Play Pass: Performance Selection for Students

Play Pass is a method developed for giving students access to lots of new performance materials in a short amount of time. The idea for Play Pass came about from a literacy course that I took several years ago that used book pass as a method of helping students decide on what book to read.

For our first performance, I want my Theatre I-III students to have access to a play that has already been published in order for them to gain familiarity with the play format.  I use the Play Pass to help them choose a play that they would like to perform.

What you’ll need

  • scripts that you have access to (about 5/student if possible)
  • paper & pen for the students
  • a timer
  • Smart Board or white board for showing voting options (You could also print out an actual ballot with a list of the students play options, but this has not been a time effective method for me.)

How It Works

Every 5 minutes each student is given a hand full of plays to look at.  When the five minutes are up, I have students write down the title, playwright, and summary of the play they liked the most within the designated amount of time.  We repeat this as many times as possible within a class period (which is 45 minutes for me right now).  It usually takes us about 5 minutes to get started and about a minute in between passes.  Then at the end of class, each student is to circle or highlight their favorite play from among those that they wrote down.  They will be pitching their chosen play to the class the following day.

Before Beginning

Before beginning the play pass, I tell students to consider the following before making their selections:

  • how many students are in the class
  • how many students will be performing
  • how many students will the play require for tech (lights, sound, set…)
  • length of the play (I usually allot 10-15 minutes/class performance)

Play Pitch

The day after a Play Pass, students need to find the single play that stood out the most for them from the Play Pass.  They are then to write a Play Pitch for that play which must include the following:

  • Play Title
  • Playwright Name
  • Summary of the Play
  • How many characters (m/f)
  • How much time it will take to perform (if this isn’t written in the play notes, I tell them to assume that the play will take 1 minute/page of dialogue).

After everyone has their play pitches written down, everyone takes a turn pitching their chosen play to the class.  I require everyone to participate in the pitch, which they must try to make sound convincing, however, if they truly did not find a play that they wanted the class to perform, they are not to say this until the end of their pitch.  As each student presents, I type up a table in Google Forms that includes the students name and their play title.


Once everyone is done pitching, I pull the list of students’ names and play options up on the Smart Board screen.  I give every student 2 ballots (blank, scrap slips of paper) to write down two play titles.  They have to write two different titles, one of which can be the title of their own play if they choose.  I have found that this method keeps the voting more fair and honest , since with one vote, most students simply voted for their own play.  The kids are always excited as we tally the votes, whether the play they pitched gets chosen or not.
Allowing students the opportunity to have a say in the play that their class performs really gives them a whole new sense of pride in their class performance.  Once we have our winning play, I ask the student who pitched it if they would like to direct their play.  Most of the time they say yes, but occasionally they pass.  If they say yes, I tell them that the following day I want them to give me the name of either an assistant director or co-director from among their class mates.  Then we do a read thru followed by casting.

Other Considerations

If you don’t happen to have access to a lot of plays for the students to look at, you could either let them look at the books that the publishers send for us to order plays or you could go to the publishers websites online.  After the pitch, you could order whichever of the plays your class chose along with royalties for that play.

My subscription to Plays Magazine allows me royalties to all of their plays, past and present, as well as permission to make copies of them for class performances.  I have a box full of these scripts that I use for my Play Pass, and it has saved me a lot of time and money.  Plays Magazine also has archives of their past scripts online that you could look at, although students would not have access to these archives.

For more information on Plays Magazine and many more of my favorite script sources, check out my My Top Script Sources.

In Conclusion

Deciding on a play for a class to perform can be exhausting.  Allowing the students to help with this process will not only lighten your load as the teacher and/or director, but will also help to give students a newfound sense of ownership in their production.  I hope that you will find the Play Pass to be useful in helping your students make performance selections.


What Comes Next… future blog posts…

For our second class performance, my Theatre I-III students write 10-15 minute one act plays, create a playwright website for their play pitch, and vote on which classmate’s play to produce as a class.  We vote one more time for our third class performance,  and each class chooses one of our original plays and adapts the script to film format.  Check back later to read upcoming blog posts on playwriting and shortfilm!


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