Order up! American Theatre’s most-produced plays and playwrights lists are back after a COVID hiatus, and at the top of both lists is Lynn Nottage, with her brand new sandwich-shop-as-purgatory comedy Clyde’s topping the Top 10 Most-Produced Plays List, and her Pulitzer winner Sweat not far behind. On the Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights list, she is tied with the prolific Lauren Gunderson with a whopping 24 productions each; while this is Nottage’s first time at the very top of this list (on the strength of the above two titles as well as productions of Mlima’s Tale, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, and Intimate Apparel), it is Gunderson’s second time at the top of the most-produced playwrights list, with so many plays that none of hers made the most-produced plays list.
There are some other familiar titles and names and caveats here (including the one about how we exclude sundry productions of A Christmas Carol from the plays list, and Shakespeare from the playwrights list), but before I offer my reflections on what these stats might say about the American theatre in 2022, let’s have a drum roll, please, for the lists:
Top 10* Most-Produced Plays of 2022-23
- Clyde’s, by Lynn Nottage (11 productions)
- Chicken & Biscuits, by Douglas Lyons (8 productions)
- Clue, adapted by Sandy Rustin from the film by Jonathan Lynn (7 productions)
- Once, by Enda Walsh, Glen Hansard, and Markéta Irglová (7 productions)
- Sweat, by Lynn Nottage (7 productions)
- The Chinese Lady, by Lloyd Suh (6 productions)
- Fairview, by Jackie Sibblies Drury (6 productions)
- Into the Woods, by Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine (6 productions)
- The Lifespan of a Fact, by Jeremy Kareken & David Murrell & Gordon Farrell (6 productions)
- Little Shop of Horrors, by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (6 productions)
- Native Gardens, by Karen Zacarias (6 productions)
- The Play That Goes Wrong, by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields (6 productions)
- Steel Magnolias, by Robert Harling (6 productions)
- Trouble in Mind, by Alice Childress (6 productions)
*Actually 14 due to ties. For a complete list of all the productions that comprise this list, see below.
Top 20* Most-Produced Playwrights of 2022-23
- Lynn Nottage (24)
- Lauren Gunderson (24, 9 of them co-writes)
- Matthew López (16, 1 of them a co-write)
- August Wilson (14)
- Dominique Morisseau (11)
- Ken Ludwig (10, 4 of them adaptations)
- Lucas Hnath (9, with 1 co-write)
- Jonathan Larson (9)
- Margot Melcon (9 co-writes)
- Karen Zacarías (9)
- Kate Hamill (8)
- James Lapine (8)
- Henry Lewis, Henry Shields & Jonathan Sayer (8)
- Douglas Lyons (8)
- Lloyd Suh (8)
- Enda Walsh (8)
- Alice Childress (7)
- Jackie Sibblies Drury (7)
- Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (7)
- Duncan Macmillan (7, with 5 co-writes)
- Sandy Rustin (7, adaptation)
- Lauren Yee (7)
*Actually 24 due to ties. For a complete list of each playwrights’ productions, see below.
A note about our methodology makes as good an entry point as any to a consideration of what these lists might “mean”: We culled these numbers from the season listings submitted by our TCG member theatres, whose number currently stands at 551, as well as from the current Broadway season. We define the theatre season as running from Aug. 1, 2022 to July 30, 2023—which, to be clear, is not the way a non-negligible portion of our member theatres schedule their work (many base their seasons around the summer or run through the calendar year), but this has been the time-honored season preview calendar since long before my time at American Theatre, and for the time being it will persist in our now-online-only dispensation. Not only do not all those theatres program on the fall-to-spring model, a certain number don’t program regular seasons at all (while some, like Long Wharf, are exploring new models of what a season might look like). And it should be added up front that some just don’t manage to get their listings to us by deadline for whatever reason, and a certain number of theatres (even a few major ones) are not members of TCG at all.
