Last Saturday, I introduced you (or re-introduced you) to 10 dead white guy playwrights you really ought to know. Those are the giants of the canon – the legends who made theatre what it is today.
But, alas, they were literally all white guys. Well, as promised, today I’m bringing you 10 living playwrights to know and love, and fortunately (#progress) the list looks a lot different. Dive in and – most importantly – check out their work any chance you get.
So in no particular order, here are your 10 awesome living playwrights to get to know:
The renowned dramatist behind plays like I and You and Natural Shocks has the distinguished honour of currently being the most-produced playwright in America, so you should probably know about her. For starters, she’s brilliant. She writes a lot about women, science, women AND science, and also uses theatre for activism against things like domestic violence and gun violence. So basically, our hero.
How do I love American playwright and legendary theatre educator Paula Vogel, let me count the ways… her play How I Learned to Drive won her the Pulitzer and is considered a modern masterpiece, her works often explore topics like sexual abuse and prostitution in a way that is deeply humanizing instead of sensationalistic, and she’s a master teacher and mentor: several of her students have themselves won Pulitzers.
MJ is part of the new generation of multi-talented trans writers bucking systems and living their best damn life. They’re not only a widely produced and lauded playwright (known for plays like How to Live on Earth and Sensitive Guys), but also a staff writer on Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (eee!). They’re also a frequent essayist on HowlRound.com, a wonderful theatre commentary and resources site you should check out.
Photo by Marc Brenner
This Brit has spent her whole career writing about the perennial topics of power and sexual politics. She’s known for plays like Top Girls, Cloud Nine, and Serious Money. Drama fans know Churchill for her novel, interesting uses of language (like writing in rhyme, for example). Endless creativity.
After her 2017 win for Sweat, Nottage became the first (and, right now, only) woman to win the Pulitzer for drama twice. Boom. She’s also known for plays like Intimate Apparel and, in particular, Ruined. Nottage’s work focuses on marginalized people, and tells stories that have been pushed to the sidelines or overlooked by history (and by other dramatists).
One of the most influential living Canadian playwrights, Highway is particularly celebrated for his play The Rez Sisters and its companion, Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Highway was trained as a classical pianist, spent years in social work, and was one of the founders of Canadian indigenous theatre as we know it. To get a feel for how influential Highway as been, consider this: he has TEN honorary degrees. So, kind of a big deal.
Photo by Zack DeZon
Washburn is pretty low-key in terms of internet presence, but her play Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play, is an absolutely fascinating, exciting, and totally creative example of her work, and could cement her legacy. I mean, what else would you expect from someone who made a super-successful play out of the idea of trying to remember a Simpsons episode?
Parks was the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer for her widely-performed and much-beloved 2001 play Topdog/Underdog. Oh, and she’s also a MacArthur genius. Also, she wrote a play every day for a YEAR, and they were ALL produced, collectively, by over 700 theatres in an epic, grassroots collaboration. In other words, Parks is a woman who gets big shit done.
Photo from the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
MacArthur genius Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is known for confronting lighthearted issues like identity politics, class, and race. He’s celebrated for his use of satire and his endless ability to explore and express what it means to be both black and white in America. His plays Neighbours, Appropriate, and An Octoroon are wildly different, but all pretty magical.
Baker is yet another Pulitzer winner and McArthur genius. Her plays, like John and The Aliens, are examinations of human character and natural dialogue. Baker describes her creative process as starting with something that sounds like the most boring setting for a play you’ve ever heard of (like people cleaning a movie theatre in Pulitzer winner The Flick), then very slowly having something unexpected emerge. (Also, her play The Antipodes features a giant pile of La Croix, so she’s obviously in my good books.)
Now, start exploring! Later this week, I’ll be sharing tips on how to read plays for enjoyment (spoiler alert: they’re a lot like books! Shocking.), so hopefully you will check out some of these playwrights in written form if you can’t get to one of their plays in person. But when you do get the chance, now you’ll know to look out for these playwrights on your local theatre company’s season and treat yourself to some tickets.
Finally, major shoutout to the New York Times for this wonderfully interactive article, which was super helpful and also totally delightful to read: “The Great Work Continues: The 25 Best American Plays Since ‘Angels in America’” . Definitely check it out – I think you’ll love it as much as I did.
Until next time,
Where uncited, images are from the playwrights’ websites.