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High school theater attendance is up — as are concerns about censorship, survey finds


The most performed musical at high schools this past year was...


KELLY: ..."The Addams Family." That's according to the annual play survey released today by the Educational Theatre Association, as NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: There is some good news and some stress among high school theater teachers. First, theater programs are rebounding from the pandemic. On average, attendance is up 13% from last year.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT ACTOR #1: (As Damian Leigh) Good morning. Welcome to high school.

BLAIR: "Mean Girls" is in this year's top 10. This is from J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT ACTOR #1: (As Damian Leigh, singing) They call those three the plastics. They're shiny, fake and hard.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT ACTOR #2: (As Janis Ian, singing) They play their little mind games all around the schoolyard.

BLAIR: More than 2,300 teachers responded to the play survey. It's a glimpse into what's popular and the educational climate. At a time of book banning and plays being challenged, 85% said they are at least somewhat concerned about censorship. Sixty-seven percent said those concerns are influencing their selections for next year.

JENNIFER KATONA: So these are teachers who are really in self-preservation mode.

BLAIR: Jennifer Katona is the Educational Theatre Association's executive director.

KATONA: Teachers know that they need to be smart about what they're putting on their stages so that they can keep the spaces for their students.

DANNY ISSA: Just a single complaint from a parent can have a show pulled.

BLAIR: Danny Issa is the theater teacher at Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, Va. Despite his concerns about censorship, he and a lot of other schools put on "Almost, Maine," a play about relationships that includes two gay characters.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT ACTOR #3: (As Chad) Because there is one thing in this world that does make me feel good or make sense to me, and it's you, Randy.


BLAIR: Issa says the first time he directed "Almost, Maine," he asked his predecessor about the potential backlash.

ISSA: And he said, you know, I'm not going to censor anything we put on the stage. Like, these are real issues that our students are going through, that people are going through, that our community is going through. And I know that here at this school district, the administration is going to have our back no matter what. And I felt so empowered by his message of not backing down from potential controversy because it's what our students are going through.

BLAIR: Issa says so many people showed up for closing night, they had to open up the balcony. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.