Ten of the Best One-Act Plays to Perform with High School Students
Written by Ryan Howland
July 9, 2019
Another year is over, and as a hard-working theatre teacher, you have definitely earned your summer break. It is also that time of year to start choosing your season for the coming school year if you haven’t already. For many high school teachers, it is time to start thinking of what one-act play you and your students will prepare for your next festival. Here is a list of ten of the best one-act plays perfect for your theatre troupe’s next festival season!
1. The American Crisis (v. 2.0) for the times that try our souls by Ned Lauver
45-60 minutes; 5 females, 5 males, 3 gender-neutral (10-13 actors total)
This fun farcical play is a political satire wrapped in a romance. We are presented with two families who have an absolute hatred for each other, even though their “American” ideals are eerily similar. Their lives are flipped upside down when their children fall in love, forcing these families to find some common ground.
2. Exposure by Vishesh Abeyratne
30-45 minutes; 3 females, 4 males
A commentary on internet culture and social media cyberbullying, this play is set in the separate rooms of seven different teenagers, with most of the dialogue taking place in cyberspace. A video of a young girl drunk at a house party is posted online, and she will do anything to get it taken down. This play has many opportunities for excellent scene work and can provide exceptional technical design opportunities for students.
3. Lockdown by Douglas Craven
20-35 minutes; 4 females, 4 males, 1 gender-neutral (9-11 actors total)
Eight students are hidden away in a dark classroom under an official lockdown, with no idea what is happening on the outside. An unfortunate story of our times, Lockdown provides many dramatic moments for your students.
4. Antigone Now by Melissa Cooper
50-60 minutes; 3 females, 1 male, Chorus (4-11ish actors total)
A response to the original Greek text, this play sets us in a bombed-out city after a Great War, where young Antigone defies her King uncle to bury her dead brother who the King has decreed to be condemned. The ancient story is told in modern prose and made even more relatable to students of the classics.
5. She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen
Full Length (can be cut down for a one-Act festival); 6 females, 3 males
A full-length play on its own, She Kills Monsters can be easily cut down for a one-act performance. Agnes Evans must navigate the world of Dungeons and Dragons to learn more about her deceased younger sister’s final days. This play is very fun for anyone who has ever participated in RPGs, and provides excellent opportunities for young LGBTQ actors as well.
6. The Insanity of Mary Girard by Lanie Robertson
45-50 minutes; 4 females, 3 males, and Chorus.
A period piece set in 1790, this play follows the story of Mary Girard, whose husband declares her legally insane after she is found to be pregnant with another man’s child. Throughout the play, she is tortured by the “furies” of her own mind, which show her glimpses from her past, telling the story of her oppression.
7. Black Comedy by Peter Shaffer
60-75 minutes; 3 females, 5 males.
Young and broke artist Brindsley Miller decorates his apartment with “borrowed” furniture and sculptures from his next-door neighbor’s apartment to impress his fiancé’s father and a wealthy art collector. All hell breaks loose when the circuit breaks and the apartment is plunged into darkness. This play is written with a reversed lighting scheme where dark is light and light is dark, and full of physical comedy.
8. Paper or Plastic by Werner Trieschmann
30-40 minutes; 6 females , 6 males, 3 gender-neutral
This play follows Sarah as she tries to navigate the ins and outs of her first job as a cashier at her local grocery store. Turns out the job isn’t as easy as it looks. This play gives a lot of opportunities for young actors to explore larger-than-life characters.
9. Poof! by Lynn Nottage
15-20 minutes; 2 females, 1 male
This quaint little play for three actors is perfect for a small Drama program or to work on in class. In the middle of an argument, Loureen’s abusive husband spontaneously combusts into a pile of ash. What happens next is up to her.
10. Try on any Shakespeare for size!
30 minutes, Mutiple Roles
It may not be the obvious choice, but a Shakespeare piece could be the perfect show to bring to festival. Because Shakespeare’s plays are in public domain, it is very easy to cut them down for one-act requirements. Another resource is the 30 Minute Shakespeare Anthology by Nick Newlin, which includes a 30-minute cutting of most of Shakespeare’s works while staying very true to the story and language.
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Ryan is an actor, director, and theatre teaching artist originally hailing from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. He holds a BA in Theatre from the University of Vermont and an MA in Theatre Education from Emerson College. Ryan just finished his fourth year teaching Drama at Kinsella Magnet High School of Performing Arts in Hartford. ryanhowland.weebly.com