CMU School of Drama

Friday, September 30, 2016

Educational Theatre Association Releases Most Popular High School Shows

Stage Directions: The Addams Family is the most popular musical in high schools across America, according to the Education Theatre Association. Their newest survey of the most popular shows in high school is full of expected titles: The Addams Family, Mary Poppins and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are the top three musicals; while Almost, Maine and A Midsummer Night’s Dream lead the plays division. But there are outliers as well. The third most popular play is the commedia dell’arte classic, Servant of Two Masters—perhaps influenced by the popularity of James Corden and his star turn in One Man Two Guvnors? Full list and all its surprises after the jump.

15 comments:

Alex Fasciolo said...

I have a couple of responses to this article. First, and this I know isn’t backed by anything than my personal understanding of high school theatre, but I don’t buy for one moment that West Side Story is nowhere on that list. I just don’t. More importantly, I think that this is an important list to keep eyes on. Perhaps unfortunately, many people’s first and only experience with theatre (in any sort of traditional sense) is in high school. If our whole goal as theatrical artists is to make a statement about something, anything, or everything in between (and I guess I’m running under the assumption that at least at CMU that is our goal to some degree) then would be foolish not to consider the impact of the shows we create and perform on high school theatres. Not only is it a broad base, but it certainly is a base almost entirely populated by the youth. We’ve seen several articles on the green page about community uproars when the school district pulls a show due to political reasons, but we can’t forget the thousands of high schools across the U.S. and the collective contribution those productions have towards the cultural upbringing of our youth. It’s easy to shrug off high school theatre, but it’s certainly a good metric (if only one metric) on understanding the larger impact theatre has on the country.

Scott MacDonald said...

This article definitely had some surprises. I was expecting a bunch of cliché shows, but this article offered some good insight into the list. I found the fact that high school theatre is “one of the most-seen live arts performance mediums in America” very interesting. This fact is something that is surprising but not shocking—it makes sense. Some would say cataloging high school productions would be a waste of time, but clearly not. It’s similar to the fact that Disney on Ice productions comprise the largest ticket-selling entity in the world. I think we often become so focused on the highest possible level of artistry and production that we are distracted from what actually attracts the masses. While we should focus and work on art that pushes boundaries (because this too will attract the masses, see: Hamilton) we must remain aware of what people watch over-and-over and WHY. As this article mentions, these are classics for a reason: they are “known” and “audience-friendly” but I think there’s something beyond that which lends them their staying power. As the article states, I think what is best to see from schools is a combination of these classics with works that push boundaries. I was extremely grateful that my high school experience included works in and very far out of the mainstream. I know the present is more important than the past, but high school theatre is clearly worth something.

Sasha Schwartz said...

I think it’s interesting to see what the most popular high school shows to put on are since high school theater is, for many people, the main thing that propels them to pursue/ not pursue theater in their professional/ college lives. My high school’s junior year straight play was A Midsummer Night’s Dream as an educational event with Shakespeare and Company, and I remember one of the educators telling us the sheer number of high schools they’ve done Midsummer with, since they’ve found that it garners the most ticket sales and makes for a good educational experience in terms of Shakespearean comedy. I know that most high school theater choices are made based on the current cast of students the director has available, the capabilities of their technical department, and, perhaps most importantly, the price to the rights of the show. I have seen too many productions of Almost Maine during massachusetts high school drama festival to count. I think it’d be ideal to diversify the range of shows high schools put on in order to expose students to more of a range of ideas and theatrical concepts.

Sabrina Browne said...

I have a lot of personal experience with a lot of the titles on this list. Having either participated in or watched high school productions of many names from this list, I personally can see why they would be so popular at high school. For example, I stage managed Almost, Maine during my junior year of high school. The show offers a wide variety of character, has a good amount of both male and female characters, and also is very easy to cast students as multiple characters in the show. All of these characteristics are highly desirable in a learning environment such as that of a high school. I've also seen a lot of the shorter plays used as content to compete with at various speech competitions. Personally, I never used any from this list while competing, but there are names on the list that make them very desirable to use in high school speech competitions.

Kelly Simons said...

