Green Shirt Studio

5 Contemporary Playwrights You Should Know

Are you tired of always doing the same monologues from the same playwrights in every audition? Instead of going back to tried and true playwrights like August Wilson, Tennessee Williams or Anton Chekov, why not try venturing into works by some more contemporary playwrights?

To help you out, we’ve come up with a list of five of the most exciting new playwrights on the scene today, all of whom have had a major work premiere here in Chicago.

  1. Lynn Nottage
    Lynn Nottage is the first woman to have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama twice — first in 2009 for her play Ruined (which premiered at the Goodman Theater in 2007), about women in the Democratic Republic of Congo who are survivors of a civil war; and then again in 2017 for her play then Sweat, about a group of Pennsylvania steel workers who are locked out of their factory. Her most famous play, however, is Intimate Apparel, which debuted in 2003, about a black seamstress in 1905 New York who makes undergarments for everyone from wealthy white women to prostitutes. That play has since become one of the most produced plays in America.

    Most famous plays: Sweat, Ruined, Intimate Apparel

    Known for: Plays with challenging subject matter that highlighting the stories of those who are forgotten or oppressed.

  2. Annie Baker
    Annie Baker has made a name for herself writing plays that are designed to sound so similar to everyday language that they don’t feel like plays at all. A native of Massachusetts, Baker has set three of her plays – Circle Mirror Transformation, Body Awareness and Aliens — in the fictional town of Shirley, VT, focusing on what life is like in a small town. Her play, The Flick, a comedy about three underpaid employees at a rundown movie theater in Worcester, Mass., premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 2016 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2017.

    Most famous plays: The Flick, John, Circle Mirror Transformation

    Known for: Plays that are set in small towns featuring realistic dialogue and lots of pauses and awkward silences.

  3. Amy Herzog
    Amy Herzog has developed a knack for taking elements of her family’s history and transforming it into compelling drama. Her first major play, After the Revolution, deals with a character who, like her grandfather, was discovered to be a Soviet spy. And her play 4000 Miles, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013, is about a 91-year-old grandmother who is a member of the Communist party (based on her own grandmother), dealing with her hippie grandson.

    Most famous plays: After the Revolution, 4000 Miles, Mary Jane

    Known for: Simple, realistic dialogue and small, intimate moments where larger issues are only alluded to in the subtext of a scene.

  4. Ike Holter
    At only 34 years old, Ike Holter has already become a formidable voice on the American theater scene. His breakout play, Hit the Wall, about 10 people who all claim that they were part of the Stonewall riots in 1969, was first performed at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Garage Rep in 2012, and has since been produced by many theaters around the county. He’s followed that up with several other plays including Exit Strategy (which premiered at Jackalope Theatre in Chicago in 2014), and Lottery Day, which ran at the Goodman Theatre this spring.

    Most famous plays: Hit the Wall, Exit Strategy

    Known for: Heightened situations, full-on musical numbers, and stories about taking your oppressors head on.
  5. Philip Dawkins
    Chicago playwright Phillip Dawkins is one of the most prolific playwrights working in the city today. His plays include Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Side Effect of Living (Strawdog Theatre), which won a Jeff Award for Best New Work in 2014, and well as The Homosexuals (About Face Theatre) and Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens), which were both nominated for Jeff Awards for Best New Work in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In addition to his plays for adults, Dawkins has written several plays for children’s theater.

    Most famous plays: Miss Marx: or the Involuntary Side Effect of Living, The Homosexuals, Failure: A Love Story

    Known for: Writing plays with LGBTQ themes and characters, breaking of the fourth wall and campy humor.

Have any favorite playwrights whose work you’ve fallen in love with? Share with us in the comments below!