The first thing to note is that, while this year’s listings show a relatively robust return of traditional season programming, the numbers are down noticeably from previous levels: In the 2019-20 season, we clocked 2,229 entries that qualified as full runs of shows, and in the 2018-19 season, 2,280. This time around, even as we allowed for audio and streamed shows to count for the first time, the tally only came to 1,298. (Also this year for the first time, we also considered Broadway credits, which shows up on the lists above with one extra point each for Matthew López and August Wilson.) That’s a sobering but perhaps not unexpected level of attrition, given COVID and other factors.
We might also (carefully) extrapolate some takeaways from what this programming says about what theatres think audiences are looking for. As I put it rather crudely in a recent column, the choice often seems to be between “unapologetic escapism and…no-exit theatre, candy and protein,” though perhaps the true sweet spot are plays like Clyde’s and Trouble in Mind: comedies, yes, but with something of a bite. Certainly, while previous years have shown a mix of challenging fare and theatrical comfort food, the contrasts this time out seem more striking than ever. Imagine, if you will, a theatre that would program both Fairview and Steel Magnolias, both The Chinese Lady and Clue? Actually, come to think of it, a fair number of theatres are indeed serving up menus of a similar eclecticism, if not this exact bill of fare. Still, the aesthetic portrait of American theatre in 2022 is very cut-and-paste.
The other contrast that jumps out is one we’ve seen in milder form before: between buzzy, New York-minted titles and regional-bred workhorses, i.e., A Doll’s House Part 2 vs. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. This year the top play, Clyde’s, is so new—it premiered on Broadway just last November—that I have to think that Lynn Nottage’s reps must have had feelers out to theatres before it had even started rehearsals in New York (or even when it was at the Guthrie and still called Floyd’s). Like Clyde’s, Douglas Lyons’s Chicken & Biscuits was part of last year’s historic crop of Broadway shows with Black authors, and though it didn’t have a long run, at least one theatre observer expected it to be a popular regional hit. The Chinese Lady, which had a long and eventful birth across several theatres between 2020 and 2021 (and which we calculated was the most-produced show of last season), looks to be continuing its triumphant nationwide journey. And while some regionals have sporadically championed Trouble in Mind, Alice Childress’s 1955 backstage comedy about racism in the theatre industry, it took Roundabout Theatre’s excellent belated Broadway premiere last season to finally put it, and Alice Childress, on these lists. Better late than never, I guess.
But noticeably, many other shows on the Top 10 list are buzzed-about titles of slightly older vintage: The topical three-hander Lifespan of a Fact had its debut in 2018, Fairview won its Pulitzer in 2019, Native Gardens had a flurry of regional productions in 2019, and the farcical The Play That Goes Wrong bowed on Broadway in 2017. While all have had several productions since, their turning up on this year’s list for the first time seems to be the result of a kind of pandemic backlog—i.e., there is every reason to believe that without COVID, our announcement of the lost 2020-21 season would have seen all or some of these titles on the Top 10 list, and there haven’t been a ton of similarly buzzed-about new works to choose from in the interim. As I said: better late than never. (Even Clue is probably having something of a belated rise here: A favorite of community and high school theatres since 2018, it has only begun to be programmed at TCG member theatres, including some LORTs, in this past year.)
Meanwhile, the persistence of slightly older titles like Once and Sweat, and even Steel Magnolias, I would attribute to sheer staying power, pandemic or no. I think the same might be said of the two other musicals on the Top 10 list, though we can probably chalk up some of the renewed popularity of Little Shop of Horrors to its current Off-Broadway revival, and that of Into the Woods to a surge of feeling for the late Stephen Sondheim—who, if we compiled an official list of most-produced composers, would be the clear winner, with 19 productions next season.
Speaking of Sondheim and musicals, you may notice his collaborator James Lapine on the Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights list (for productions of both ITW and Sunday in the Park With George), as well as Jonathan Larson, who in addition to the perennial revivals of Rent is getting a bunch of Tick, Tick…Boom! stagings as well (thanks, Lin-Manuel), and who as those shows’ book writer as well as composer qualifies for the playwright list.