I was heavily involved with my high school’s drama productions. My freshman year we didn’t even have a performing arts center since ours was being renovated. That year we did the entire season either in the outside amphitheater or in the upstairs lobby of the library. This article caught my eye because I wanted to see how many shows on this list my high school did. Compared to the list, my high school performed “Twelfth Night”, “The Odd Couple”, “The Crucible”, “Grease”, and, “Sorry Wrong Number”. I was surprised, many of the shows we did at my high school didn’t even get mentioned, like “The Mouse that Roared” and “The Wedding Singer”. I can see why “Almost, Maine” and “The Addams Family” are number one on the list; most high school shows are looking for larger casts with both men and women to play roles, in ambiguous ages and races of the characters. It would be challenging to do a highly specialized show at a high school, like “Johanna, Facing Forward”.

Ali Whyte said...

I really like this article in conjunction with the article about the most performed pieces in the professional world of theatre. I do find it interesting that despite this being a high school list, so many of the shows feature characters that are very far in age and experience from that of a high schooler. I think that to some extent is unavoidable to prevent high schools doing the same small collection of shows year after year with little to no variation. I do think, however, that when schools do shows, especially like The Crucible, where one or more of the pivotal characters drive the plot, and the portrayal of that character depends heavily on their age, they have to be careful to ensure that they provide an accurate and respectful portrayal of that character. One thing about this list that I do like is that there is some variation in the time period and style of the pieces, which I think is a really crucial aspect of creating good all around theatre people.

Lucy Scherrer said...

Fun fact: I had never heard of "Almost, Maine" until two weeks ago in my living room when Sasha Schwartz was shocked to discover that I had never heard of it. In addition, in my high school theater program's illustrious history, they had only ever performed two of the ten musicals on the list and one of the ten plays on the list-- not just when I was there, but ever. I'm guessing this has something to do with the fact that a) being a catholic school, we were encouraged to do more "traditional", classic shows without super controversial themes or really any modern themes at all, and b) being an all girls' school we were limited by the amount of pimply 14-year-old younger brothers we could find for all the male roles, so shows like "Little Women" or "CInderella" where most of the roles were female or could be easily changed to be so were very common. I wouldn't argue that this made my high school theater experience any more or less enriching. It did find it annoying that we never did any shows set in the present day-- the closest to that was something like "Seussical" or "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown"-- and when shows like that are the closest thing to reality that you've ever done, that's pretty sad. However, that being said it didn't make me appreciate theater any less.

Mary Frances Candies said...

I wonder if there will ever come a time where there is a genre of playwriting that is centered around high schools? I know there must be someone out there doing it. But I'm wondering if it will ever become popular. I went to a performing arts high school, which meant we did the more so outlier high school shows. We tried to not be "high school," but totally were. I think it is because there are only a certain amount of shows out there that are good and are castable for high school. High schools don't necessarily want to put on shows about high school, as that would be redundant, but they still need valid age ranges. I think it would be a very interesting niche career to write for high school. If I ever direct a high school play, maybe I'll look more into finding a playwright who intended their work to be performed by high schoolers.

Jamie Phanekham said...

It's funny because my school district in the last four years has done all of these shows but one. And when my school my senior year pushed to do Avenue Q, the district shot back with the suggestion of Legally Blonde- one of the shows on this list. It would be amazing for more schools to do interesting, boundary-pushing shows, like the one mentioned in the article, but most districts are focused on getting kids to sign up and not angering parents, as opposed to the art of it all. In Texas, my school did Once on This Island. If you don't know that's a fairy tale show about race relations in the Caribbean that features several different gods. It should not necessarily be a controversial show, but several parents actually tried to shut it down when they learned that gods would be in the show, calling it sacrilegious. To avoid more community controversy, the next year they did Little Shop. So, I think that many schools are sort of pinholed into doing these same shows over and over. That being said, I'm sure the easy content of these and the cast sizes lend themselves to bringing a lot of kids into theater.

John Yoerger said...

I certainly can attest to this. My High School in the last 4 years has done 3 of the "top" 10 full-length musicals. I'm not surprised that these shows are the top 10. One of the biggest things to account for when selecting a production is your community. If you live in a conservative community, for instance, you couldn't successfully put on a production of Rent or The Laramie Project. Instead, (and like my High School), you go with what will ALWAYS sell: Disney. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, etc. are "timeless." Not to mention, we'll consider it to be a great show especially if parents will want to bring their kids. That's another seat and more money in our pocket!

