Musicals and Plays

35 Best Plays for High School

high school students performing a play

When you’re in charge of choosing plays for high school, you’ll soon find that the process is more complicated than it seems. You want to find a play that encourages students to come out for auditions — but also, you’ll need to pick a show that satisfies the administration and local parents.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to put on Our Town for the third time! Whether you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud farce or a heartbreaking play that deals with social issues, our list of plays for high school has you covered.

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If you’re considering a musical, check out our picks for the 37 Best Musicals for High School.

Top image courtesy of ctgreybeard under CC BY-SA 2.0

Modern Plays for High School

If your high school students are tuned in to the world of theater, chances are they’ll be begging you to do a modern play. While many recent Broadway hits aren’t yet available for licensing, these contemporary shows are a good place to start.

1. Middletown

Playwright Will Eno’s 2010 Middletown is something of a modern take on Our Town — both plays explore the depths of seemingly mundane small-town life. Middletown, however, combines the banal with the cosmic in a charmingly casual way. The dialogue is infused with a sharp, observational wit and a sense of morbid existentialism. It’s a curious combination, one that will delight and challenge even your most intellectual high-school actors. For kids who are accustomed to playing larger-than-life characters, the average people that populate this play are a great exercise in finding the exceptional in the ordinary.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals.

2. Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher was a runaway hit, moving from a Tony-winning 2012 Broadway smash to regional theater festivals around the country. You’ll need actors with an eye for physical comedy — if they can nail it, your audience will be screaming with laughter. The story is a cheeky take on the origins of Peter Pan, this time with a precocious female protagonist. Each actor plays many different characters, giving your students a big, exciting challenge. Check out the handy MTI production handbook for acting exercises, helpful casting tips, and photos of the production.

Licensing: Music Theatre International

3. She Kills Monsters

Variety is the key to any great high-school theater program — if you’re looking for something new and different, She Kills Monsters might be the perfect play. It tackles sensitive subjects that resonate with teen actors, including death, fitting in, grief, and sexuality. The difference? The show takes place in reality and in the world of Dungeons & Dragons. The characters are fun to play, and costuming is a blast. For high school, the Young Adventurers version is most appropriate.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

4. Puffs, Or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic 

Harry Potter fans, take notice — Puffs tells the story of the events at Hogwarts from other students’ points of view. The script is hilarious; your audience will appreciate it, even if they’ve never read one of J.K. Rowling’s books. Thanks to the relatable subject matter, this 2015 play is also a great way to bring in new audiences. (Watch the full play here.) For high school, the “Young Wizards” versions are the most appropriate. You can license either a one-act or two-act version.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals (one-act or two-act)

5. Almost, Maine

Written in 2004 by John Cariani, Almost, Maine instantly became one of the most popular plays for high school. The show is actually nine different short love-themed plays, each focusing on different characters who live in a tiny town in Maine. It sounds simple, but this charming and often-funny show is packed with surprises, happy endings, and just a hint of magical realism.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service

6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

If you were paying attention to Broadway or the West End from 2012-2015, you almost definitely remember The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. It walked away with a slew of awards, including the Olivier for Best New Play in 2013 and the Tony for Best Play in 2015. Based on a book of the same name, the play tells the harrowing tale of a boy on the autism spectrum and his quest to solve a thrilling mystery. It’s an exceptional opportunity to bring diverse characters to your high school theater program.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service.

7. Radium Girls

Radium Girls came out in 2000, but it’s set in the 1920s. This play tells the story of the eponymous radium girls, who painted glow-in-the-dark numbers on watch faces using radium paint. Between digits, they’d put the paintbrushes in their mouths to maintain the sharp point. You can probably guess what happened next; the women begin to fall horribly ill. The play chronicles the life of Grace Fryer, one of the women, as she fights to bring the company to justice. Choose from a one-act competition play or a full-length two-act show. Both options offer meaty, dramatic roles for a medium or large cast.

Licensing: Dramatic Publishing (one-act or two-act)

Classic Plays for High School

Image courtesy of SarahSierszyn under CC BY 2.0 (cropped, edited)

Some plays are high-school classics (see: Our Town) — and for good reason! The writing is great, the message is strong, and there are plenty of parts to go around. Whether you’re starting a new theater program or you’re looking for a play that’s almost certain to get approved by the administration, start with these great options.

8. Our Town

Our Town has been one of the most popular plays for high school since it was published in 1938. Written by Thornton Wilder, this three-act play follows the lives of the people in the small town of Grover’s Corners from childhood to beyond the grave. Many high-school English classes read the play, so you might be able to work with teachers to develop extra credit or Q&A sessions.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

9. Twelve Angry Men (Twelve Angry Jurors, Twelve Angry Women)

Teach students about the judicial process and offer opportunities for serious acting with Twelve Angry Men. Curiously, this play was adapted from the movie of the same name.  Don’t let the name deter you — it’s also available as Twelve Angry Jurors for a mixed cast and Twelve Angry Women for an all-female cast.

Licensing: Dramatic Publishing.