Another fun fact: Nottage has two plays in the Top 10, a rare feat for these lists; though Lauren Yee managed to achieve it in our 2019-20 tally, before that it hadn’t happened since 1999, with two Martin McDonagh plays. We should also give special honorable mention to Matthew López, whose two-play epic The Inheritance will get five full productions at TCG member theatres this coming season; we counted each play as a writing credit for him, boosting him considerably in the playwright listings. And speaking of plays like The Inheritance that you might have been looking for on this list but which only got five productions and hence fell below the line, these almost-rans include such titles as Lucas Hnath’s The Thin Place, and Lauren Yee’s The Great Leap.
Yet another fun fact (depending on your definition of fun): Though we eliminate Shakespeare from the running, we do tally his productions, and this year they would number 52. But interestingly, this year we only had to disqualify him from the playwrights’ tally; no single one of his plays would have made the Top 10 this year, even had we allowed them. In this way he is much like Lauren Gunderson, who gets to her whopping 24 productions on the strength of 12 separate plays. Now that’s prolific (and she’s still writing!).
I will close by noting an important caveat to this entire exercise. I’m a well-known non-fan of competitive awards in the arts (don’t get me started on the Tonys), and I’m aware that there’s a certain horserace/ who’s-in-who’s-out aspect to these popular lists. At best, I see them as a way to celebrate not only these writers but the field in general, as well as to provide a necessarily selective but telling snapshot of where the field’s priorities and tastes currently are, for better and worse.
There’s also a sense in which these lists lift up already minted “hits,” plays and writers who’ve been produced several times already (not only in New York—see Lauren Gunderson’s career—but somewhat predominantly). But I would encourage you to at least glance at the list of productions below (and if you have a few hours, check out our member theatres’ full season programming) and let it sink in how far-flung and beautifully heterodox our national theatre scene really is (if you want to know where all these theatres are, here’s our membership list). I would also encourage you to remember that all the popular shows above had their start on a single U.S. stage somewhere, and that nearly every one of the theatres cited below, and hundreds more that aren’t listed, are this same season producing new plays and musicals that may fill lists like this in the future—or they may simply be making the right shows for the right audiences, right now. That’s not just enough; that is literally the glorious, ephemeral work of the theatre in every age.
American Theatre isn’t simply around to cheerlead for the scene we cover, as anyone who’s followed our COVID-19 coverage or our series of pieces about abuse and/or accountability at arts organizations could tell you, and as other pieces in this Season Preview package prove. The U.S. theatre field has many more challenging days ahead, and we will be here to write about them. And there are surely more ways to measure success in the nonprofit theatre than number of productions; we will also be around to write more about those.
But this week we are raising a toast to the show going on at many of our nation’s resilient theatres. We hope that by the light we shine on these 14 shows and these 23 writers (and the dozens of theatres listed below), we can glimpse the hard and irreplaceable work of the whole American theatre.
Top 10 Most-Produced Plays list of productions:
Clyde’s will appear at the Huntington, PURE Theatre, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Arden Theatre Company, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Center Theatre Group, City Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Studio Theatre, the Ensemble Theatre of Houston, and Unicorn Theatre
Chicken & Biscuits will appear at Front Porch Arts Collective, Crossroads Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Bristol Riverside Theatre, Farmers Alley, TheatreSquared, Virginia Repertory Theatre, and Asolo Repertory Theatre
Clue will appear at Bristol Riverside Theatre, Center Repertory Company, Dallas Theater Center, Sierra Repertory Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Indiana Repertory Theatre, and New Stage Theatre
Once will appear at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Coachella Valley Repertory, Writers Theatre, Actors Theatre of Charlotte, Centre Stage, San Luis Obispo Repertory, and Laguna Playhouse
