Weekend Dialogue: Who are the great children's playwrights?

I am in a play for children. It's done by a non-profit, Austin Summer Musical for Children. The group puts on a play geared for children under the age of 8. All performances except one are free, and we do ten of them (plus that one fundraiser night for a total of eleven) over 2 weekends. If you are in the Austin area and have kids about the right age, come out and see us. We've seen only smiling faces, so apparently the kids are having fun.

Since this non-profit works solely off donations and grants, it does not have the budget to license children's musicals like School House Rock. Instead, they have a script committee that writes the show each year. Despite never having written or edited a children's play before, I'll be joining this committee for next year. And that got me thinking. Plays are one of the forgotten branches of children's literature. Very little scholarship is done on it, and people almost never think of it when they are considering creative projects. My school where I'm getting my MA (or at least will get if my thesis meter ever moves again) has never offered any kind of class dealing with plays for children. They've offered several on children's films, but these aren't quite the same.

So, my questions is: Who are the great children's playwrights? Who are those people creating great shows for children's audiences? What kinds of plays are they writing? What age do they target? Sadly, I know so little on the subject, I can't name a single one. I look forward to being enlightened by you all. Use the comments link below to express your opinion.


Susan Sundwall said...

I'm a children's playwright. I've had four plays published at two different publishers and I love doing them. I've just completed my fifth Christmas play. I've also had many skits and puppet scripts published. You're right, it is a forgotten wing of the children's publishing industry largely due to ignorance of its form. In September I'll have an article posted at the Institute of Children's Literature website under 'writer's support' that may be enlightening to some who are considering this genre. If you try it you might find you have a real knack for it.

Susan Sundwall

Bartholomew the Clueless Shepherd CSS Publishing 2005
Walking to Bethlehem Standard Publishing 2005
The Cape, Standard Publishing 2005
Easter Lillian, Standard Publishing 2007

fusenumber8 said...

I don't know any playwrights persay. I participated years ago in a whole heckuva lot of children's shows and musicals, though. If you can get your hands on a copy of "Really Rosie" or "How To Eat Like a Child" I can guarantee you'll bring down the house.

Nathan Hartswick said...


I am also a children's playwright. I have had 2 plays published through Pioneer and 2 through Heuer. I'm not sure "famous" and "children's playwright" have ever appeared in the same sentence, but the closest anyone has probably come is Tim Kelly, who is the most prolific one I can think of.

It takes a unique combination of skills to do it right; I wish you luck!


Nathan Hartswick

Joe Ann Brooks said...

My name is Joe Ann Brooks, and I have a 155 seat children's Theatre, The Actors Conservatory Theatre, in Lewisville, Texas, just north of Dallas. I have written over 35 children's full length musical plays and produced them here. I would love to share my scripts with you in Austin. If your people are interested in my free offer, visit our website and leave me a note. I have performance CD's and scripts, and pictures of sets to help your production. These are my gifts to children and cannot be copied but only performed for children, by non profit children's theatres. I have many references if needed and you may pre read any script. Let me know. Joe Ann