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Does the first line of your play make an impression?

January 9th, 2017 donnahoke


Plenty of plays start with “Hello?” and go on to be good plays; I’m not disputing that. What I am disputing is why any playwright, when there is an opportunity to deliver an opening line that creates the world of a play, that establishes something, would choose not to take it.


You don’t have to decide what that line is when you start; you may not even know. But I have found that every time I finish a play and go back to the start, I change/rewrite/tweak that first line to make it introduce the play.


Consider what these opening lines say about the play that follows, and also how it says it. It’s not always on the nose, and, sometimes, is all the more clever for it.


“Can’t sleep?” (Proof, David Auburn)

Image result for proof opening scene images auburn


“To take notice of safe: The slippery are very crafty.” The proper translation should be: “Slippery Slopes Ahead.” (Chinglish, David Henry Hwang)

Image result for "slippery slopes ahead" chinglish opening scene


“These nuts are all rotten.” (Tribes, Nina Raine)

Image result for opening scene tribes raine


“…you stepped over the line.” (The Shape of Things, Neil LaBute)

Image result for opening scene the shape of things labute


“Who are you?” (Sex With Strangers, Laura Eason)

Image result for opening scene eason sex with strangers


“What do you do when you’re not sure? That’s the topic of my sermon today.” (Doubt: A Parable, John Patrick Shanley)

Image result for opening scene shanley doubt


Isn’t that amazing? These first lines are not accidents. They tell you what the play is about, and, because they are the first words you hear, they automatically put you in the headspace of the play, even subconsciously. The playwright has done this carefully and deliberately, and when I see or hear a great first line, I smile to myself. If I hear “hello?,” you won’t have me–at least not yet.


That said, I’m not even going to tell you how many plays I had to go through on my shelf (or how many more I read for contests or favors or on NPX) before I found these stellar examples. There are very well-known and successful playwrights who begin their plays with “Hello?” or “[Insert name here]?” It surprises me, because, as the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Why squander it?



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One Comment on “Does the first line of your play make an impression?”

  1. 1 Felice said at 7:17 pm on January 12th, 2017:

    I totally agree with you about first lines. I was, however,disappointed when one of my play’s opening line was lost by audience ‘mellowing out/ settling down’ noises after the curtain went up!

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