Sweat will appear at Boise Contemporary Theatre, Center Repertory Company, Detroit Repertory Theatre, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Road Less Traveled Productions, Rogue Theatre, and the Gamm Theatre
The Chinese Lady will appear at BlueBarn, Capital Stage, Central Square Theater, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and Indiana Repertory Theatre
Fairview will appear at the 4th Wall Theatre Company, Bishop Arts Theatre Center and Undermain Theatre (a co-production), KC Melting Pot Theatre, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and Trustus Theatre
Into the Woods will appear at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, the Guthrie Theater, Open Stage, Pasadena Playhouse, Short North Stage, and the 5th Avenue Theatre
The Lifespan of a Fact will appear at Cape May Stage, Maryland Ensemble Theatre, North Carolina Stage, the Invisible Theatre, and Lantern Theatre Company
Little Shop of Horrors will appear at 6th Street Playhouse, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Meadow Brook Theatre, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and Trustus Theatre
Native Gardens will appear at City Theatre, Charleston Stage, L.A. Theatre Works, Montgomery Theatre, PCPA – Pacific Conservatory Theatre, and PlayMakers Repertory Company
The Play That Goes Wrong will appear at A.D. Players, Charleston Stage, Nebraska Rep, WaterTower Theatre, Stage West, and 1812 Productions
Steel Magnolias will appear at Act II Playhouse, Emerald Coast Theatre Company, Gulfshore Playhouse, Pittsburgh Public Theater, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and Virginia Repertory Theatre
Trouble in Mind will appear at Cincinnati Shakespeare Theatre, Clarence Brown Theatre, Dallas Theater Center, Hartford Stage, Main Street Theatre, and TimeLine Theatre Company
Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights list of productions:
Lynn Nottage will have 11 productions of Clyde’s (noted above), 7 of Sweat (also noted above), as well as 4 of Mlima’s Tale (at 1st Stage, Burning Coal Theatre Company, Ten Thousand Things, and Zoetic Stage), 1 of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (at Naples Players), and one of Intimate Apparel (at Theater J)
Lauren Gunderson will have 4 productions of The Revolutionists (at Lake Dillon Theatre, North Carolina Stage, Off Square Theatre Company, and Park Square Theatre), 2 of The Book of Will (at A Noise Within and PCPA – Pacific Conservatory Theatre) and 2 of Silent Sky (Burning Coal Theatre Company and Asolo Repertory Theatre), and 1 each of Ada and the Engine (Central Square Theatre), Artemisia (Forward Theater Company), I and You (Peninsula Players Theatre), The Taming (Lean Ensemble Theatre), and her adaptation from J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan and Wendy; with songwriters Bree Lowdermilk and Kait Kerrigan, her show Justice will run at Marin Theatre Company, and with co-writer Margot Melcon she will have the following productions: 5 productions of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley (at Arizona Theatre Company, Capital Stage, Oregon Contemporary Theatre, Main Street Theater, and Taproot Theatre Company), 2 productions each of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Maryland Ensemble Theatre and Virginia Repertory Theatre) and Georgiana & Kitty: Christmas Pemberley (Jungle Theatre and Northlight Theatre)
Matthew López will have 5 productions of both parts of The Inheritance, which we’re counting as 10 credits (at Richmond Triangle Players, Triangle Productions, ZACH Theatre, Trinity Repertory Company, and the Geffen Playhouse), 4 productions of The Legend of Georgia McBride (at Arizona Theatre Company, Stages, the Warehouse Theatre, and PlayMakers Repertory Company), 1 of Somewhere (at Geva Theatre Center), and 1 of Some Like It Hot on Broadway
August Wilson will have 4 productions of Fences (Circle Theatre, Nashville Repertory Theatre, New Stage Theatre, the Classic Theatre of San Antonion), 3 productions of Radio Golf (A Noise Within, Arden Theatre Company, and Round House Theatre), 2 productions of The Piano Lesson (KC Melting Pot Theatre and Broadway), and 1 each of Gem of the Ocean (Detroit Repertory Theatre), Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Huntington), King Hedley II (Theatreworks Colorado Springs), Seven Guitars (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), Two Trains Running (Marin Theatre Company), and How I Learned What I Learned, co-conceived by Todd Kreidler (Portland Stage)
Dominique Morisseau will have 3 productions of Paradise Blue (Aurora Theatre Company, Gloucester Stage Company, the Ensemble Theatre of Houston), 2 each of Confederates (Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis) and Mud Row (Detroit Public Theatre and Gulfshore Playhouse), and 1 each of Pipeline (the Warehouse Theatre), Detroit ’67 (TheatreSquared), Sunset Baby (Actor’s Express), and Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations (Center Theatre Group)
