Applause Books is proud to continue another series in this enormous diversity of contemporary American theater. This new edition of William W. Demastes Best American Short Plays contains fresh-voiced, cutting-edge works by twenty-six playwrights. Demastaes has published widely on modern theater and drama, including Comedy Matters, Spalding Gray’s America, Staging Consciousness, and Theatre of Chaos. As William Demastes brings together his selection of short plays there seems to be a common theme within each play, uncertainty. Below is an introduction as to what will await you upon reading Demastes’ best picks of American Short Plays.
“Uncertain seems to be the watchword of today’s world, filled as it is with surprises, shocks, and even a few delights. Uncertainty brings with it fear and insecurity, and a nostalgic longing for the good old days. But for some, uncertainty means opportunity, and along with that opportunity comes the prospect of change for the better. Fifty years ago, Bob Dylan inserted a catchy phrase into our cultural consciousness: The times they are a-changing. The 1960s did in fact mark changes of all sorts for our world, many good and even revolutionary. It was an amazing time marked by triumph and tragedy both great and small. But think about how much more times have changed in the half-century since Dylan’s declaration. Things not even envisioned by science-fiction visionaries are now part of our daily fabric. Technology has transformed our lives by placing information of all sorts literally at our fingertips. It has made us far more efficient in the workplace. And it has provided us the opportunity to share our lives with anyone at any time from any distance. Of course, this is not all good. Rapid pace and shrinking distance have reduced opportunities to reflect and contemplate. They have cut out times for creative play, for daydreaming, and so many other not-for-profit enterprises that make life worth living.
Then there are all those other changes, the ones that somehow have made us more alienated from one another than ever before. It is fortunate today that political adversaries remain unarmed, as oppositional political enmity has torn our country into enclaves of fear and mistrust. Race relations have reached both new highs and new lows. Sex and gender issues have received unprecedented public exposure, again for good and ill. And religion (traditional as well as New Age) continues its struggle against erosions of faith, leading to visions of godlessness and attendant despair. The triumph of tearing down the cold-war wall has brought on innumerable unintended negative consequences, opening the way for countless brush-fire tyrannies, and making the world in many ways more dangerous than ever before since we can’t even be sure who our enemies are, or what they want, or why they hate us.”
Make sure to read and learn more by purchasing The Best American Short Plays (2013-2014). We would love to hear from you and your thoughts on a short play of your choice within the book.
Guest Blogger: William Demastes is the editor of The Best American Short Plays 2011-2012, as well as the 2010-2011 volume. Below are some of his musings on the importance of theatre.
Seeming is Believing: The Best American Short Plays, 2011-2012
Sometimes an idea just has to be made into a play. It won’t work as a short story or novel. Poetry won’t do it justice. And making a film or video doesn’t do it, either.
Theatre does something no other medium does: it puts live (not virtual), three-dimensional (no need for glasses) human beings in front of a group of live, three-dimensional fellow humans beings. By itself, this action is pretty unique. But then the really unique thing happens: this gathering of humans play a game of make-believe. One group watches as the other group pretends to be people they aren’t, in locations where they aren’t, doing things that they really aren’t doing. Unlike poetry or fiction, we get to deal with real bodies and real voices. Unlike film, we can’t really be duped into thinking somehow we’re seeing “reality.” After all, we’re in a theatre, and that alone announces we’re in a make-believe world.
I point out the above as a sort of invitation to look into Applause’s Best American Short Plays series, of which I collected and edited the last two volumes. They offer a change of pace to the fiction and non-fiction we typically read in our free time on a number of levels. At the most basic, they’re “short”! Each can be read in those creases of free time that occur between the blocks of time that occupy the larger portions of our day. But they certainly do more than merely fill those ends and odds of free time with “something to do”: they exercise a part of our brain that other readings (or viewings) don’t exercise because they ask us to be active in what we’re doing. We are invited and encouraged to become directors in that theatre of our mind’s eye. There’s no narrator telling us what to think, no poet’s vision that we’re running after, and no camera’s-eye view telling us where to look. No, it becomes the reader’s task—our task–to envision set and characters; we need to imagine vocal intonations as we read the words on the page; we need to decide upon motivation, irony, tone. We need to create a make-believe world and populate it with characters of our own imaginings. We the readers become we the directors—we become imaginative collaborators with the playwrights who have so generously begun the process by putting words down on paper. When a playwright publishes her work, she is invited us to partner up and bring her words to life. Being a playwright is, of course, no small task, but neither is reading a playwright’s work. WE get to do so much more than other readerships get to do. We get to collaborate.
And in that act of collaboration, we work hand-in-hand with the playwright in creating a reality that is alive and breathing and teaches us just a little bit about living an active life of engagement rather than a passive one of observation. So, go ahead and give a short play a try. See if it really is any different than reading a short story or going to a movie. See what it does to the director, actor, set designer, costumer, techie in you. And see if playing with these plays changes your outlook on life, even just a little bit. I hear that it does.
The Best American Short Plays 2011-2012
Applause is proud to continue the series that for over 70 years has been the standard of excellence for one-act plays in America. From its inception, The Best American Short Plays has identified new, cutting-edge playwrights who have gone on to establish award-winning careers, including Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, David Mamet, and Horton Foote.
William W. Demastes made his debut as series editor with the well-received 2010-2011 volume, a diverse collection revolving around the multidimensional theme of love. Blogcritics said of the anthology: “This collection is a bountiful of pleasing oddities. Each work offers something worthwhile…. The collection runs the gamut of the most serious drama to the most irreverent topical mental trinkets….”
Demastes returns and once again draws from works produced by some of America’s finest theater companies in an effort to capture the wide range of styles, topics, and regional tastes that typifies American theater. The compilation is slated to include works by John Guare, Neil LaBute, and A. R. Gurney, as well as contributions from a plethora of gifted, emerging playwrights.
Join us for…
The Annual Best American Short Plays Performances
In celebration of the release of The Best American Short Plays 2009-2010 (Applause Theatre and Cinema Books), editor Barbara Parisi will be hosting the annual event at the Nuyorican Poets Café on October 10th. Guests include playwrights Daniel Gallant, Charlene A. Donaghy, Samuel Brett Williams, and more! Join us for readings and performances of excerpts from the plays in this new volume.
Nuyorican Poets Cafe
236 E. 3rd Street
(between Ave. B & C)
New York City
The Best American Short Plays identifies new, cutting-edge playwrights each year and collects the best of their plays into these anthologies. This series has been the standard of excellence for one-act plays in America, and many of the playwrights spotlighted have gone on to establish award winning careers, including Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, David Mamet, and Horton Foote. This new volume includes plays from Murray Schisgal, Adam Kraar, Theodore Mann, Anthony Rapp, and many others.