What Makes a Good Play?

In the strictest sense of the word, success in the theater means that a show can raise the necessary money, engages a top-notch creative staff and actors, sells enough tickets to recoup core-production costs, and repays investors so they will likely invest again. Thirty-five years of experience has shown that there are four identifiable reasons why a show works — or does not work — in a commercial setting. This post will help identify and illuminate some of necessary factors for success.

Secrets, Barrow Theatre Group

From SECRETS, Barrow Group Theatre, 2013, New York, NY.


Here, in a nutshell, is why I produce, direct or invest in a new commercial venture. Basically, these are the criteria a a production must meet before I put my own money into it, or ask others to invest in the venture.

Before anything starts, I always ask to read the script. If I can read the book straight through without stopping, from beginning to end and I feel a genuine emotion, — I cry, laugh, become worried or sad, uplifted or triumphant — the show has a good chance to work on all levels. Theater is, for me, an emotional sport. If I do not have an emotional experience in the theater, what is the point?

If I am able to describe the action of the play in fifteen words or less, I have a chance to “sell” the production to a top director, to actors, designers and, most importantly, to investors. So many shows I see, even with multi-million dollar budgets, are not about anything. Razzle-dazzle, “pure” entertainment or tired, star vehicles from scripts that are overwritten and overrated. Scripts that catch my attention are those that show overcoming, transforming, events that make the characters (and the audience) deal with external or internal issues where something major is at stake. Where risks are taken. Where real, authentic human beings are put to the test to fail or succeed due to their own inner psychological and spiritual resources.

Can the production of this script be exciting theater? Can it be staged in a new and innovative way? Can the final production be realized in such a way that the audience can feel and relate to the action in unexpected way? Can the director and designers really use their imagination to bring home a dazzling and thought provoking mise-en-scene?

Can I identify a “core audience” for this production? Is there an age group or a certain segment of the population that I know will be attracted to it? Is this a show for tourists? Can this show be sold in advance of the previews or opening night? In upcoming blogs, I will identify and comment on shows that I have been affiliated with in the past, as well as new productions on the horizon, which I will become involved with (or not) based on the above criteria.

One Response to “What Makes a Good Play?”

  1. Phil Ginsburg says:

    Mr Wydro,

    I am a friend of David Appleton and when I mentioned to him that I have written a musical called “Almost Jerusalem” that was showcased in Colorado in 2016 he suggested I get in touch with you. If you’d be so kind, may I send you a copy of the script and a demo of 10 songs from the show? Thanks so much, Phil Ginsburg

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