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The Most Performed Plays in America

Proof has been produced more than any other play in the last decade
Proof has been produced more than any other play in the last decade

Every year American Theatre compiles a list of the plays produced most often around the country by companies that are members of the Theatre Communications Group. Most of them are no surprise and many received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The list for the 2009 – 2010 season does not include Shakespeare plays or holiday plays.

The 2009 – 2010 season, including playwright and number of productions.

boom (9)
by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb

The Seafarer (8)
by Conor McPherson

Speech & Debate (8)
by Stephen Karam

Dead Man’s Cell Phone (8)
by Sarah Ruhl

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (7)
by Rachel Sheinkin (book) and William Finn (music and lyrics)

Around the World in 80 Days (7)
adapted by Mark Brown from Jules Verne

The Glass Menagerie (7)
by Tennessee Williams

Opus (7)
by Michael Hollinger

Our Town (6)
by Thornton Wilder

Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (6)
by Donald Margulies

Souvenir (6)
by Stephen Temperley

Yankee Tavern (6)
by Steven Dietz

Black Pearl Sings! (6)
by Frank Higgins

Boeing-Boeing (6)
translated by Beverly Cross from Marc Camoletti (6)

What comes as a the biggest surprise is what is not on the list. Over on the Wall Street Journal website, Mr. Teachout put together a meta-list of most produced plays for the last decade. 11 plays are on his list. The top 5:

1. “Proof,” by David Auburn (54 productions).

2. “Doubt,” by John Patrick Shanley (48 productions).

3. “Art,” by Yasmina Reza (45 productions).

4. “The Drawer Boy,” by Michael Healey (36 productions).

5. “Rabbit Hole,” by David Lindsay-Abaire (33 productions).

There are interesting and important observations to be made from this list, including the fact that “American theatergoers are not know-nothing neanderthals but intelligent people who are prepared to spend time and money grappling with straight plays that are artful, thoughtful and well written.”

What surprised Mr. Teachout the most was the lack of classics on every list.

“It suggests to me that American theaters have a pronounced bias in favor of new and newish plays by American authors, especially ones that have high public profiles. (Six of the top 11 plays of the past decade have been produced on Broadway, while five of them won Pulitzer Prizes.) Up to a point, that’s good news. New playwrights deserve a chance, and it looks like most of our drama companies are giving it to at least some of them. But it also appears that far too many of those same companies may be steering clear of the classical revivals that are no less central to the continuing health of a theatrical culture—and that is very bad news indeed.”

While TCG membership includes 500 theaters in 47 states, that still isn’t all of the theaters in the country, particularly very small, regional groups, so all hope is not lost. Classic plays will always be produced, and playwrights like Anton Chekhov, Arthur Miller, Eugene O’Neill and George Bernard Shaw will live on.

And as for Shakespeare, the bard’s plays are eternal. Shakespeare festivals are held all over the country. New generations are introduced to Shakespeare every year in high school. Of the Top 8 Works of Shakespeare for High School Classes, as listed on, the top four are certainly plays everyone knows, or should know.

Romeo & Juliet
Julius Caesar