Educational Theatre Association releases annual high school play survey

The Addams Family—a family favorite—holds its place among top high school musicals

September 28, 2016

The Addams Family topped the list for the most-produced high school musical for the second consecutive year, and Mary Poppins made its list debut at second place, in an annual survey conducted by the Educational Theatre Association’s flagship Dramatics magazine.

Almost, Maine held the top spot for the second year for a full-length play against its familiar rival, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The top spot for short play went to The Show Must Go On which presents a normal suburban family who act like characters from a sitcom until someone arrives who’s not in their “script.”

The play survey has been conducted annually since 1938. This year, approximately 5,200 member schools received an invitation to participate in the online survey with about 1,200 responding.

In 2015 National Public Radio compiled 77 years’ worth of survey results into an interactive database, which can be found at npr.org. This week they updated the database to include the current results.

This year’s results underscore the complex web of factors that a theatre educator needs to consider when deciding what show to produce, from both inside and outside the school. First, comes a thoughtful assessment of the demands made by any given show--does it require a particular talent, such as a strong tenor, or a large group of tap dancers, or a presentation space that the school can accommodate. Then, for a production to go beyond a classroom experience, it must have an audience.

And high school theatre does indeed have an audience. In fact, it is one of the most-seen live arts performance mediums in America. An article in American Theatre magazine in January 2015 noted that, based on figures from half a dozen licensing houses, there are about 37,500 shows done in high school theatres annually. Using a conservative estimate of three performances of each in 600-seat theatres at 75 percent capacity, more than 50 million attend performances of high school theatre.

So what are all those people seeing and why?

“The top 10 on these lists are pragmatic choices,” says Gregory Bossler, editor of Dramatics. “There are solid reasons why these results are logical. Most of the pieces are classic choices, and Almost, Maine is a modern classic.”

The pragmatic production consideration for Almost, Maine is that teachers can modify it to best suit their student population: the play is a series of two-person scenes, and a director may choose how many scenes and how to cast them, anywhere from six to 16 scenes with two to 32 people.

The practical consideration from an audience perspective is that the playwrights represented on the list are known and respected, from Neil Simon to Shakespeare, and known quantities are audience-friendly.

Just as the current generation of teachers may have grown up seeing You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, this generation’s cartoon family is The Addams Family, so audiences feel comfortable and welcome and want to visit their idiosyncratic home, Bossler says.

“That’s not to say that challenging works are not being produced,” adds Julie Cohen Theobald, executive director of the Educational Theatre Association, which is home of the International Thespian Society. “For example, the winner of the 2016 EdTA Outstanding School Award, West Potomac High School in Alexandria, Virginia, presented a series of boundary-pushing works including 8 the Play, Next to Normal, and American Idiot. The school integrated panels and discussions with subject matter experts to address issues raised in these productions including mental health, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, and equal rights with students and audiences.”

Theobald adds, “Individual students, schools, and whole communities are enriched by the experiences that school theatre provides, whether the productions are new, rare, or popular favorites.”


Dramatics survey of 2015-16 high school play productions

Full-length plays
1. Almost, Maine (John Cariani)
2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare)
3. Servant of Two Masters (Carlo Goldoni)
4. Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare)
5. You Can’t Beat the House (Pat Cook)
6. The Odd Couple (Neil Simon)
7. Arsenic and Old Lace (Joseph Kesselring)
8. The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon (Don Zolidis)
9. (tie) The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
9. (tie) Rabbit Hole (David Lindsay-Abaire)

Full-length musicals
1.
The Addams Family (Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice)
2. Mary Poppins (Sherman Brothers, George Stiles, Anthony Drewe, Julian Fellowes)
3. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (William Finn, Rachel Sheinkin)
4. Cinderella (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Douglas Carter Beane)
5. Legally Blonde (Nell Benjamin, Laurence O’Keefe, Heather Hach)
6. (tie) Grease (Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey, John Farrar)
6. (tie) Into the Woods (Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine)
6. (tie) The Little Mermaid (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, Doug Wright)
9. Little Shop of Horrors (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman)
10. (tie) Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Linda Woolverton)
10. (tie) High School Musical (various writers)

Short plays
1.
The Show Must Go On (Laurence Klavan)
2. Our Place (Terry Gabbard)
3. Check Please (Jonathan Rand)
4. Oh, What a Tangled Web (John R. Carroll)
5. The Audition (Don Zolidis)
6. (tie) Sorry, Wrong Number (Lucille Fletcher)
6. (tie) The Thomas Paine Panther (T.J. Walsh)
8. The Role of Della (John Wooten)
9. The 9 Worst Breakups of All Time (Ian McWethy)
10. (tie) 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Education (Ian McWethy)
10. (tie) Booby Trap (Ed Monk)
10. (tie) Superheroes (Ian McWethy)