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Every year drama teachers across the country wrack their brains trying to think of suitable plays for their unique groups of students. Pleas regularly turn up on the drama teacher forums on Facebook – ‘Help! Looking for a play for five females and one male, mostly strong performers but one weak girl’ – or ‘Monologue needed for one strong female auditioning for drama school, any ideas?’. My first thought on seeing these requests is to mutter to myself that, for goodness sake, they must read more plays! But I do know only too well that teachers have barely time to draw breath and, much as I believe that we drama teachers should be developing our knowledge of the theatrical canon, I do appreciate that there is often limited time to do so.
With the new specifications all exam boards will expect us to source extracts for our students beyond the set texts. This gives us an opportunity to expose them to a diverse range of plays from a broad range of playwrights. I teach in a very diverse part of South East London and try to make sure that all my black and ethnic minority students are exposed to work that gives them a voice. Above all though, we have to find work that will bring out the best in our young people. For you this may be a classical text or a play you know well but I’m pretty sure that, at some point, you will be stuck in a quandary not knowing what play to choose. It’s important that we build up our own repertoires of plays and that we don’t get stuck in a rut doing the same stuff year in, year out. If we get bored, chances are our students will too – so always try and find something that ignites your interest.
So, how do we find the plays to meet our ever changing and very specific needs?
One of my top tips, if you can’t spend an afternoon browsing in the National Theatre bookshop, is to head to www.doollee.com and to www.samuelfrench-london.co.uk. Doollee is an online database of modern plays. It has the facility to search for plays based the number of male and female roles. Samuel French is a bookshop and publishing house, and again it allows you to search by male and female roles. These two are a great starting point. However, they don’t always tell you much about each play, so I tend to draw up a shortlist from here and then head to www.amazon.co.uk. I know, we don’t all love Amazon and you don’t have to buy from them if you don’t want to, but they do have some helpful functions. When you find a play from your shortlist you can often use the ‘Look Inside’ feature to have a quick gander at the text. That might be enough for you to know whether or not it is remotely appropriate. Another feature I like is to look at what other people who bought that play have also bought. So, if I fancy a play a bit like Punk Rock by Simon Stephens for example, but I know that it isn’t quite right – I can look at what else people bought and see if that might suit me instead. This is how I came across ‘Cockroach’ by Sam Holcroft which I might be using with my AS group.
The Facebook groups are handy too. We each have our own brains full of plays and should use each other as a resource. Try ‘Drama teachers and those with an interest in drama education’ or the ‘Drama teachers sharing group’ on Facebook. I would encourage you to do your own research first before you put in a request though.
OCR is soon to launch its Drama Text Management Service and this has the capacity to be developed to allow you to search for texts and also suggest suitable texts to other drama teachers. This could prove invaluable as all the plays on the database will have been tried and tested by drama teachers across the land.
TreePress is a new online source for play finding with an ever-increasing catalogue of plays suitable for school productions. You may need to check with your exam board in case you have to use plays that have had professional productions or that have an ISBN though. I’m pretty sure the site will soon become a one stop shop for all your play needs.
If you are looking for plays for your BAME students there is no better place to start than the National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive. This an online catalogue of the first professional production of every African, Caribbean and Black British play produced in Britain. I felt my knowledge of black British plays was pretty poor and this resource was an excellent place to start redressing that.
Other advice I can proffer is to look through the lists of past productions at new writing theatres. Check out what’s been on at the Royal Court, the Bush, Theatre 503. What have Paines Plough been up to, or Clean Break (particularly useful for plays for women). Get Lucy Kerbel’s book ‘100 Plays for Women’. Use monologue and duologue collections for inspiration – if you like the monologue, check out the whole play. Talk to people, including your students. One of my students had seen a production at Stratford East and it turned out to be perfect for her group to perform (Crowning Glory by Somalia Seaton). Above all, my advice is to find some of that precious time and...read more plays!
Here some of my recommended plays:
‘Orphans’ by Dennis Kelly – a brutal, gripping play for three actors – two male/one female
‘Crowning Glory’ by Somalia Seaton – a play for seven female actors (six black/one white) – although we cut the white character and replaced it with a Barbie doll! Some fab monologues.
‘The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning’ by Tim Price – topical and political play for between five and seven actors.
‘Mercy Fine’ by Shelley Silas - great duologues for female actors
‘Mercury Fur’ by Philip Ridley – some cracking but full on duologues for male performers.
‘Charged: Six plays about Women, Crime and Justice’ – from Clean Break - brilliant writing for women.
‘Let the Right One In’ adapted by Jack Thorne – contemporary vampire thriller with some useful duologues for one male and one female.
‘Lela and Co’ by Cordelia Lynn – A startling play with some great contemporary monologues for female actors.
Feel free to share your top tips or plays in the comments below.
Molly Bertrand - Drama Teacher at Corelli College, Greenwich.
Molly Bertrand is a Drama Teacher at Corelli College, Greenwich. Molly has been teaching drama in London for over 13 years. She is engaged in dialogue around current issues in drama and recently took part in a panel discussion at the Royal Court Theatre. Molly can be found on Twitter @mollhench