A Simpler Time is a series of comic plays interconnected by a frame story. Each of the nine plays in the collection is by a different playwright, and Jonathan Dorf wrote the connecting dialogues. The frame story has three (21st Century) characters traveling in a time machine in search of a “simpler time.” They perform a Prologue, Epilogue, and Interludes after and before each piece. As they visit different time periods, starting in the Middle Ages and moving forward into the (possible) future, the travelers serve as witnesses to events.
The 9 plays can be presented in any combination, as long as you carefully monitor licensing and credits. The minimum royalty for the anthology is $100. You can license most of the plays separately; but the $35 minimum royalty per play is only less expensive than the entire anthology if you limit your performances to two of the pieces.
THE BASICS – THE ENTIRE ANTHOLOGY
LICENSING ENTITY: Playscripts, Inc.
PLAYING TIME: 110-130 minutes (altogether)
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: FLEXIBLE
The script states that the total number of actors can be as few as 8 Females, 8 Males, and 14 actors of Any Gender OR as great as 55. I counted a maximum of 21 Females, 17 Males (3 are offstage voices), and 15 Any Gender. But there are A LOT of possible combinations here. Flexibility in casting is one of the strengths of a play anthology; if you have a lot more females than males audition, (I know, that never happens in educational theatre!) you can have some males play more than one part.
COSTUMES: Period costumes & some contemporary – Since it’s comedy, the costumes can be more suggestive of the time period rather than historically accurate.
SET REQUIREMENTS: The same rule applies to scenery – you don’t need a Georgian settee for the Washingtons’ bedroom – keep the pieces suggestive of the setting. Nothing but the TIME MACHINE needs to be onstage for more than 15 minutes.
I’m setting up the Overview for A Simpler Time a bit differently than my others; I’ll cover “The Basics” and provide some commentary for each play, and then present “Considerations” for all nine.
PROLOGUE/INTERLUDES/EPILOGUE by Jonathan Dorf
AUTHOR: Jonathan Dorf
SUMMARY: CHRIS, upset with current events, is in a state of existential panic. MARLEY builds a time machine, and takes TAYLOR and CHRIS on a ride through several periods of history on a quest to find A SIMPLER TIME…
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 3 Any Gender
SET REQUIREMENTS: An “unimpressive” Time machine “it can be as simple as a cardboard box or some chairs covered in aluminum foil”
STAGING CHALLENGES: A “time jump” convention needs to be established
COMMENTARY: The interludes before and after each play show through-lines for characters, and help situate the audience as to the time period and the themes of the pieces.
Medieval Medicine by Claire Epstein
TITLE: Medieval Medicine
AUTHOR: Claire Epstein
SUMMARY: FENDREL and WINIFRED have a marital crisis on their hands: their daughter ADELAIDE won’t marry Lord Cartwright, and FENDREL suspects it might be because she’s a witch. DR. CORNWALLIS suggests the usual remedies: leeches, blood-letting, mercury, trephining…but then ADELAIDE manages to cure herself!
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2M, 2F
SET REQUIREMENTS: Medieval England, the sitting room in a small manor house
PROPS: Medical bag
STAGING CHALLENGES: Comic timing; breaking the fourth wall
COMMENTARY: The piece is funny with unexpected connections to our own time!
Safe Salem by Jonathan Dorf
TITLE: Safe Salem
AUTHOR: Jonathan Dorf
SUMMARY: When EMILY and her cronies accuse ABIGAIL of witchcraft, the supposed witch stages a magic trick herself.
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 4F, 1M, flexible number of PUPPETS (1M, 1F puppet + additional)
COSTUMES: Puritan simplicity; black dresses, white aprons and bonnets; Judge robe
SETTING: Puritan New England, late 17th century.
PROPS: Puppets – only one sock puppet though! (Dorf says they can “look cheap.”), broom, knitting needles, knitting work, book
STAGING CHALLENGES: Puppets!
COMMENTARY: Safe Salem is a bit meta, and the actors get to use puppets! It’s one of the funniest pieces in the anthology.
