Apart from acting in plays, actors need to read plays too. If they do not read the masterful works of great playwrights, actors miss out on learning the very root of the craft. They also miss out on expanding their imagination and developing their creative skills.

Also, when actors read plays, they get to understand how theatre is produced as well as how to transform the words on paper to a fantastic performance. Another good reason to find plays to read is to continuously stay on top of the oeuvres that you might be offered by stage casting, directors, and producers.

“Movies will make you famous; Television will make you rich; But theatre will make you good.”

-Terrence Man

As an actor, if you want to keep learning just as you should, and also become the very best you can be, here are five plays you should read if you haven’t read them already.

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (Grove Press, 1956)

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (Grove Press, 1956)
Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (Grove Press, 1956)

One of the seminal works of the 20th century is this Beckett’s masterpiece, “Waiting for Godot.” This definitive play of the absurdist movement was written in reaction to the horrors of the Second World War. 

The play goes on to examine the tragedy and purpose of life, as well as the measures we apply for survival. It gives new insight into the human condition and also offers hope to those who wait.

Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House (Samuel French, 2007)

Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House (Samuel French, 2007)
Sarah Ruhl’s The Clean House (Samuel French, 2007)

Sarah Ruhl offers a way to comprehend the direction contemporary playwrights are taking. Her lyricism is accessible enough to put her out before young actors and regional theaters alike. She sways gracefully across the thin line that separates tragedy and comedy.

In this play, “The Clean House,” she makes a unique and fantastical landscape out of a familiar white middle-class setting, prodding our standard assumptions of spousal love and duty open.

Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Yale University Press, 1956)

Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Yale University Press, 1956)
Eugene O’Neil’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Yale University Press, 1956)

This play is an autobiographical masterwork by O’Neil, which is based on a dysfunctional family and the tragedy of addiction. The play has great scenes and monologues for actors.

O’Neil, at his most vulnerable, yet his finest, gives a chilling picture of a family torn by apathy, disease, and career. 

Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard
Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard

David Mamet’s translation- The Cherry Orchard (Samuel French, 1990)

Jean Claude Van Itallie’s translation- Chekhov: The Major Plays (Applause Theater Books, 1995)

Many great playwrights of the 20th and 21st centuries were influenced by this classic work. Such playwrights include George Bernard Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Arthur Miller, and Eugene O’Neil.

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (University of Chicago, 1991)

Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (University of Chicago, 1991)
Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex (University of Chicago, 1991)

“Sophocles One: Three Tragedies.” 

Every theater person, as well as every educated person, needs to have a working knowledge of these plays. Each of them is a milestone in the history and evolution of the Western theater. 

The plays are reflective of major social, political, cultural, or philosophical changes in Western Civilization. In addition to being masterpieces of their time, the plays are relevant for all generations.

In conclusion, every theater person must be constantly learning. There are hundreds of plays every actor should read and starting with these five influential plays will be a great boost to your theatre skills. It will help you dig deeper into the root of the craft, and also improve your own skills