Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Mary E. Anderson


The high school play is an iconic pastime in many schools across the United States. Historically, educators, and scholars often characterize the school play as a performance of a script by an established playwright presented in a school in a manner that replicates the standards of professional theatre. Current scholars and educators discuss the school play as the latter part of a continuum that runs from informal dramatic play to formal presentation in front of an audience. Although scholarship in theatre education regularly discusses the school play as one of the most prevalent forms of theatre education, scholarly studies of the school play are rare. This qualitative research study claims the school play as subject of serious scholarly consideration by asking what is the value of the school play for students and how did being in plays in high school affect their adult lives.

There are many assumptions made about the purpose of theatre education in primary and secondary schools. For example, scholars and educators make claims about the efficacy of the theatre arts in teaching cooperation, empathy, and self-confidence. Although many studies focus on the theatre classroom, very few focus on the co-curricular or extra-curricular practice of the school play, its potential educative function, or its impact on student learning. More information is needed from former student actors reflecting back on their experiences in being in a school play to discover the potential long term impact this activity has for student learners.

This study has two main strands. The first is an intensive self-study by the author of his experiences in high school plays. The second is an analysis of a single case based on interviews conducted with former students of the principal investigator. These students are now adults. The purpose of the interviews was to discover how these former student actors value and make sense of their practical and aesthetic experience of the school play and what kind of effect that experience has had on their lives. This case study of former student actors features their voices and captures the complexity of their involvement in a particular educational theatre practice, the school play.

The study found that the six participants had positive associations with being in the school play, many feeling that their memories of high school are synonymous with their memories of the theatre program and productions. The study found that three features of the former students' comments and stories warrant further attention: role-playing, affective learning, and narrative memory. The stories and memories of the six participants reveal a complex matrix of memory, emotion, and learning, all through their participation in school plays, associations the participants believe they still find valuable and useful in their present lives.