Founding Fathers (Mothers) by Don Zoldis
TITLE: Founding Fathers (Mothers)
AUTHOR: Don Zoldis
SUMMARY: It’s the night before the Constitution is due. TOM, JAMES and ALEX are “working,” possibly, while MARTHA, DOLLY,and ELIZA are WORKING IT.
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 3F, 3M
COSTUMES: Late 18th Century
SETTING: The newly-formed United States, 1787
SET REQUIREMENTS: Table and chairs
PROPS:, “parchment” paper, quill pens, a dictionary
STAGING CHALLENGES: Contrasts between the work sessions of the 3 men and the 3 women
COMMENTARY: It’s group project time! There are Hamilton references! It’s funny, especially if you’re familiar with the Founding Fathers’ personalities.
Lady Washington by Tyler Dwiggins
TITLE: Lady Washington
AUTHOR: Tyler Dwiggins
SUMMARY: On the eve of the very first inauguration, MARTHA says she’s not showing up for GEORGE, and they thumb-wrestle over it? .
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2F, 2M, 5 any gender
COSTUMES: Late 18th Century
SETTING: The newly-formed United States, 1789; GEORGE and MARTHA’s bedroom; the First Inaugural Ball
SET REQUIREMENTS: Bedroom furnishings,
PROPS: Extra coats (GEORGE)
STAGING CHALLENGES: Thumb wrestling – how to make sure the audience can see it?
COMMENTARY: I’m not sure why there are two plays in this collection set within 2 years of each other? This one gets funniest once ELIZA HAMILTON comes in.
Selfie Portrait by Carrie McCrossen
TITLE: Selfie Portrait
AUTHOR: Carrie McCrossen
SUMMARY: The Dutch portraitist, VAN DER CRISP, paints LADY WINTHROP. She is a tad fussy about her appearance.
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2F, 1M, 2 any gender
COSTUMES: Early 19th Century costume -1821 – Empire waistlines are starting to drop lower!
SETTING: A country estate, 1821
SET REQUIREMENTS: Minimal
PROPS: Canvas, easel, (“there’s no reason we ever need to see the finished artwork, unless you have a particularly eager props department”), paint palette, paintbrushes, a stool
STAGING CHALLENGES: There are lighting cues mid-scene; accents possible; be careful with the passage of time
COMMENTARY: McCrossen’s satirical modern-day references emphasize society’s social media silliness!
Weekend Warriors by Kathryn Funkhouser
TITLE: Weekend Warriors
AUTHOR: Kathryn Funkhouser
SUMMARY: In an unregulated factory, HELEN, RUBY, and DORA work 16 hours a day. DORA suggests that their boss, MR. GORDON, take a page out of Henry Ford’s management book. When he refuses, the workers get creative.
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 3F, 1M
COSTUMES: Early-20th Century “working” attire; aprons
SETTING: The Knickerbocker Shoelace Factory, 1918
SET REQUIREMENTS: Table, cardboard boxes…maybe a sign?
PROPS: Shoelaces; signs
STAGING CHALLENGES: The factory workers perform an interpretive dance; comic timing is vital
COMMENTARY: The workers’ attempts to get MR. GORDON to agree to the weekend will provide some great comic moments for actors to play!
Switcheroo by Mora V. Harris
AUTHOR: Mora V. Harris
SUMMARY: Switchboard operators become entranced with a caller’s voice, and end up with a surprise.
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2F, 3M (offstage voices)
COSTUMES: 1940s dresses
SETTING: 1940, a telephone switchboard at the Princess Hotel
SET REQUIREMENTS: A TELEPHONE SWITCHBOARD!
STAGING CHALLENGES: Switchboard business combined with overlapping and offstage dialogue;
TECH CHALLENGES: Offstage voices, sound cues
COMMENTARY: It’s a bit trite, but cute. Your actors will probably need to watch some films of real-life or Hollywood switchboard action in order to get the “switching” right.
A Forest Was This by Patrick Greene
TITLE: A Forest Was This
AUTHOR: Patrick Greene
SUMMARY: A nuclear family enjoys a nice camping trip sometime in the future?
