The Arabian Nights


Writers: Mary Zimmerman


Show Information

Number of Acts
First Produced
Drama, Romance, Fairy Tale/Fantasy
Simple/No Set
Time & Place
middle east
Cast Size
Orchestra Size
Some Dance
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes young adult, adult, mature adult, late teen, early teen characters


It is a well-known tale: King Shahryar, after finding his first wife in the arms of another, murders her and her lover. Left alone, the King decides to marry a new woman eight night -- only to kill her in the morning. That is, until Scheherezade courageously marries the King and begins telling a wondrous tale each evening and continuing through until dawn -- when she is supposed to be killed, except that the King always allows her to live in order to finish the next story. In this way, she suspends her death sentence for one thousand and one nights, and slowly heals King Shahryar’s broken heart, in the process.

This play is no ordinary production; a magical world is created by the actors and musicians. It is a space where stories unfold and magic happens. The scripts states, “The play is best suited to a thrust stage with the audience surrounding and looking down on the playing area. The setting is simultaneously the darkened chamber of Shahryar, where he sits listening to Scheherezade, and all of the various locations within the stories themselves... All of the performers remain in full view of the audience throughout the play, sitting or lying on pillows on the periphery of the playing space, rising to join the action as needed, adding a bit of costume as they take on a new role. Entrances and exits are not often indicated in the script; generally a character’s first line signals his or her arrival in the scene and the last line signals his or her departure. The action is continuous; scenes and locations overlap and dissolve into one another with no more indication than an actor turning in a new direction or perhaps a slight shift in the light, a new sound, or a bit of music. Scheherezade moves easily between narrating the stories and taking on small parts in them, and she may also shadow the various other narrators of the stories within stories. Once characters begin to tell their own stories, they address the audience and peripheral performers directly. The “frame” around the individual’s story may dissolve, but the overarching frame of Shahryar listening to Scheherezade and watching the tales unfold should never entirely disappear. The music and sound effects are played live.”

This is a non-traditional play and was originally a devised piece - meaning that it began with a group of actors rather than a formal script. As such, many of the characters appear for only a brief time, or are part of a story within the story of the play, or even a story within a story within the story of the play. There are sixteen actors total, although there are forty-six named characters. The smaller characters may be assigned to different actors depending on the needs of each production.The actors will need to choose how to portray each character in conjunction with the director, storyteller and the rest of the cast. Because of this, many of the character descriptions in this study guide are just that - descriptions, rather than analyses.

**Note: It should be noted that many, but not all, of of these characters could be played by actors of either gender.

Lead Characters

The Arabian Nights guide sections