The Play’s the Thing


Our Daily Correspondent

From a 1939 Work Projects Administration Poster.

Whenever you hear about the death of another specialty bookstore—RIP Mystery Bookstore! RIP Cookbook Store!—walk over to that unlikeliest bastion of hope, West 40th Street, and breathe a sigh of relief: the Drama Book Shop abides. And it’s not just that the store is a treasure trove of plays and scripts and monologues and a beloved nurturer of theatrical talent, with a Tony Award to prove it. The Drama Book Shop is a testament to one of the few areas where print still reigns supreme.

Newspapers might be threatened by e-readers, technology may have supplanted books, and recipes can be found online in abundance. But scripts? Scripts are necessary. Scripts are tangible. They bow before no millennial’s avowedly shortened attention span. You can highlight on a Kindle, maybe—but can you annotate? Can you plunk it down at a table reading? (The answer is yes, obviously, but it would be harder, significantly harder, and that’s not nothing.)

If you live in LA, London, New York, or anyplace with a thriving theater scene, the sight of people, usually young and optimistic-looking people, poring furiously over scripts is a commonplace; often they’re muttering aloud, which is why you first notice them. And you know they’re preparing for an audition, or learning an off-off-Broadway part, or maybe they’ve even scored a big break. Your heart swells. Recently I heard someone talking to himself on the 1 train and then realized it was a recognizable character actor learning a role from a spiral-bound script. 

Show business is tough. It’s wicked. No one makes it. People who do make it have to fight misery and failure at every turn. It’s a life of hard knocks and broken dreams and disappointment and faded glory and misery and narcissism and rage and sordid cynicism so obvious it’s not worth saying. It breaks mothers’ hearts. It breaks hearts, period. And God bless it: as long as there are young people with stars in their eyes and dreams of making it big—or just escaping into a character—there will remain a bastion of the printed word. Which is to say, forever. 

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.