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2F, 3M
COSTUMES: Pastel camping clothes
SETTING: A “forest-ish” sometime in the future
SET REQUIREMENTS: None; but “if you want to bring in real trees and grass, go for it”
PROPS: A campfire, coin, tablet
STAGING CHALLENGES: The weirdness of the culture is going to necessitate some world-building on the cast’s part. Actors will have to make some strong choices.
COMMENTARY: This was much creepier than the other plays in the collection. It’s funny, but I’m not sure how many audience members will “get” it.
Kids Today! by Ian McWethy
TITLE: Kids Today!
AUTHOR: Ian McWethy
SUMMARY: A PARENT tries to get a CHILD to go on a hike…CHILD is not interested. They argue. A PARENT tries to get a CHILD to go on a hike…CHILD is not interested. They argue. A PARENT tries to get a CHILD to go on a hike…CHILD is not interested. They argue. And then…
CHARACTER BREAKDOWN: 2 any gender, or 5 any gender (McWethy has a rotation mapped out)
COSTUMES: There are scripted costume changes for each time period – 1955, 1985, 2015, and 2035
SETTING: There are 4 time periods in Kids Today! – 1955, 1985, 2015, and 2035
SET REQUIREMENTS: Minimal – maybe a chair
PROPS: Cell phone, NES Controller, 1950s Movie Magazine, Backpacks (1 “2015”, 1 “1985”, 1 “1955”, 1 “2035”), sunblock containers, snack bars
STAGING CHALLENGES: In-scene costume changes, character switches, and rapid-fire dialogue will all challenge your actors. Also, for a short piece, there are a lot of props to track – you’ll need a props person (could be an actor doubling).
COMMENTARY: Kids Today! is meta and philosophical! Cast this one with your more skilled and experienced performers.
I’ve assembled a VERY SHORT list of “Considerations” for A Simpler Time. This is to help teacher-directors decide if they’d like to get a hold of a perusal copy of a piece for potential performance, or purchase a script for their classroom/department library. The nine pieces in A Simpler Time should pass all but the most strigent approval processes.
The Considerations are aspects of A Simpler Time that, in an ideal universe, wouldn’t cause a problem for a teacher-director. But based on my experience and knowledge of past challenges to educational theatre pieces, these are things that an administrator, parent, member of the public, or a student could potentially object to OR request to change in the script.
DON’T change the script without permission! See this Dramatists Guild initiative for more information.
The following are present in the plays of A Simpler Time:
- Talk of blood and bloodletting
- Talk of beheadings
- Mass hysteria
- The aforementioned hysteria is accusations of witchcraft; there is no “actual” fictional(!) witchcraft
- Implied mob violence
- There’s a labor strike
- Corporations insulted; (Google by name)
- A “reeducation” program
- Kids “talking back” to parents
REASONS TO DO AN EVENING OF SHORT PLAYS
There are many reasons why you might choose to do an evening of short plays instead of a single play. Here are a few that may apply to your situation:
I mentioned earlier that the number of roles in A Simpler Time will provide of lot of possible combinations for casting in gender and in number. If you have a lot of students auditioning, and you want to give as more of them an onstage opportunity, a series of 10-minute plays can meet that need. A Simpler Time has a variety of roles, some of which have only a few lines or are easier to play. You can give less-experienced students stage time that will improve their skills.
Plus, even though you’ll have a large cast, you won’t be rehearsing with all of them onstage simultaneously. If someone has to drop out of the show, there will almost certainly be an actor willing to take on another role.
More cast members also results in more ticket sales for the performances, and more people spreading the word about your show.
If scheduling rehearsals is difficult because of conflicts with other extracurriculars or student responsibilities, casting the ten-minute plays based on availability is possible. For example, if you have four pieces rehearse on Mondays and Wednesdays, and another four on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the students who have MANDATORY Select Choir rehearsals on Thursdays can go into the cast for one of the Monday/Wednesday plays. The options are vast!
If you have upperclassmen who want to try directing, a 10-minute play serves as an excellent training ground. Each of the pieces in A Simpler Time have small casts, providing an easier “block” for a beginning director. You’ll also be able to supervise/advise them by circulating through the pieces, thus giving the directors some breathing room.
Also, if the student director isn’t quite up to the task, it’s one-tenth of the evening’s performance. It will be easier for you to step in with a guiding hand.