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General Information
Texas’ U.I.L One-Act Play Contest

For the uninitiated, here are the basics of Texas’ public high school one-act play contests, as administered by the University Interscholastic League. According to the U.I.L.’s website, “The League’s One-Act Play Contest, founded in 1927, is the largest high school play production contest or play festival in the world. More than 14,000 Texas high school students in more than 1,000 plays participate in 300 plus contests, which take place from the beginning of March through the three-day, 40-production State Meet One-Act Play Contest in May.”

The U.I.L. was created by The University of Texas at Austin in 1910 and it exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic, and music contests. The U.I.L. has grown into the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world.

Here is how it works: Every public high school is categorized by size, (1A schools are the smallest and 5A schools are the largest, with student populations at or above 3,500 students, in grades 9-12). Then, schools in each classification are grouped into “districts” based on location. If you are teaching in a 3A school in Houston, for example, you will be placed in a “district” with other 3A schools in the Houston area. Districts usually contain 6 or 7 schools. Districts with 8 schools are broken into two “zones”. Each school prepares a 40-minute minute one-act play to be presented at the district or zone contest. To attempt to level the playing field, schools are limited to a simple unit set of gray cubes, columns, flats, ramps and stairs. The plays are performed back-to-back on the day of the contest, and a judge declares a winner and an alternate who then advances to the “area” contest. “Area” winners advance to the “Region” contest and “Region” winners advance to the “State Finals” where a state champion is crowned in each of the five size classifications.

What does this mean to the Playscripts author? Simply put, each year over 14,000 Texas high schools are looking for a 40-minute play to use in this competition. In my experience, the kinds of plays that are normally done at this contest include 40-minute cuttings of well-known and/or classic plays. A list of last year’s plays from the state contest can be found on the U.I.L. website. Once a play has appeared at the state contest, it becomes a popular choice for teachers the following year. So, if a school has success with your play, it could lead to dozens more production around the state. If you have a play that can be cut to 40 minutes, I recommend doing it yourself. Teachers can ask for permission to cut, but your play is much more marketable if it is already in a format that can be used in this contest. The contest rules are rigid, and any school that exceeds the 40-minute running time is disqualified. So, teachers are looking for plays that have an established production history in the 40-minute format. Also, the U.I.L. has a list of approved publishers, including Playscripts, and a list of pre-approved plays, but the U.I.L. must approve each script submitted. Teachers sometimes must cast their one-act play from a class whose roster is not flexible. So, a teacher may need a 40-minute show with three boys and fourteen girls, for example. If your play fits those requirements it immediately gets to the top of that teacher’s reading list. Playscripts’ powerful search tool allows teachers to search by cast size, so be sure your plays are listed in every possible casting scenario. If it is possible to do your play with fewer actors (by doubling roles) or with more (by un-doubling roles) be sure your description on the Playscripts website reflect this.

The U.I.L. one-act play contest offers a unique opportunity for a playwright to have his or her work showcased at one of the largest contests of its kind in the world.

James Venhaus

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