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New Audience Data Revealed in EdTA Annual High School Play Survey

2016-17 Play Survey infographic

Friday night lights are for more than football

From the 50-yard line to front-row center, high schools are a central aspect of community life. While the identity with sports may not be surprising, the realization about school theatre may be.

Thanks to an expansion of the 79-year-old annual play survey, EdTA has data on not only which plays were produced in America’s high schools but also for the first time on how many people came to see them. And that number is nearly 50 million.

Over 3,000 schools responded to the survey and reported putting on an average of 10 performances each last year, with a total average audience of 1,889. Extrapolating the averages to all schools with a theatre program yields a potential audience of 49.4 million for high school theatre across America. For comparison’s sake, Broadway touring companies reach 13.9 million.

And what did they go to see?  The Addams FamilyAlmost, Maine; and Check Please landed at the top of the lists for musicals, full-length plays, and short plays, respectively. The Wizard of Oz was new to the top 10 in musicals. Also included in the top 10 list for full-length plays are Peter and the Starcatcher, A Christmas Carol, and Macbeth. Survey respondents logged a total of nearly 5,000 different titles, including student-written works.

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

According to data compiled by Americans for the Arts, the price of a ticket is only one component of the economic impact that the arts have on a community. People get dressed, drive over, eat out, all as part of the experience.

 “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 Julie Cohen Theobald, executive director. “Now, during National Arts in Education Week, we are showcasing the positive impact that school theatre has on communities.  Just imagine the impact of 50 million people going to their local high school for enjoyment and enrichment, as well as to support the students.”            

Overview comparing 2016-17 to 2015-16

  • The most-produced play in each category remained the same.
  • Among musicals, 9 of 10 remained the same; The Wizard of Oz replaced Mary Poppins.
  • Among full-length plays, 4 titles are new to the top 10 list this year.

Play Survey infographic showing the top plays in 2016-17


  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)

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