THE ANNUAL EdTA PLAY SURVEY tracks ongoing trends in high school theatre, which may not inspire wild speculation or high-stakes bets, but this year, the results turned some heads. We asked a new question: How many people came to see these plays? The answer to that makes clear the enormous potential impact of high school theatre. The shows produced by our surveyed schools alone reached an audience of 49.4 million people. By contrast, Broadway touring companies only bring in around 13.9 million people annually.

“We often cite the benefits of participating in school theatre in building 21st century skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking in students,” says EdTA Executive Director Julie Cohen Theobald. “Now, with these survey results, we can demonstrate the positive effects that school theatre can have on communities. Just imagine the impact of more than 50 million people going to their local high school for enjoyment and enrichment, as well as to support the students.”

For the first time, EdTA surveyed not only its Thespian member schools but also nonmember schools, and we heard from more than 3,000 in total. Despite the broader data sample, plays remain mostly seasoned works, while the musicals consist mainly of newer, large-cast adaptations depicting fantastic worlds. For the third year in a row, The Addams Family (Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice) and Almost, Maine (John Cariani) clinched the most-produced musical and play, respectively. The remaining lineups shuffled a bit, but stayed intact with few exceptions. For musicals, Mary Poppins exited, replaced by The Wizard of Oz, while Peter and the Starcatcher made its full-length play list debut.

So what do these lists tell us about how Thespians relate to these massive high school theatre audiences? Let’s take The Addams Family. Regarding the show’s merits for the high school stage, teachers in EdTA’s Community mentioned its surfeit of compelling lead roles, its creative ensemble treatment, its dark, catchy tunes, and the grim elegance of its set, costume, and lighting potential. What’s more, both the original musical adaptation and the subsequent high school theatre version emphasize themes particularly relevant to the high school experience, as filtered through 18-year-old Wednesday Addams.

As Kristi Jacobs-Stanley (fine arts department chair, theatre director, and speech coach at Mount Carmel Academy in New Orleans) put it, “The show is about acceptance, communication, and how important they are to successful relationships — whether it’s parent-child, husband-wife, or Fester-moon.” This family love story interweaves issues about parental disapproval, peer rejection, sibling conflicts — all in a dark and “kooky” way that offsets the sentimentality.

For more analysis, check out NPR’s interactive database of our play survey, which they updated this year to include the latest data.

Bradford High School's 2015 production of The Little Mermaid.

Bradford High School’s 2015 production of The Little Mermaid. Photo by R. Bruhn.


1. The Addams Family (Andrew Lippa, Marshall Brickman, Rick Elice)
2. Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, Linda Woolverton)
3. Shrek (David Lindsay-Abaire, Jeanine Tesori)
4. Seussical (Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens)
5. Cinderella (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Douglas Carter Beane)
6. The Little Mermaid (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Glenn Slater, Doug Wright)
7. The Wizard of Oz (various)
8. Into the Woods (Stephen Sondheim, James Lapine)
9. Little Shop of Horrors (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman)
10. Grease (Jim Jacobs, Warren Casey, John Farrar)


1. Almost, Maine (John Cariani)
2. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (William Shakespeare)
3. The Crucible (Arthur Miller)
4. You Can’t Take It with You (George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart)
5. Alice in Wonderland (various)
6. Peter and the Starcatcher (Wayne Barker, Rick Elice)
7. 12 Angry Jurors (Reginald Rose)
8. A Christmas Carol (various)
9. Macbeth (William Shakespeare)
10. Our Town (Thornton Wilder)


1. Check Please (Jonathan Rand)
2. 10 Ways to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse (Don Zolidis)
3. All in the Timing (David Ives)
4. Alice in Wonderland (various)
5. 13 Ways to Screw Up Your College Interview (Ian McWethy)
6. This Is a Test (Stephen Gregg)
7. The Actor’s Nightmare (Christopher Durang)
8. The Audition (Don Zolidis)
9. Bad Auditions by Bad Actors (Ian McWethy)
10. Check Please: Take 2 (Jonathan Rand)

This story appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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