Theatre: Finding plays

A Research Guide for Theatre from West Chester University Libraries

Finding plays

Finding a play that is published separately is easy--if the library owns it, a title or author search will lead you to it. Finding a play that is published in an anthology is not as simple. Sometimes you can find a play in a compilation by doing a title search, sometimes by doing a keyword search (in case the title is listed in a contents note), and sometimes by using Play Index to find out if the library owns the play you are looking for.

To find plays by call number range, see the box below this one.

To find a specific play:

  • Library catalog
    • Start with a Title search
      • Omit initial articles "a," "an," and "the" or their foreign language equivalents
      • Type in the beginning of the title--unless the title is very generic, it is not necessary to enter the whole title
    • If you don't find the play you are looking for using a Title search, try a Keyword Boolean search (for instance, you won't find Shanley's Danny and the Deep Blue Sea via a Title search, but you will find it via a Keyword Boolean search (danny and deep and sea)
    • If you don't find it using a Keyword Boolean search, try an author search
    • In the author search box, enter the playwright in last name first name order (last name may be enough). Click on name if found, then scan list of entries. Look for titles such as Collected Plays, Collected Works, Plays, Selected Plays, etc., any of which could contain the play you are looking for. Note the call number, look for the book on the 5th floor and check the contents
    • Looking for one-act plays? Try the subject heading One-act plays or One-act plays, American. This will give you a list of books in which short plays have been published. The books may be compilations of plays by many authors, compilations of plays by a single author, or a single short play.
    • If you don't find the play you are looking for through the above searches, try Play Index.
  • Play Index
    • Type the play title in the first search box and choose TI Title from the drop-down menu to the right
    • Click on the record retrieved for the play
    • Click on the "Find this play in a book" link
    • If the play has been published in a compilation, check the library catalog, searching by the compilation title, to see if the library owns it
    • Example:
      • You are looking for the play One Day More by Joseph Conrad
      • You search the library catalog by title, by keyword, and by author, but do not find it (of course you could start with Play Index)
      • You search Play Index
        • There are two entries for this play
        • Click on the linked title for the first entry, then click on Find this play in a book
        • Then click on Link to Parent Book
        • The play has been published in Modern Theatre, edited by Eric Bentley; we're told that it is in volume 1, 2, or 3; if you want to click on Link to Book Parts, you'll see that One Day More is near the end of the list, making volume 3 a good guess
        • Do a title search in the library catalog for Modern Theatre
        • Bentley's edited volume is the second entry (call number 808.82 B477d); click on the title to make sure that the library owns the first 3 volumes (there are 6 in all).
        • Scan the tables of contents for the first 3 volumes (or, if you checked the book parts, start with volume 3). The play is in volume 3.
  • North American Theatre Online
    • If the play you are looking for was written by an American or Canadian, you may be able to find the text online through this database, which also provides details about productions.
    • There is more than one way to find the text of plays. You could
      • Click on Plays under Tables of Contents, and then on Full-text Plays Only
      • Look up the play by the first word in the title (ignore initial articles)
    • Or, you could
      • Click on Plays under Search
      • Set the "Full-text Available" drop-down box to "Yes"
      • Enter the play title, the playwright, or other relevant information in the search boxes.
    • You can also find links to the plays in the North American Theatre Online suite (Asian American Drama, Black Drama, Latino Literature, North American Indian Drama, North American Women's Drama, and Twentieth Century North American Drama) in the library catalog.
  • Drama Online
    • Click on Plays on the menu bar and use the alphabetic lists to find plays
    • Click on Playwrights & Practitioners if you are looking for a specific author
    • Or, use the search box at the top of the screen to search for plays or playwrights using keywords.
  • If you still can't find the play you are looking for
    • Use the library's interlibrary loan services
      • EZ-Borrow PALCI (try this first)
      • Illiad
    • Email me as well; we may be able to buy the play to add to the library's collection.

Finding plays by call number

Call numbers for plays are in the ranges below:

The 2s in bold indicate drama.


800 range                         Literature                                   5th floor


808.82                             Play anthologies (theoretically from more than one original language but in practice may all have been written originally in English)

812                                            American drama (including time period breakdowns, like 812.6 (21st century))

812.08 American plays and short/one-act plays by many different authors

812.4  American drama in the 19th century

812.5  American drama in the 20th century

812.52  American drama by authors publishing for the first time in the first half of the 20th century

812.54  American drama by authors publishing for the first time in the second half of the 21st century

812.6  American drama in the 21st century

822                                 British drama (including time period breakdowns, like 822.914 (second half of 20th century) and 822.92 (21st century))

832                                 German drama (in German or translated from German into other languages) with time period breakdowns

842                                 French drama (in French or translated from French into other languages) with time period breakdowns

852                                 Italian drama (in Italian or translated from Italian into other languages) with time period breakdowns

862                                 Spanish drama (in Spanish or translated from Spanish into other languages) with time period breakdowns


8X2                                 other original languages (e.g., 882, classical Greek drama, in the original language or translated into English)


782.14                            most librettos of musicals             Presser Music Library

791.4372                         screenplays                                  5th floor


Plays in journals

Two journals available through the library contain play scripts. Plays contains many scripts in each issue appropriate for use in schools. TheatreForum publishes one or more scripts in each issue. Click on the database name in the WCU Journals entry, then on the Search within this publication link above the list of volumes. Enter scripts in the second search box and hit the Enter key for a list of plays available in full text. Most of the results will be the text of a play.

Open web

Plays out of copyright may be available online from the sites below.

West Chester University   ---    WCU Libraries  25 West Rosedale Avenue, West Chester, PA 19383  610-430-4400