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More Conversation, Less Controversy: Plays for Teens and Their Communities

The ElectionIf you teach drama, you have a unique perspective on the issues teens face, and the opportunity to use theatre as a tool to talk about them. But when part of a school community, it isn’t always the easiest for everyone to agree on what level of content teenagers are ready to handle. It’s often a grey area when it comes to appropriate language and exploration of mature themes with any group. It’s the perennial struggle: How do you start tough conversations without swear words stealing the spotlight from the thematic content and relevance?

So what titles does one turn to in order to open a dialogue without opening a black hole of parents and community leaders on the phone with the principal? Here are some plays that engage with real issues affecting communities, written with teens and their school audiences in mind!

Politically speaking, what play could be more timely and hysterical than Don ZolidisThe Election? A great non-partisan satire observing the contemporary political climate, this play manages to find endless comedy in discussing discrimination against women in politics, celebrity influence in the age of social media, and even trustworthy news sources and alternative facts.

Delving deeper into the topics most relevant to teenagers today, The Jason Foundation reports that each day in our nation, there are an average of over 5,240 suicide attempts by young people in grades 7-12. Whether performed together or as standalone pieces, Jonathan Dorf‘s 4 A.M. and its follow-up The Magic Hour explore the racing thoughts of teenagers when they can’t seem to put their mind to rest and sleep. Both plays boast an exceptional understanding of troubled teens and allow for a large, flexible cast to talk about mental health after the sun rises again.

Tyler Dwiggins’Subtext subText leads the way in discussing gay and lesbian topics among teens, while also cleverly observing their attachments to texting and social media. Framed within algebra homework, prom dress shopping, grandma’s old love letters, and those couples that just can’t seem to stop taking pictures together, subText was initially commissioned by Muncie Southside High School in Indiana and is a perfect fit for the age group.

For perspective on issues of race and prejudice, look no further than And In This Corner: Cassius Clay by Idris Goodwin. Set in Louisville, Kentucky in the 1950s, the thrilling story of Cassius Clay Jr.’s transformation into the legendary Muhammad Ali is riveting, timely, and offers up amazing opportunities for comparing historical events such as the Civil Rights Movement to the current political climate.

Other pertinent topics such as alcohol, drug, and sexual abuse; eating disorders; and school shootings, are masterfully executed in plays such as Lockdown, What I Want to Say But Never Will, Selfie, I Was There, Cool Mike, Good ‘N’ Plenty, Including Shooter, Perfect, and Thank you for Flushing My Head in the Toilet and other rarely used expressions.

Theatre, in its truest form, provides a source for stimulating conversation, offers opportunities for education, and allows for much-needed escape from and observation of the world in which we exist. While every community perceives what is “appropriate” differently, there are more than enough plays that push issues just enough to be important, challenging, and worthwhile endeavors to enhance conversation among teens and communities alike.

Explore more recommendations on the list below and on our website. We always suggest reading the free preview online to determine if it’s right for your audiences.

More with political themes:
The NSA’s Guide to Winning Friends and Influencing People
Sunny Goodenough: Celebrity Activist
Empowered: How One Girl Scout Nearly Destroyed the World’s Economy
The End of the World (with Prom to Follow)

More with themes of suicide:
I Don’t Want to Talk About It
Henry’s Law
Wade the Bird
Just Like I Wanted
The Locker Next 2 Mine

More with LGBTQ+ themes:
Dear Harvey
Ray and Milo
The Long View
Nothing is the End of the World (except for the end of the world)
A Spare Me
Standardized Testing – The Musical!!!!

More with themes of race and prejudice:
The Shout
Dark Road
Heritage, Her-i-tage, and Hair-i-tage
Sending Down the Sparrows


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