What Is a Straight Play?

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  • Written By: Norma Jean Howland
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2019
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The term straight play is used to differentiate between two kinds of theatrical productions, a musical and a non-musical. A straight play is a piece of theater that is not a musical but relies on the spoken word to tell the story. This kind of play moves the story along through spoken dialogue, as opposed to song and dance. These two art forms are both considered plays, but are usually presented in completely different styles. In a straight play, the drama or comedy often unfolds primarily through conversations between characters while a musical may have no dialogue at all.

There are many types of straight plays, they can be full length, usually two or three acts, or shorter — a one-act. In a full length play, the action is broken down into acts, and there may be an intermission. A one-act play tends to be much shorter and is often performed as part of a festival or night of short plays. There are even mini plays, which can be five or ten minutes long that fall into this category.


This type of play can also fall into two different categories: a comedy or drama, but there are variations too, such as comedic dramas. A comedy will tell a light-hearted story while a drama will usually take on a more serious topic. Although sometimes a playwright will fuse the two genres to create a theater piece that may evoke strong emotions in the audience, alternating with waves of laughter. There are also experimental plays that are considered straight plays. They may contain unusual language, characters, or special effects to tell the story.

Some examples of straight plays are: "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams, "Long Day's Journey Into Night" by Eugene O'Neill and "A Lie of the Mind" by Sam Shepard. Straight plays can be harder to get produced, especially on Broadway, because they tend to be more difficult to market to an audience. Often theatergoers gravitate towards pure entertainment, making musicals more lucrative at the box office. Although a straight play may have music in it, the music is more of a device to create mood or atmosphere, instead of a way of telling the story. This kind of play often challenges audiences, and demands more listening and thinking, as opposed to being entertaining for a few hours.


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Post 2

I have a question: what are the similarities between a musical and straight play? And please, nobody give me the obvious answer that "They both are plays."

Post 1

I performed in both "straight plays" and musicals for years, but I never knew that non-musicals were referred to as such. I suppose straight plays often start "off Broadway" and then move to Broadway once they become a hit? Do straight plays usually run as long as musicals do?

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