Updated: Sep 28
I don't know what to work on...If you have been in class long enough that sentence has probably come out of your mouth many times over. There are so many plays out there and yet sometimes we are stumped on what to work on next. Well, here are some suggestions on theater roles for young men and women. Some of you have probably already worked on many of these and some might be new to you. Keep in mind, you might not be right from a casting perspective for some of these, but thats not what class is about. In class you should work on parts to explore and expand your instrument. So you might never play the part professionally, who cares? Sink your teeth into it, put it up in class and get better. Some of my favorite scenes I have worked on have been because of my willingness to work on parts I might never get to do professionally. It's liberating and also takes much of the pressure off of having to "nail it" or "be good". Class is not meant for that. You should fail in class over and over so that you don't fail when you are on stage or on set. You will only get better by trying and failing. I am going to suggest a wide variety of roles to help work on different aspects of your acting game.
PS: Many of the summaries below are taken from the playwrights themselves or from other online sources.
1. Rosannah DeLuce in Brilliant Traces By Cindy Lou Johnson
This is a two hander so there is a lot of material to work on. "Brilliant Traces” follows distraught and on-the-run bride-to-be Rosannah DeLuce, who flees her wedding. Still dressed in her wedding gown, she hops in a car and makes her way from Arizona to Alaska, surviving on “candy bars and Coke” before bad weather and exhaustion prompted her to find sanctuary in a remote cabin belonging to Henry Harry. This role has tons of comedic moments that will force you to get creative and live outside your comfort zone. It also has moments of deep self reflection when Rosannah opens up to Henry Harry about the circumstances to lead her to his cabin.
This play is a farce and must be played with the utmost honesty in order for it to work. Many parts will come off surreal and they are, but you must play the truth.
2. Vanda Jordan in Venus and Fur By David Ives
The play begins with Novachek on the telephone lamenting the inadequacies of the actresses who have showed up that day to audition for the lead character, Wanda von Dunayev. Suddenly, at the last minute, a new actress called Vanda Jordan bursts in. At first it's hard to imagine that she will please this very particular and exasperated writer/director: She's brash, vulgar and unschooled. But she convinces him to let her audition for the part of Wanda, with the director/writer reading the part of Severin von Kushemski.
If you are shy or reserved and wanna work one being able to let go and be free on stage this is the role for you. It is very fun and will allow you to explore character work, physical choices and behavior.
3. Kayleen in Gruesome Playground Injuries By Rajiv Jospeh
Over the course of 30 years, the lives of Kayleen and Doug intersect at the most bizarre intervals, leading the two childhood friends to compare scars and the physical calamities that keep drawing them together.
First of all this is one of the sweetest most heartbreaking plays I have ever read and worked on. Also a two hander the scenes jump time going back and forth from when the characters are from ages eight to thirty eight. Because of this you will have to play the characters at every age which is a challenge everyone should take. This play will make you laugh make you cry and you will be a much better artist after working on it.
4. Hennie Berger in Awake and Sing By Clifford Odets
This 1935 play tells the story of a family influenced by communist and capitalistic ideals living in a tiny Bronx apartment. Bessie Berger, the lady of the house, is forced to arrange the marriage of her daughter, Hennie Berger, after she becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Bessie doesn't like Sam, the man her daughter has to marry, because he is poor. However, she has no other choice since the man has rented part of their house and is the closest to the family.
This is a more dramatic role from a classic that you can work your way up to. Hennie is a Jew from the Bronx married to a man she doesn't love during the Great Depression. She has to make the choice of staying where she is or running away to the unknown with an old lover (Moe Axelrod) to start a better life.
PS - Before you work on any Odets plays please read Stella Adler on America's Master Playwrights. She breaks down all of Americas greatest playwrights so that you can better understand their work.
5. Nina from The Seagull By Anton Chekhov
Nina is a nineteen-year-old neighbor of Sorin's estate who grew up in an estate bordering the same lake that acts as a backdrop for the play. She is one of the four protagonists of the play. Nina's mother died when she was young and left her fortune to her husband, Nina's father, without leaving any inheritance for Nina. Her father remarried and put all of the money in her stepmother's name, contributing to Nina's insecure future.
