Skip to main content
University of Texas at Austin
University Interscholastic League Logo
University Interscholastic League Logo

Theatre in High School Education


The University Interscholastic League affirms that theatre contributes to the total development of the adolescent and is essential to the basic education of all high school students. Young persons at this level of intellectual and social development are changing from the self-centered focus of childhood to the socially conscious focus of adulthood. They are learning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of society and to apply that knowledge to their own lives. Thus, a major goal of the high school is to provide learning experiences which will encourage and help adolescents during this period of change. Theatre contributes significantly to that goal.


In many instances the terms theatre and drama are used interchangeably at the high school level. For purposes of uniformity, this policy uses the term theatre throughout. Play production refers to the development, rehearsal and performance of plays for an audience. High school refers to grades 9–12.

Theatre in the High School

Theatre in the high school is both an academic discipline and a performing art. A study of theatre motivates students to study and develop ideas, insights and values. The primary component of theatre– dialogue– provides a uniquely effective method for studying the communicative functions of human language.

Theatre also provides a unique kind of learning through vicarious experience known as empathy. Empathy is one of the most effective modes of learning through discovery because it involves students in an exploration of the thoughts and feelings of other people.
Opportunities to participate in both improvisational and formal theatre offer students diverse opportunities for self-expression. These creative experiences must be provided so that high school students will develop the ability to communicate through the art form. Communication raises self-expression in theatre to the level of an art.


In order to fulfill the requirements of an academic discipline and a performing art, every high school theatre program should enable students to apply to their own lives the ideas, insights and values gained through interaction with theatre as an art. It should offer student audiences opportunities to experience artistic, high-quality productions of significant plays. It should provide students with opportunities to practice the skills learned, both in the theatre arts classroom and in public performance. It should give students who have either an avocational or prevocational interest in theatre quality training in all aspects of the art.


Well-planned theatre curricula must present the study of theatre as an aesthetic experience which reflects the cultural diversity of our pluralistic society. The high school theatre classroom should be a laboratory in which students may safely explore, experiment and take risks. Course content should introduce or continue to build skills in physical, vocal, emotional and interpretative training; theatre history and dramatic literature for analysis of structure, style and theme; an understanding of the impact of language, mood, rhythm, light, color and sound upon an audience; the conventions of theatre as an art form, including the elements of technical theatre; and the art of criticism.
Play production serves as a co-curricular laboratory for the exploration, development and synthesis of all the elements of theatre. Production activities supplement theatre classes that concentrate on theories, information and techniques, by providing for the integration and implementation of those ideas and skills. Participating students should receive academic credit for the organized hours they spend during and/or after school preparing a play for production.

The richness and complexity of the curricular offerings should provide for the diverse needs of students enrolling in the courses. Special efforts should be made to enrich and broaden the experiences of those individuals identified as talented in any aspect of the theatre, whether they are scheduled into a regular class, into a special class or into an alternative school for the arts. Opportunities to explore professional and alternative career paths should also be made available.

Learning and Performance Spaces

Production facilities and equipment are essential to a highly successful high school theatre curricular and performance program. Two physical facilities are needed: a laboratory space for theatre class activities which may include studio performances, and a performing space (theatre or auditorium) with adequate theatrical equipment for staging public productions. Both spaces should be flexible in order to provide opportunities for a variety of learning experiences and styles of productions. Both of these facilities should include theatrical equipment which meet existing physical, safety and equipment standards. Finally, students should have access to a library of playscripts, books on all phases of the theatre arts and the various types of media such as records, audio-video cassettes and films.

Play Selection and Production

The value and success of the high school theatre program rely heavily upon the quality of plays selected for production. The limited number of productions available to students, both as participants and auditors, makes it important that selected plays have educational as well as entertainment value: they should expand the aesthetic experience. From the wealth of dramatic literature, plays should be selected which provide insights into human behavior and values, which reveal universalities of human experience, and which develop understanding of cultural, racial and national commonalities and differences.

The successful artistic production of the selected play requires ensemble work on the part of both actors and crews. Producing a play places specific real-life and artistic demands upon young people: working with scripted materials, including memorization and character analysis; facing the challenge of auditions; acquiring the discipline demanded by rehearsal and production schedules; utilizing stagecraft skills to realize technical designs; collaborating with other artists; and cooperating with individuals and groups in both school and community. It is especially important that the teacher who directs high school plays is theatre trained and that the students who have been selected to appear in public performances have sufficient training to give believable, sensitive performances.

Although not every high school student may take part in productions, all students should actively participate as perceptive members of the audience. Play study guides or other learning activities should be developed and used to prepare these students for each theatre experience. Opportunities for post-performance analysis, criticism and evaluation also should be provided.

Teacher Preparation

The quality of theatre education in high schools is directly dependent upon the quality of teacher training offered in higher education today. Institutions of higher learning, therefore, must take the responsibility for achieving this quality and for conducting research essential for continuing improvement of the field.

The Texas Education Agency and local school boards must also assume responsibility for setting standards by which competent teachers are selected to direct curricular and co-curricular theatre programs.