Our Favorite “Underrated” Playwrights

Written by Rebecca Chan ’22. Published by Aly Homminga ’20.

While we are all familiar with the household names of Shakespeare, O’Neil, and Beckett, there are many, many playwrights who go unnoticed. Whether these playwrights are under-produced, underrepresented, or just under-the-radar for most undergraduate theatre students, here are a few of our recommendations…

Rane Arroyo

An openly gay American poet and playwright, Arroyo was born in Chicago to Puerto Rican parents and earned a Ph.D. in English and Cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh. His work explores themes of homosexuality, Latinx culture, intersectionality, and immigration.

Rane Arroyo’s characters are raw and unapologetic. His stories have me questioning any true sense of reality.

Paige Chung ’20

Plays to start with: Buddha and the Señorita, Honeymoon Rehearsals, Dancing at Funerals: Selected Plays

Jessica Hagedorn

Raised in Manilla, Hagedorn moved to San Francisco during her teenage years and later moved to New York City. Her work focuses on Filipino-Americans and the complexities of their interactions with both the Philippines and America. Her writing spans several genres such as theatre, music, prose, film, and poetry.

She is an incredible playwright with masterful skill of representing the specific angst that many Filipino Americans feel toward the diaspora and our origins, using not only the “traditional” play structure but also blending elements of song, poetry, and images in a way that pushes the norm of what a typical “play” experience looks like. Her work truly embodies what “theatrical” means to me.

Ynika Yuag ’21

Plays to start with: Dogeaters, Mango Tango, Teenytown

Leah Nanako Winkler

Winkler’s early childhood was spent in Kamakura, Japan before moving to Kentucky with her Japanese mother and American father. Many of her plays center the biracial, Asian-American experience. She is currently a labbie at Ma-Yi Theatre Company and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre.

I love how Winkler’s work combines surrealist worlds with grounded characters. The language is both believable and poetic.

Rebecca Chan ’22

Plays to start with: Kentucky, God Said This, Nagoriyuki & Other Short Plays

Suzan-Lori Parks

During undergraduate school at Mount Holyoke College, James Baldwin encouraged Parks to pursue playwriting. Since then, she has written screenplays, essays, and several stage-plays. In 2002, Parks became the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Her plays are provocative and socially relevant. She is an exceptional storyteller and many of her plays are written with non-traditional story structures. 

Aly Homminga ’20

Plays to start with: In the Blood, Topdog/Underdog, White Noise, The America Play

Why Recognize “Underrated” Playwrights?

Even when we think we are doing our best to diversify our reading, we are stuck in both a society which values white, intellectual voices and an academic hierarchy which privileges plays and playwrights that have been noteworthy and successful (as determined by those with the power to write history and those with the resources to distribute grants and awards).

I need to read more obscure playwrights! I definitely try to read plays that are lesser read by acclaimed writers, but I don’t read a lot of plays where I don’t know the playwright’s name first. Even with marginalized voices, I tend to read the Pulitzer winners and the big names. I definitely need to try and support new and local writers!

Lukia Artemakis ’21

It is important to support marginalized writers at all stages of their careers. By purchasing their plays, we show publishing companies that those are stories we want to read. By attending performances, we encourage theatre companies to continue producing underrepresented work. By merely reading their plays, we broaden our own capacity for understanding and empathy and can then advocate for that work within organizations like the Theatre Arts Department’s Play Selection Advisory Committee.

Further Resources

By/For Publishing: A new, Michigan-based publishing company that seeks to publish and license plays written by and for those with marginalized genders. (You can publish your work here!)

Black and Brown Theatre Artist Database: An online database featuring theatre artists, including playwrights, of color, compiled by the Detroit-based Black and Brown Theatre (Artistic Director Emilio Rodriguez).

Echo Young Playwrights: An organization of young, LA-based playwrights that both supports early-career playwrights and develops work for LA theatre.

Plays Compiled by Jeremy O. Harris: A collection of scripts compiled by Jeremy O. Harris for his masterclass, including his own Yell. (Recommended by Lukia Artemakis ’21)

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