The Most Produced Plays in America…sort of.
September 28, 2014 § Leave a Comment
Theatre Communications Group Has a List!
Every season, Theatre Communications Group (TCG) – the organization of America’s not-for-profit theatres – puts out a list of the 10 most produced plays by its nearly 500 members. (Because they recognize ties, this year it is actually a top 11…) Although it covers only a segment of the American Theatre scene, (because it does not include for-profit, academic, or amateur theatres) its annual list is a quick way to get the pulse of what plays and playwrights are currently hot.
That is a very useful list for performers thinking about where to put their time and energy familiarizing themselves with scripts, with names to watch, and with sources for audition material. Because I know it gets used that way, every season I also put out my own annual rant reminding students and actors of a surprising omission.
And the winner is…
In this year’s list, published just last week, the top spot goes to Christopher Durang’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike which has a whopping 27 productions scheduled across the nation this year. There is no sense in which it can said the American theatre marches in lockstep, however. A measly ten productions earn the second spot for Outside Mullingar by John Patrick Shanley, and it only takes six productions to earn a place in the top 10, …er 11.
For the last season for which complete records are available (2013-14), 23 productions were enough to earn the top spot for David Ive’s Venus in Fur, which managed to hang on this year to a six-production tie for tenth place. Two other titles on the current list were also represented last year, but there is rather fast turnover from year-to-year. (The top production on the list a decade ago, for example, was The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, which is scheduled for how many productions this year? Oooow, zero.)
The Problem with the List
The list is a little misleading, however, because TCG makes two exclusions to their counts: They do not include holiday shows, like the ubiquitous Christmas Carol and the current small budget alternative, The Santaland Diaries, the first of which would be the perennial winner of the top spot.
More surprisingly, they do not list plays by Shakespeare. Yet every year Shakespeare plays would rank quite high on the list if they did. In the current season, according to a title search using TCG’s data, 11 productions A Midsummer Night’s Dream would actually earn second place on this list if it were recognized.
Ten Tempests would make it third on the list, in a tie with Shanley’s play. Nine Hamlets would garner it fourth place. King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth would make the cut, tying with three other titles that have six productions each scheduled. Both As You Like It and Comedy of Errors are just one production shy of also making the list. That is eight Shakespearean titles in a top 11 list (with ties), while no other playwright is represented even twice.
All told, according to a quick search of the TCG website, Shakespeare has a total of 108 productions and/or adaptations in the 2014-15 season – actually a surprisingly low number – but still far above the second place finisher (Dickens at 46) and the top living playwright (Durang at 28). The year before (when the 450th anniversary of his birth fell) he received 127. The year before that, he received 153. The year before that 148.
My purpose is not to quarrel with TCG’s exclusions. They are open about their methodology, and their support of new American work. As they tactfully put it in a footnote, there are only so many ways to say that A LOT of companies do a version of A Christmas Carol each year – although almost every one of those is the work of a different adapter. There is also no comfortable way to note, year after year, that if they included Shakespeare’s plays he would dominate the list and push some living, struggling playwrights entirely off.
America’s Most Produced Playwright
When students ask me, however, about where to spend their time and energy, I am always quick to remind them the most produced playwright in America – who, by the way, has occupied this position for every single year of the last hundred years – is William Shakespeare. If I were going to study just one play in depth, I think I’d pick the most produced play in America over the last decade which is…A Midsummer Night’s Dream.