Ken Ludwig will have 4 productions of his adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Clarence Brown Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), 1 production each of his Sherlock Holmes plays Baskerville (at freeFall Thaetre), Moriarty: A New Sherlock Holmes Adventure (Cleveland Play House), and The Game’s Afoot (the Naples Players), as well as 1 each of Lend Me a Tenor (International City Theatre) and Dear Jack, Dear Louise (Red Barn Theatre)
Lucas Hnath will have 5 productions of The Thin Place (4th Wall Theatre Company, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, Dobama Theatre, Gloucester Stage Company, and Road Less Traveled Productions), 2 productions of A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Jewel Theatre and San Luis Obispo Rep), and 1 of The Christians (Boise Contemporary Theatre), and he’ll also premiere The Simalucrum, co-created with Steve Cuiffo, at Atlantic Theater Company
Jonathan Larson will have 5 productions of Rent (Short North Stage, Connecticut Repertory, Farmers Alley, Nashville Repertory Theatre, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival) and 4 productions of Tick, Tick…Boom! (Short North Stage, New Conservatory Theatre Center, Portland Center Stage, and International City Theatre)
Margot Melcon will have 9 productions (noted above in Lauren Gunderson’s tally)
Karen Zacarías will have 6 productions of Native Gardens (noted above), as well as 2 productions of her new adaptation of Shane (at the Guthrie Theater and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park) and 1 of The Book Club Play (Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities)
Kate Hamill will have 3 productions of her adaptation of Little Women (at Theatreworks Colorado Springs, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and Perseverance Theatre), 2 productions of Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson (at Butterfly Effect Theatre Company and Portland Center Stage), as well as 1 production each of Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Play (Actors Theatre of Louisville) and her adaptations of Emma (PlayMakers Repertory Company) and Pride and Prejudice (6th Street Playhouse)
Henry Lewis, Henry Shields & Jonathan Sayer will have 6 productions of The Play That Goes Wrong (noted above) as well as 2 productions of The One-Act Play That Goes Wrong (at Austin Playhouse and Triangle Productions)
James Lapine will have 6 productions of Into the Woods (noted above) as well as 2 of Sunday in the Park With George (at Pasadena Playhouse and Sierra Repertory Theatre)
Douglas Lyons will have 8 productions (noted above)
Lloyd Suh will have 6 productions of The Chinese Lady (noted above) as well as 1 production each of Franklinland (Curious Theatre Company) and The Far Country (Atlantic Theater Company)
Enda Walsh will have 7 productions of Once (noted above) and 1 of Sing Street (at the Huntington)
Alice Childress will have 6 productions of Trouble in Mind (noted above) as well as 1 of Wine in the Wilderness at Two River Theatre
Jackie Sibblies Drury will have 6 productions of Fairview (noted above) as well as 1 of Marys Seacole at Unicorn Theatre
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins will have 4 productions of Everybody (at Cleveland Play House, Alliance Theatre, Antaeus Theatre Company, and the NOLA Project), and 1 production each of Appropriate (South Coast Repertory), Gloria (Capital Stage), and Grass (Signature Theatre)
Duncan Macmillan will have 5 productions of Every Brilliant Thing, which he co-wrote with Johnny Donahoe (at A.D. Players, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, New Stage Theatre, and City Lights Theatre Company), as well as 1 production each of Lungs (Unicorn Theatre) and People, Places, Things (Studio Theatre)
Sandy Rustin will have 7 productions of her adaptation of Clue (noted above)
Lauren Yee will have 5 productions of The Great Leap (at Cleveland Play House, Farmers Alley, OKC Repertory Theatre, Portland Stage, and Perseverance Theatre) and 2 of Young Americans (at Pittsburgh Public Theater and Portland Center Stage)
Rob Weinert-Kendt (he/him) is the editor-in-chief of American Theatre. email@example.com
Because some TCG member theatres had not submitted their season info by our deadline, the original version of this post failed to include Chicken & Biscuits on the Top 10 Most-Produced Plays list (instead noting it as a five-production “also-ran”), or its playwright, Douglas Lyons, on the Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights list.
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