Theatre and Academia: How the Library Enhances Your Performing Arts Education

by Helena MacCormack

2. From Page to Stage: Exploring Performance Texts

The heart of theatre lies in storytelling, and our Library is a treasure trove of playtexts waiting to be explored. From timeless classics to contemporary works, the Library facilitates access to an extensive collection that spans genres, eras, and cultures. These scripts not only serve as material for productions but also provide a window into diverse narratives and styles, broadening your horizons and igniting your creativity.

I think it’s useful to know the names of the key publishers of dramatic texts in the UK. The standouts are Nick Hern Books, Oberon Books, Methuen Drama (an imprint of Bloomsbury) – if you look in the front matter of many of the scripts listed below, you’ll see these names cropping up frequently.

A note on the Library’s classification system: playtexts are not kept in a section of their own, but live in the Literature area along with poetry, prose, and novels. This means that unfortunately you cannot browse the “drama area” without also encountering other types of literature.

A woman standing, reading from a script and holding her hand aloft.
Image: Adobe/Lightfield Studios

Our Drama subject guide is a great place to start, listing a variety of resources for you to explore. However, here’s an overview with a few of my favourites picked out:


Play collections comprising the work of a single author offer a unique opportunity to gain a richer understanding of the playwright’s distinct voice, the themes, styles, and cultural contexts they engage with. They can also provide a comprehensive view of their evolution and range across different works.

Alternatively, anthologies featuring plays by multiple authors not only offer a diverse array of perspectives and styles that highlight the global richness of theatre, but also serve as a gateway to discovering new and emerging playwrights.

Complete Plays by Sarah Kane
Library shelfmark: PR 6061.A59 A19

Plays. 1. by Caryl Churchill
Library shelfmark: PR 6053.H786 A6 V1

Contemporary plays by Black British writers, ed. Natalie Ibu
Library shelfmark: PR 1246.B53 C66

Plays. 1 by Willy Russell
Library shelfmark: PR 6068.U865 A19

Contemporary plays by women of colour: an anthology, ed. Roberto Una
Online access via ProQuest Ebook Central

Plays one by Harold Pinter
Library shelfmark: PR 6066.I53 A6 1996a

Five people sitting on a stage, reading from scripts
Image: Adobe/WavebreakmediaMicro

Individual plays

Individual play scripts offer an opportunity to explore the intricacies of storytelling and character creation directly from the playwright’s perspective. By studying these scripts, readers can gain a deeper appreciation of the narrative techniques and emotional layers that shape each performance.

From contemporary works to seminal classics, here are some of my favourite scripts that offer a diverse range of themes and narrative styles, available both online and in our library collection of physical items:

Oil by Ella Hickson
Online access via Drama Online Library

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
Library shelfmark: PR 6063.C377 B4

Angels in America: a gay fantasia on national themes. Part 1, Millennium by Tony Kushner
Library shelfmark: PS 3561.U778 A85 1992

I’m A Phoenix, Bitch by Bryony Kimmings
Library shelfmark: PR 6111.I46 I26

Burgerz by Travis Alabanza
Online access via ProQuest Ebook Central

Six characters in search of an author by Luigi Pirandello
Library shelfmark: PQ 4835.I7 S45

An octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Library shelfmark: PS 3610.A35673 O28

Since U been gone by Teddy Lamb
Online access via ProQuest Ebook Central

Blue Heart by Caryl Churchill
Online access via Drama Online Library

The Oberon book of queer monologues by Scottee
Library shelfmark: PN 2080 OBE

The colour of justice by Richard Norton-Taylor
Library shelfmark: HC 7150 UK (NOR)

Underlining words on a piece of paper using a red pen
Image: Adobe/Andrey Popov

Interactive playtexts

If you’re after a dose of critical thinking with your play-reading, Digital Theatre+ (more on them in the next section) host a couple of interactive playtexts – namely Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Shakespeare’s Macbeth. These documents use annotations to prompt thought or discussion, complete with links to their library of recorded performances so you can ‘see it in action’. Here’s hoping they produce more!

A large, empty auditorium with the house lights up
Image: Adobe/Marcio

Multimedia Resources

Our library also has access to a valuable collection of recorded productions that bring the magic of theatre right to your screen. These recordings offer a fantastic opportunity to experience performances from renowned stages, anytime and anywhere.

Our main two repositories of production recordings are Digital Theatre+ and the Alexander Street Press Video Collection.

Digital Theatre+

Digital Theatre+ hosts numerous recordings of professional productions – want to experience Ibsen’s classic naturalist play A Doll’s House? You can choose between the 2012 Young Vic stage production, the 1992 Young Vic BBC production, or the 2011 L.A. Theatre Works audio production.

Explore modern classics like Blood Brothers, The Crucible, and An Inspector Calls, experience contemporary productions such as Animal Farm and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, or go further back in time and enjoy timeless masterpieces like Lysistrata and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Not only does this repository hold plays, but musicals too – ranging from time-honoured Broadway smashes like Falsettos and 42nd Street to modern-day West End hits like Kinky Boots and The Last Five Years.

It even holds shows as recent as 2023 like BKLYN and Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.

Even better, you can explore by genre or theme, use their study guides, and access behind-the-scenes content like cast interviews.

Alexander Street Press Video Collection

The Alexander Street Press Video Collection holds more than 60,000 video titles across all disciplines, arranged in handy collections.

The University of Sussex has access to two of their most significant collections, holding performances from the UK’s most esteemed theatre companies, the National Theatre collection and the Royal Shakespeare Company collection.

Final Words

Understanding the historical evolution of theatre is crucial for appreciating the rich tapestry of styles and influences that shape contemporary performances. The next post in this series will focus on the Library’s access to key resources and texts that trace these dynamic transformations across different eras and cultures.

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