Act Four of The Seagull is probably the most difficult scene in theater history. Take your time, work on many other parts before you feel like tackling this. Read it and study it at anytime of course but don't go into it blindly. This is a beautiful part and all young women should aspire to be able to do this role professionally. If you love the theater of course. Again before working on Chekhov, read Stellas book on him as well. You must have almost a scientific approach to his work that Stella breaks down for you with examples from scenes.
Here are a few more that you can look up that are also great.
-Roberta in "Danny and The Deep Blue Sea" By John Patrick Shanley
-Veronica in "Motherfucker With The Hat" By Steven Adler Guirgis
-Laura in "The Glass Menagerie" By Tennessee Williams
-Carol Cutrere in "Orpheus Descending" By Tennessee Williams
-Maggie in "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" By Tennessee Williams
1. Jonathan in Snakebit By David Marshall Grant
The play centers on Jonathan and his wife, Jenifer, while they visit their oldest friend, Michael, at his home in Los Angeles. Jonathan, an actor, is in L.A. auditioning for a film—his first big break at stardom—and he’s dragged Jenifer with him for support. The play becomes deeper and forces us to see how ugly we can be when we look only at ourselves when we really should remember to look at others—especially those we love. This part will help an actor explore a range of emotions like anger, sadness, desperation, heartbreak and love. A great play to work on in class for any young actor.
2. Doug in Gruesome Playground Injuries By Rajiv Joseph
Yes, this play again. The male role is also fantastic and will be an exercise of the totality of your skills. I think I learned the most about where I was in my craft by working on this part. Really taught me that I had much more work to do. I struggled being able to play Doug in the many different ages we seem him throughout the play. Working on Doug both broke my heart and taught me so much about human beings. Doug loves Kayleen from the moment he meets her when they are eight and never stops loving her no matter how much time or what circumstances have befallen him. He reminded me of a wounded dog with unconditional love for those who cared about him.
3. Coleman OR Valene in The Lonesome West By Martin McDonagh
"The Lonesome West" features the persistently arguing brothers Coleman and Valene, whose father has just died in a shotgun 'accident.' Valene is only interested in his religious ornaments and drinking poteen. Coleman is only interested in eating, and attends funerals to collect free sausage rolls and vol au vents.
Challenging parts due to the truth needed to be brought to the horrifically dark comedic moments that make this play so good. Also you get to work on a Western Irish accent which is fun as hell.
4. Jamie OR Edmund in Long Days Journey Into Night By Eugene O'Neill
The play takes place on a single day in August 1912, from around 8:30 a.m. to midnight. The setting is the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones' Monte Cristo Cottage. This play is semi-autobiographical about O'Neill's own life dealing with a drug addicted mother, and his battle with tuberculosis. This play portrays a family in a ferociously negative light as the parents and two sons express accusations, blame, and resentments—qualities that are often paired with pathetic and self-defeating attempts at affection, encouragement, tenderness, and yearnings for things to be otherwise.
These two parts are among the toughest male parts to tackle so work your way up to them. This is one of my favorite plays and it will take everything you have emotionally to explore the depths of Jamie and Edmund. Beautiful parts in a beautiful play. Go to work.
5. Konstantin Treplev in The Seagull By Anton Chekhov
Back to this play because it's a classic. Treplev is Arkadina's only son. He struggles to find his voice as a writer in the shadow of his successful actress mother and her lover, the writer Trigorin, both of whom are members of the elite Russian intelligensia and artistic community. Treplev is impatient, self- defeating and childish. His need for love and approval torments him. He attempts to create new forms in dramatic writing and literature that reflect the new wave of symbolist writing that emerged in Russia during Chekhov's time. His writing parodies Chekhov's own work. Treplev is a dreamer and a compassionate soul who fills the void of affection in his life with self-doubt.
There are many great scenes of Treplev in this play. I would start from the top and work your way down throughout the whole play.
Here are a few more that you can look up that are also great.
Henry Harry -"Brilliant Traces" By Cindy Lou Johnson
Moe Axelrod -"Awake and Sing" by Clifford Odets
Valentine Xavier -"Orpheus Descending" By Tennessee Williams
Tom - "The Glass Menagerie" By Tennessee Williams
Stanley Kowalski -"Street Car Named Desire" By Tennessee Williams
Hope this was of help to you guys. Again you might be the right casting for all of these but they are still great parts to work on.