Anonymous said...

This is Sarah Battaglia, I cant get it to say my name :(

Every time I read an article like this I am more and more thankful that I went to high school where I went, and that my school did not do Mary Poppins ever. I think I would have lost my mind if I had had to do silly shows like that. I understand that in high school people want to do shows that are light and not controversial and I get that, I really do, but that is so damn boring. And lets stop pretending that teenagers don’t know about sex or drugs or anything potentially dangerous, because they do, and all keeping it from them does it want it more. These shows are so cookie cutter boring. My high school did Spring Awakening my junior year and even though we had to force the school to let us do it, the principal sat down with the whole cast after we closed and thanked us, because he felt that it had gotten so many people talking about important issues in a controlled and responsible way. I understand that I went to a VERY liberal high school in a VERY liberal area, but we have to start pushing for more risk in our high school theaters, because safe is boring and uninteresting. It’s hard to get new innovative people to join the theater club when they know they will be stuck doing High School Musical for the rest of their lives.

Sarah Battaglia said...

Every time I read an article like this I am more and more thankful that I went to high school where I went, and that my school did not do Mary Poppins ever. I think I would have lost my mind if I had had to do silly shows like that. I understand that in high school people want to do shows that are light and not controversial and I get that, I really do, but that is so damn boring. And lets stop pretending that teenagers don’t know about sex or drugs or anything potentially dangerous, because they do, and all keeping it from them does it want it more. These shows are so cookie cutter boring. My high school did Spring Awakening my junior year and even though we had to force the school to let us do it, the principal sat down with the whole cast after we closed and thanked us, because he felt that it had gotten so many people talking about important issues in a controlled and responsible way. I understand that I went to a VERY liberal high school in a VERY liberal area, but we have to start pushing for more risk in our high school theaters, because safe is boring and uninteresting. It’s hard to get new innovative people to join the theater club when they know they will be stuck doing High School Musical for the rest of their lives.

Amanda Courtney said...

Well, I guess this means the age of Seussical is behind us. As high school theatre is so wont to do, it really seems like schools this year reached for classics. Even so, I personally have not had a great deal of exposure to these so-called classics. My own high school actually had more strictures placed on it than just being hyper age-appropriate alone. Functioning within an all girls school, my drama department had to select plays without any "strong male leads" because they felt that it would not be "suitable" for a girl to take on those roles. Thus, in one memorable production of "Annie", my own father appeared as Daddy Warbucks. Romance also could not take place between characters. Swearing was unacceptable. Any character rebelling against a parental figure was also seriously questioned. I think that in trying to adhere so tightly to its values as a school via exclusionary policy instead of producing a play or musical, and then addressing values through conversation about the play, my school left us students within the drama department at a disadvantage.

David Kelley said...

What I find interesting in this article is the fact of how all the plays on the list are relatively smaller shows. They also are established shows, that for the most part don't really push and boundaries, but rather use the fact that audiences will be comfortable watching the show. While I do understand that high school theater want to get people in the seats, that's what keeps programs open and for me that is of extreme importance. That being said I feel that there is also an important goal in theater to get us to ask questions and I would hope that we strive to achieve this goal

Jake Poser said...

Many people write-off high school theater as unimportant and always poor in quality, however, as this article details it is some of the most viewed live theater in the country in any given year. The sheer number of participants, both on and offstage, and in the audience makes it an important part of the live theater community. Many of us got our start in high school theater, and too quickly forget that. We move through these fancy BFA and MFA programs and forget that we were the nerds that liked to sing and dance, and build and paint and sew. This list, though not the most challenging in content definitely makes sense. A lot of the stories presented on this list, as noted, are easy to produce and not sight specific. They also include large casts which allows for many students to participate. As a student who attended a performing arts high school, I can say that we totally thought we were pushing the bar when it came to standard HS theater. But after reading this list, I know we weren't. Some would find this embarrassing, however, I embrace it. People should stop harking on HS theater for not being top quality, and sometimes it's downright painful. But nevertheless, it's important, where most of us got our start, and a breeding ground for the next generation of artists in the industry.

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