by: J. P. Crabbe
The following article was originally posted on on April 18, 2009.

High school drama instructors are a competitive bunch, constantly looking to get a leg up on the competition. As a result, I'm asked almost constantly to recommend great one-act plays for high school production. There is, of course, a list of easy answers--those plays you see at almost every one-act play competition:

  • The Actors Nightmare, by Christopher Durang
  • 27 Wagons Full of Cotton, by Tennessee Williams
  • The Bald Soprano, by Eugene Ionesco
  • Riders to the Sea, by John Millington Synge
  • Am I Blue, by Beth Henley
  • Trifles, by Susan Glaspell
  • The Sandbox, by Edward Albee
  • One-act versions of A Doll's House, The Crucible, Inherit the Wind, Hamlet, or Macbeth

These are all fine plays, no doubt, and worthy of the many productions they continue to inspire. But if you're looking for something a little less common, a hidden gem that your audience (or your judges) may not have seen before, I have a few suggestions.

The Worker, by Walter Wykes, explores the life of a young woman who fashions a fake child to help her cope with the loneliness she endures each day while her husband is at work. When the husband learns of this creation, he is furious, and perhaps with good reason, as the child's existence may put him in grave danger. A very funny play, it is also poignant in its examination of the sometimes lonely existence of a housewife. The Worker can be purchased in One Act Plays from the Edge. Cast size: 2 m., 1 f.

The Sequel, by Percival Wilde, begins where most romantic comedies leave off, with the hero and heroine locked in a romantic embrace. The playwright takes a comedic look at the stereotypical happy ending, and asks the question: What comes next? What happens after? As the two lovers try to hold on to their happy ending, reality begins to set in, with decidedly comic results. There is a potentially scene-stealing scene at the end of the play for the actor who plays the hero's father. The Sequel can be purchased in Royalty-Free One-Act Plays. Cast size: 4 m., 1 f.

While the Auto Waits, a short one-act adapted from the classic short story by O. Henry, dramatizes the curious meeting of two strangers in a park. The girl seems to be a wealthy aristocrat, while the young man is what she would refer to as a "commoner." In spite of their apparent differences, they hit it off well enough, and may even be falling for one another. But all is not what it seems in this hilarious comedy. While the Auto Waits can be purchased in Ten 10-Minute Plays: Volume II. Cast size: 2 m., 2 f.

If you're looking for something a little more serious, The Raft of the Medusa, by Georg Kaiser, tells the story of a ship carrying children from the bombed cities of England to Canada that was torpedoed on the high seas in September, 1940. Only a very few of the children were able to escape in the lifeboats. The play describes what happened in one of these lifeboats during the seven days it drifted: how eleven of the thirteen in the boat were eventually saved and how the rescue plane came too late for the other two. The Raft of the Medusa can be purchased in Postwar German Theatre . Cast size: 8 m., 6 f.

These are just a few of the hidden gems out there, one-act plays that will allow you to surprise your audience with something they've never seen before, something fresh and exciting. But don't stop here. You can find more exciting scripts on the Web, many by emerging playwrights. One good source is which allows you to browse full scripts online and provides contact information to obtain production rights directly from the playwrights.

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