10. Pygmalion

Written by Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion is the play that inspired the musical My Fair Lady. The characters and plot are the same; professor Henry Higgins tries to transform a poor flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, into a lady, and chaos ensues. The play is just as charming as the musical, and progressive actors will appreciate its feminist undertones and judgement of classist societies.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals.

11. The Crucible

The Crucible is another traditional play for high school theater departments. Based on the Salem Witch Trials, this harrowing tale by Arthur Miller is fine fodder for young dramatic actors. This is another play that’s loved by English and history teachers, since it deals with actual events in United States history.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service

12. The Importance of Being Earnest

Pays for high school often spend a lot of time moralizing — The Importance of Being Earnest does, too, but with a lighter touch. This lovely, lively Oscar Wilde play is set in Victorian England; it brings that society’s societal norms to life. While the musings on marriage might be beyond your students, the issue of morality is timeless. This is also a great option if you’re on a budget; The Importance of Being Earnest is in the public domain, so you don’t need to worry about licensing fees.

13. Clue 

Like Twelve Angry Men, Clue is a play that’s based on a movie. Featuring a cast of delightfully distinctive characters, this murder mystery is packed with comedy and mayhem. It also has a soundtrack, which adds to the fun. You can watch a full-length high school production here.

Licensing: Broadway Licensing.

14. Night of January 16th

The Night of January 16th tells the story of a murder trial. The twist? You get to select the jury from the audience — they decide whether the defendant is guilty or not, which changes the end of the play. The element of surprise keeps your cast on their toes and breathes energy into the audience. The script, which was written by Ayn Rand, takes place entirely in the courtroom. (One set, no scene changes!) The cast involves lots of different witnesses, but the meatiest roles are the two lawyers; they’re onstage the entire time.

15. Steel Magnolias

Playwright Robert Harling wrote Steel Magnolias as a tribute to his sister Susan, who — just like the character Shelby — died from complications of diabetes after having a child. Set in a beauty parlor in Louisiana, this play offers a glimpse at the lives of Southern women in the 1980s. The poignant and funny script explores themes including sisterhood, death, and living life to the fullest; it’s packed with material for young actors. Add in the chance to try southern accents and 80s hair and makeup, and there’s something for everyone.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service.

16. Alice in Wonderland

You know the story of Alice in Wonderland — but more importantly, so do your students and audience members. Why is that important? It means that you’ll get a big turnout for auditions and lots of ticket sales. This classic play boasts memorable character, fantastic costumes, and some of the most recognizable lines in all of the theater.

Licensing: Dramatic Publishing.

Low-Budget High School Plays

Image courtesy of capa photos under CC BY 2.0

Is your high school theater department short on funds? No problem! There are plenty of low-budget and no-budget high school plays. The trick is to choose plays in the public domain — you don’t have to pay licensing fees, and you can usually find and download the scripts online for free. (The school library may also have a copy that you can photocopy.) A super-simple set, some fun lighting, and you’re ready to go.

17. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

All of Shakespeare’s plays are in the public domain, making them a popular choice for low-budget productions. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the best Shakespeare plays for high school. It’s fun, hilarious, and it has a huge cast. The costumes will be the biggest draw on your budget — you’ll need a donkey head for Bottom and something to differentiate the fairies — but since the play takes place in a forest, the sets are a breeze.

18. Tartuffe

Chances are, your high school students have never read Tartuffe. Written by Molière in 1664, this play revolves around the title character, a con man who uses his false piety to prey on a wealthy young woman. This classic comedy has a sharp, observant script that is still surprisingly relevant. Interestingly, the play was banned soon after its premiere by the Catholic church, which felt threatened by the criticism of so-called “holy” men who did more harm than good. Tartuffe is in the public domain, so it’s a great low-budget high school play that can provoke excellent discussions about censorship, free speech, and false morality.

19. Romeo and Juliet

When you need a high school play that will bring lots of students to auditions, it’s hard to beat Romeo and Juliet. It has star-crossed lovers, stage combat, and some of the most famous lines in history; kids will be lining up to audition! Since the story is timeless, you can easily choose a time period that works with existing costumes and sets. Make it modern-day, and your actors can even wear their own clothing.

20. A Christmas Carol 

Looking for a Christmas play? A Christmas Carol is a low-cost option. The works of Charles Dickens are all in the public domain. Plus, who wouldn’t love the chance to play Tiny Tim or one of the Christmas ghosts? This one is fun for students and audiences.

Comedy Plays for High School

high school actors in a comedy play
Image courtesy of Nic McPhee under CC BY-SA 2.0

When you’re choosing plays for high school students to do, you can never go wrong with comedy. There’s nothing so exciting for young actors as audiences laughing out loud — plus, it’s a great opportunity for kids to work on timing and characterization. These funny plays are perfect for high school.

21. Noises Off

If your high school actors are ready to explore comedy — and your parents/administration are cool with innuendo — Noises Off is a delightful play. It’s a fun romp of a show that requires impeccable timing and some seriously delightful prop and set work. Make sure you have the budget for the set, as it plays a big part in the play.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals.

