Interesting look at the "pulse" (or lack thereof) of the current high school theater landscape. The above link shows the Educational Theatre Associations survey of the most produced musicals, full-length plays and short plays in 2004. Like all surveys, it's flawed, but it does provide a very good look into what's being produced and by whom.
A few quick observations.
Seussical: The Musical tops the list. Now, I'm not terribly familiar with this, but I'm relatively sure it never got much in the way of good reviews when it was produced in NY. Which just goes to show that the creative team behind it is laughing all the way to Ben Brantley's bank. So take heart, writers...you two can have a hit if you don't try anything interesting and call it "Popular Children's Book Characters Sing." See Cats.
Grease is the second most produced musical in high schools and this always makes me laugh my ass off. Grease is essentially a musical about a very, very good girl who is mocked endlessly for being a prude, until she shows up triumphantly at the end of the play finally all done up like a tramp. It's a perverse story, always was, and I love that no one notices. Everyone knows the music, so they don't care that their 17 year old daughters look like tarts.
Almost all of this is completely innocuous and dull.
The full-length plays are a little more interesting. Mostly for one inclusion: The Laramie Project.
Now, almost all of this is about what you'd expect. It's nice that high school's are producing A Midsummer Night's Dream endlessly. It's funny, and it's cute and it has a lot of good parts for young people. It is also, when done with a lot of eyebrow raising and broad strokes and fanciful dancing, incredibly cloying. Also, how many of us have sat through and endless, overdone production of the Crucible at a high school, watching the young women twirl around and look possessed and take endless, meaningful pauses while a kid who looks like he just started shaving tries to imitate Proctor's overbearing sorrow? It's the high school production equivalent of having to sit through a chorus wailing its way through Shenandoah.
Nice to see that nothing that's very interesting (Lost in Yonkers) by Neil Simon is being produced, and that plays like Arsenic and Old Lace (which I did in high school) and You Can't Take It With You (which I did in college) will never be put in the grave. Probably because you can rent the videos and perform the parts in time with the plays.
But the inclusion of the Laramie Project is fantastic. Because it's like Spoon River Anthology for progressives, and endlessly brutal and shames the hell out of anyone who is a homophobe or bigot. Now that's good for kids.
Cyncially, I'm amazed to see it being produced more than Harvey. Of course, Harvey does require some special effects. It didn't even make the list. I'm shocked really.
The short plays are a list that says a lot about where we are in the theatre, I think, because three of the short plays are by Jonathan Rand. These plays were, according to this list, more often produced in 2004 than The Actor's Nightmare and I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Why, one might ask? I would venture (no disrespect to Mr. Rand, who is actually involved in publishing one of my own plays) that it's a victory of marketing. Rand is the co-founder and operator of Playscripts.com, which he uses to promote and publish his own work and has been doing so for several years. It may well be that it's simply become incredibly easy for high schools to get their hands on his plays, which are written precisely for being picked up on that circuit. It's a harbinger of how much the internet will be affecting what is produced and how often. Accessiblity in new mediums is key.
Anyway, those are my first impressions. Love to hear what you think of this list, if anything, or of my thoughts.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.