to keep up with his brilliant sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne. Jealous of his sisters' successes, he uses their only common bond of stories and fantasy to lead his siblings into magical worlds in an attempt to escape their harsh realities. But when the magic of their created worlds begins to crash, Branwell and his sisters fight to keep destruction and loss away.
In the Fall by Lauren Hance: "Desiree Pender, a smart, young woman, who recently dropped out of college to sort out her life, stumbles upon her former High School English Teacher, Alexis Murray, in a secret place in the park. Alexis has come to her spot to rest and breathe and to await her fates as accusations against her have surfaced in a court of law. As events unfold, and secrets are unfurled, the women discover they may be facing different sides of the same coin, forcing them to either deny or accept the offences that have wreaked havoc in their lives."
Lawnpeople by Natalia Temesgen: "Lawnpeople tracks the journey of a Mexican woman, Solymar, working as a housekeeper for a wealthy, black Southern couple. Solymar has just lost her mother to gang violence in Mexico, leaving her pre-teen daughter without family in their dangerous hometown. She and her new husband, Felix, are illegal immigrants working with the hope to plant roots in the US; Solymar finds returning to her daughter in Mexico to be a growing implausibility. Meanwhile, the wife of the couple that they work for is becoming so emotionally involved with Solymar’s troubles that it’s threatening the wellbeing of her marriage. Race, class, and the deepest matters of the heart are at odds in this play about love, ambition, and responsibility."
The Way North by Tira Palmquist: "When a lost, cold and very pregnant young woman stumbles on to her rural homestead in the Minnesota wilderness, Freddy Hansen doesn't hesitate to take her in. It's the right thing to do, and as the county's former Sheriff, Freddy has dedicated her life to protecting and serving others. But when her new guest turns out to be a Sudanese refugee making a run for the Canadian border, what it means to protect and serve becomes a more complicated, and far more dangerous, question."
I truly believe that everyone who loves theatre and wants to help it move forward can benefit from New Play Exchange. But don't take my word for it - try it out for yourself. I think you'll thank me later. (I’ll be thanking Megan, my dramaturgy professor, until the end of time.)
(Image by National New Play Network/New Play Exchange.)