22. Love of a Pig

Show off your best female actor with Love of a Pig, a classic story of a woman who’s unlucky in love. If you’re looking to get away from typical high-school plays, it’s a fantastic option. Written by Leslie Caveny, a writer on the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond, the script has a sharp, modern wit and sensibility. Set and costume requirements are minimal, and the lines are laugh-out-loud funny. Keep in mind that this show is best for older audiences (teen and older).

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

23. The Plot, Like Gravy, Thickens

With this play, it’s all right there in the name — The Plot, Like Gravy, Thickens is absurd and funny. It’s a murder mystery that doesn’t take itself too seriously. You’ll need a strong actor to play Walter, the playwright/narrator who speaks directly to the audience. After he breaks the first wall, he appears in the play as one of the characters. It’s a fun, unexpected framing device that keeps the audience on their toes.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

24. Charley’s Aunt

Charley’s Aunt was written in the late 1800s, but the hilarious script holds up beautifully. It’s a charming farce packed with mistaken identity and physical comedy. Staging is crucial to the comedy; your actors will have a blast figuring out the precise comic timing.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

25. Blithe Spirit

Have you ever seen the movie Death Becomes Her? It’s based on the play Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward. The hilarious script revolves around two ghosts as they haunt their shared ex-husband. Naturally, chaos ensues. With its wonderful costumes and sharp Coward dialogue, this show is fun and snappy.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals.

26. Run for Your Wife

If you’re looking for a play that will make audiences scream with laughter, check out the comedy hit Run for Your Wife. For this show, it’s all in the premise: the story centers on John Smith, a British taxi driver who has two different wives in two different towns. The cast is just eight people, so it’s an easy play to do in a small space. Make sure to read the script first — there are some adult themes and off-color references that you might need to adjust to make it appropriate for high schools.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

27. The Man Who Came to Dinner

Imagine a guest who comes for dinner — and then never leaves. That’s the premise of The Man Who Came to Dinner, and it’s exactly as ridiculous as you might think. After a dinner guest breaks his hip on his way out of the Stanleys’ home, he stays to recover. Chaos ensues, and the Stanley home is soon overrun by bizarre visitors, unwanted gifts, and outlandish situations. Read the script, and you’ll understand immediately why this is one of the most popular comedy plays for high school.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service

28. Lend Me a Tenor

Get ready for some serious physical comedy with Lend Me a Tenor. When a famous opera singer is accidentally tranquilized, a theater manager dons the costume and takes his place onstage. It’s a case of mistaken identity and true screwball humor; strike the right note (get it?), and your audiences will be rolling in the aisles. This is one of the most popular high school plays for competitions; the madcap plot requires young actors to commit fully to their roles.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

29. Arsenic and Old Lace

Murderous elderly aunts, a brother who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and identity-concealing plastic surgery — this is just the start of the fun in Arsenic and Old Lace. This classic farce is laugh-out-loud funny; plus, it has old-school name recognition, to boot.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service.

30. You Can’t Take It with You

Wacky and packed with eccentric characters, You Can’t Take It with You tells a charmingly hilarious story of family, wealth, and living life to the fullest. There’s a reason this is a go-to play for high school and community theater!

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service.

31. The Odd Couple

The Odd Couple is a traditional comedy play about two mismatched roommates. Funny and appropriate for all ages, it’s a surefire hit. You can also get a female version and a modernized version called Oscar and Felix.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

Dramatic Plays for High School

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Are there any actors who take more pleasure in drama than teenagers? Harness those big emotions — and deliver some serious acting lessons — with one of these dramatic plays for high school. Whether you go with crushing tragedies or suspenseful thrillers, your students will benefit from the exploration of human emotion and behavior.

32. The Women of Lockerbie

Fair warning: The Women of Lockerbie is a heartbreaking play. The drama comes not from the premise — though it doesn’t get more dramatic than a gruesome plane crash — but from the emotional trauma it wreaks on the living. The gripping story and the palpable grief make this one of the most challenging and rewarding plays for high school. (Start prepping those Scottish accents now!)

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service

33. The Laramie Project

If your high school drama program is ready to wade into social justice issues, The Laramie Project is a poignant place to start. Based on real-life interviews conducted in the wake of the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was tortured and beaten in Laramie, Wyoming, the script is a crushing meditation on hate, love, tolerance, and humanity.

Licensing: Dramatists Play Service

34. The House of Bernarda Alba

Looking for something new and exciting for your high school thespians? We’re willing to bet none of them have read or performed The House of Bernarda Alba. The English-language play is translated from Federico García Lorca’s gripping Spanish tragedy. This play has an all-female cast.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

35. And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None is an Agatha Christie murder mystery with a controversial past — fortunately, the issue was largely with the name, not the story. As the play begins, an array of guests arrives at a mansion on a remote island. The thrilling, suspenseful plot turns dark quickly, and guests begin dying in a manner predicted by an old nursery rhyme.

Licensing: Concord Theatricals

Did we miss anything? Email us with your favorite plays for high school, and we’ll add them to the list!